CoMotion LA 2022: LA Mayor Eric Garcetti's Mobility Legacy


At the 6th annual CoMotion LA 2022 last week, outgoing Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti sat down with CoMotion CEO John Rossant for closing keynote remarks. VX News excerpts the conversation in which Mayor Garcetti highlights the region's extraordinary investments in transportation and housing over the last 8 years and shares his hopes that LA continues to be an international creative hub for transportation innovation. 

John Rossant: Mayor Garcetti…you’ve really put LA not only on the national map but on the local map as a hub of innovation and fresh thinking about what a city can be with reimagined mobility. Looking back— is Measure M your great achievement in some ways?

Eric Garcetti: Let me offer two because I think Measure M is—and thank you to so many who helped Measure M become reality—one of those times where we didn’t compromise, where we said, instead of trying to get some revenues for one or two things over a short period, what would our wildest dreams be and what if we kept it going forever?

And what I learned was that voters are really smart, and that the longer it lasted for, the more people supported it, which was so counterintuitive to any political thing I’d ever done. But it was actually a very basic response. People are sick of traffic and don’t want their kids or grandkids to have to fight for this, so let’s do something permanent. So, that’s going to be 15 rapid transit lines, local return dollars, and active transportation dollars—things that we’ve dreamed of for a long, long time.

I was looking at the schedule coming here and somebody joked that I should try and spend some time with Mayor-Elect Bass today, who I’m so excited about and have known since before we were 'honorable.' I was saying how all these things are going to happen within this time table where things will open every two years. And actually, in a few months, we’ll have the transit to the airport, then the first phase of the Purple Line (then the second phase and the third phase), and the extension of the Gold Line. (I still go by the colors, by the way).

But the second thing I'd like to point out is something that just passed—and I don't want to over claim credit because it really was a citizen-generated thing but something I got behind and tried to put as much weight as I could into—which is Measure ULA, a housing measure.

I’ve always said transportation is the prism through which we see housing and housing is the prism through which we see transportation because the distances we have to travel to and from where we live and work and play is really defined by the housing market. It is a fundamental game changer for transportation, as well as for justice, for homelessness, for housing. When voters passed HHH, the measure for homeless housing, it's about $120 million a year. This will be $500 million to $1billion a year in revenue without any sunset for housing and rental assistance so people don't become homeless but also to build the middle class. I think when we build a middle class, and we help people in poverty come up to middle class, then we  actually get critical mass for transportation. So I'd say both of those together  are going to be the biggest legacy I leave behind.

John Rossant: I remember a few years ago, at CoMotion perhaps, that you talked about the kind of vocation of Los Angeles as the transportation technology capital  of the world, which is a formula that I love, of course... In the 6 years we’ve been here doing CoMotion in LA, Southern California has actually boomed as a global center of innovation around electric mobility, mobility as service, etc. Micromobility was birthed here the same year CoMotion started. How do you see that continuing?

Eric Garcetti: I hope we all will continue to strive to be that capital, and it's a natural city to do it in. I think those of us in transportation tend to think of transportation in terms of hardscape and engineering projects, but it’s really a creative industry, and what better place than the creative capital of the world to do it?

I just came from touring Spotify’s LA headquarters, which is just down the street. People who live in other cities come here to record things whether it’s podcasts, music, special events, movies; it’s this little campus that is this cluster of creativity. I think it’s the same thing with transportation.

Right now, transportation is about technology. When we look at efficiencies, we’ve been doing that in LA since we created the ATSEC system in the 1984 for the Olympics, which  was the first system to unify traffic lights. We want people who are those kinds of thinkers. That’s why we have aerospace here too: because we have engineers, but we also have architects. And I think that for Los Angeles if we can continue to say ‘paint on this canvas,’ come here, not just to try new products because we have the culture and density, but also because we have the people here where they can land jobs.

John Rossant: You’ve waxed lyrically before about your youth in LA, and the postwar freeways that would take you anywhere in 20 minutes. While that’s no longer the case, what is the long-term vision—that we can return to that kind of LA?

Eric Garcetti: Not return to that one, but I’ve challenged our departments to lay the foundation for the incoming mayor—and there’s so many advocates of course for the 15 minutes city (I say that in LA we might have to compromise  and make it a 20 or 25 minute city), but even if we have that, the idea that this is really about good urban planning as much as it’s about sneaking in our bike lanes and our bus lanes and seizing moments of opportunity for things like that.

John Rossant: I just got back from India, and I’m very much looking forward to your confirmation. I think you can do naturally an amazing job there. India is a vast country of great cities with some really significant transportation problems but an amazing location. I know you’re going to bring a lot of lessons you learned here in LA to India and that could be a very fruitful exercise.

Eric Garcetti: And vice versa. When we write about micromobility and explain what it is in most countries, they go, “you mean, vans?” Like everybody has, mostly, micromobility. It might not be regulated or might not be government micromobility with some of the same standards that we have but I think that India will be a great place to learn and a great place to bring some ideas. India’s passed China to be the most populous country on the face of the Earth. As such, it’s really a counter balance as a free society versus China’s more authoritarian, state-centered economy and, obviously, political system. It’s the most vibrant democracy in the world. It’s imperfect sometimes. And as liberal as our democracy is, it’s pretty screwed up sometimes too, so we have to lead with humility. But it’s a very vibrant place for innovation.

People there—sometimes for survival and sometimes for other reasons—have to hack the future, and I really think India is hacking forward for the future, whether it’s a supply chain that’s more reliable and more diversified for our world—India has some great solar panel manufacturers and EVs they’re talking about bringing to market. Or whether it’s some of the large infrastructure programs that they need funding to help reduce their emissions, use less coal and less natural gas, which they’re very reliant on right now. We can make a huge impact on climate.

Here's the most interesting thing about it: if you move the start date 15 years ahead and compare it to China’s rise out of poverty and creation of the middle class, India’s actually accelerating even faster. If this trend continues, we’re going to see an incredibly powerful economy—the third largest in the world—at a place that, really, if you look at China and the US and India, will be the big three, has the potential to be a force for good and a force for balance in the world. If we don’t get it right, it’s a pretty scary world out there.

"I think those of us in transportation tend to think of transportation in terms of hardscape and engineering projects, but it’s really a creative industry, and what better place to do it than in the creative capital of the world?"—Eric Garcetti