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The last mile to public transit is often the most challenging

The Urb-E is a folding electric vehicle that weighs 35 pounds and can travel up to 20 miles on a single charge.
The Urb-E is a folding electric vehicle that weighs 35 pounds and can travel up to 20 miles on a single charge.
Courtesy Urb-E

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A lot of Angelenos have a deep, personal connection to whatever sort of vehicle they use to get around. They identify as car drivers or bicyclists or motorcyclists.

But these entrenched constituencies are a big part of what’s making it so difficult for L.A. to transform from an increasingly gridlocked city of cars to the future most transportation and urban planners say is necessary.

"Without question, one of the key components that we know is part of the success of our overall transportation system is to have a multimodal system," said Pauletta Tonilas, chief communications officer for Metro.

So a car driver isn’t always a car driver and a bicyclist isn’t only a bicyclist. She may use a car to get to a train and complete the journey to home or work with a bicycle or some other so-called last mile solution.

How long it takes to get to a train station or bus stop impacts how likely a person is to use public transit. Metro estimates that ten minutes is the amount of time  most people are willing to spend. And the faster a vehicle can go, the more quickly it can get there.

Thus the onslaught of compact, electrified gizmos coming into the market to help traverse that first and last mile.

"People are looking for a solution to get around cities more efficiently," said Peter Lee, CEO of a company that makes the Urb-E — a lightweight, foldable electric vehicle designed and built in Pasadena.

Weighing 35 pounds and capable of folding in less than one second, the Urb-E has a seat and two wheels and foot pegs, and it fits in spaces most bicycles don’t — like the trunk of a car or under the seat on a bus or train.

With a range of 20 miles, it travels at speeds up to 15 mph, allowing it to cover 2-1/2 miles in that crucial ten minutes.

"When we were assessing the pain points in cities, we found that transportation — specifically parking and traffic and city congestion — is a huge pain point," Lee said. "People hate dealing with it, wasting time and also paying for excessive parking. They just want to have more freedom."

While 80 percent of Metro users walk to the train station or bus stop and another 5 percent bicycle, 10 percent drive or are driven. Half of those who drive are close enough they don't need to. That’s about 44,000 Metro riders each day that could instead be getting there on an entirely new category of “electric innovations,” as Metro calls them.

Things like the Tokyo startup Walk Car — which just starting taking pre-orders last week. About the size and shape of a laptop computer, it’s electrified and ridden like a skateboard — with four small wheels attached to its underbelly, allowing it to glide over bumps and uneven sidewalks. Things like the Solowheel — a self-balancing electric unicycle.

There’s no shortage of last-mile mobility solutions, which, like everything else, will need to share the road or sidewalk with other vehicles. And they too need improved infrastructure to entice people to use them.

Two years ago, Metro developed a First Last Mile Strategic Plan to figure out ways to integrate these mobility solutions in a multimodal future. And two percent of Measure M’s funding is dedicated to making that happen.

"Some of it is building new sidewalks, building new bike paths, but even taking what is existing and enhancing it through its attractiveness, its signage," said Metro's Pauletta Tonilas.

"It’s showing people pathways of how to get from one point to another in a pleasant environment. So it’s really enhancing the environment and the pathway for how you move people through an area."

Oftentimes that’s walking and cycling, but in the future it will also involve scooting, rollerblading, skateboarding, unicycling or using some other form of mobility.