Sharing in the Inner City: Ensuring that the Sharing Economy and a Livable City are Accessible to all Angelenos

In the 5th grade, I was told to write a letter to Santa Claus. All the other kids asked for bikes, dolls, clothes–but I asked that everyone be housed and fed. From a young age, I saw how hard it was for people of color or who spoke other languages to get jobs and housing in Los Angeles. My colleague, Sandra McNeill, had similar experiences in Mexico and Seattle, where she saw the basic inequities inherent in our economic systems, leaving some neighborhoods with good infrastructure, nice bike lanes, green spaces and trees, while other places are neglected and blighted.

As developers of affordable housing, our residents and neighbors tell us how hard it is to get to well-paid jobs, quality healthcare, and recreational opportunities. Public transit may serve the majority of planned trips, but it is not as effective for last-minute trips to the hospital, job interviews, or for errands. Unfortunately, many low-income Angelenos conclude that car ownership is necessary for transportation flexibility. Over 1 in 5 Angelenos lives below the federal poverty line of $25,000 for a family of four. Given the average $9,000 annual cost to own a car, following this path can lock in nearly 40% of their incomes.

Our organizations tackle transportation and mobility at the neighborhood level. For example, T.R.U.S.T. South LA is working on a rail-to-river project, using an old rail corridor to provide a safe bike route from the Crenshaw Line to the Blue Line. This is about helping the majority of cyclists–working class people of color who are just trying to get to work. We’re doing cycling-safety educational “pit stops” and handing out kits with safety info and bike lights.

Along the Expo corridor, T.R.U.S.T. South LA is working on getting car shares into buildings to reduce parking requirements on new low-cost housing developments. For example, the mixed-use Rolland Curtis Gardens will incorporate car share, bike share, biking and walking clubs, community advocacy for bike/ped infrastructure improvements, and potentially a partnership with the on-site medical/dental clinic to engage patients in transportation-related healthy lifestyle choices and improved transit options. But there should also be the occasional pickup truck or SUV available, for families and builders who may occasionally need to haul groceries from Costco or a load of wood to a job site. That will be better for the environment than individuals buying large inefficient vehicles when they only need that extra hauling capacity every now and again.

At ELACC we created a bike sharing library to allow tenants to borrow a bike for short and medium distance trips that don’t require a car. When the Gold Line opened to the Eastside, not only were the sidewalks in disrepair, but there were no local and frequent bus services to link stations to destinations. For example, Metro cut bus connections for East LA Community College and the sidewalks between the Mariachi Plaza stop and White Memorial Hospital needed repair. Metro needs to find out where people want to go and partner with cities to improve adjacent sidewalks and pedestrian corridors. It’s not enough just to build a transit line if there are no protected bike lanes, no decent sidewalks, and connecting bus service is infrequent.

Potential Benefits of EVs & Shared Mobility

We must remember these inequities when it comes to the sharing economy. This was a main point of our participation in the Live.Ride.Share conference in Little Tokyo and our continued engagement with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Urban Solutions program and the Shared Use Mobility Center. It’s why we’re part of the Steering Committee for the City of LA Electric Vehicle Low Income Carshare pilot. The California Air Resources Board has awarded a $1.6 million grant to LA to design, implement, and evaluate a pilot program to deploy 100 shared cars, 80 of which must be electric vehicles (EVs). These EVs will be deployed in Koreatown, Westlake, Pico Union, neighborhoods north of USC, Hollywood & Vermont and portions of downtown LA. Many of the residents in these communities are Angelenos of several Asian and Latino backgrounds who speak limited English and are more comfortable speaking Spanish, Korean, or Chinese.

Most car, ride and bike sharing requires a smart-phone or a credit or debit card. But how does that work for someone who doesn’t have a bank account? Together with other Steering Committee community partners, we will ask the City to engage a provider that will reach out to working class, non-English speakers, and implement solutions to traditional credit barriers.

That may mean pay-as-you go car and bike sharing, perhaps based on Metro’s existing TAP card system. That will also assure that someone can seamlessly use a car or bike share to reach a train or bus station. Maybe we need to put sharing stations inside existing coffee shops, libraries, community centers and restaurants, so there’s a person there that customers can ask “may I have another hour of car share time?” instead of always depending on phone applications. Luckily, we can pick up a few potential solutions from the Greenlining Institute’s “Electric Carsharing in Underserved Communities.” Some of these include partnering with community based organizations on outreach and location of EVs in the neighborhood. There will be a need to educate our residents and neighbors on how EVs work and how to combine carsharing with other transportation modes. We also need multi-lingual program brochures and registration staff.

Criteria air pollution from cars and trucks is killing thousands of our residents every year. Our respective communities are surrounded by high traffic volume coming from the 5, 10, 60, and 110 highways. While ownership of EVs and other near zero emission cars is promoted through tax credits, many of our residents and neighbors cannot access them as they live paycheck to paycheck. Furthermore, electric cars require local mechanics with new training. We have many young men and women who could be trained in this new automotive technology. We are hopeful that the LA EV low income carshare pilot will trigger interest amongst some of our residents and neighbors to become members and use these clean vehicles to access greater job, health, and recreational opportunities.

Different people have different needs, so it’s not all about protected bike lanes, or car shares, or housing. It’s all of those things together. It’s about creating an economic system and built environment that promotes healthy choices, walking, using bikes, taking transit, and sharing. We must make these the natural thing to do, instead of something that’s overly complicated and burdensome.

In the 5th grade, as a naïve child, I was dreaming big when I asked Santa to shelter and feed everyone in our city. Through smart planning and the good use of sharing, we can get a little bit closer to that goal. Either way, we’ll keep at it.