The Future of Public Transit

The 9th Annual UCLA Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment

Wednesday, April 27
8:00 am – 3:00 pm
California Endowment Center for Healthy Communities

 Keynote address from Therese McMillan, Chief Planning Officer, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

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Strong public and political support for public transit is abounding across the United States. The Los Angeles region, by some measures, is seen as the poster child for this enthusiasm; home to the largest group of public works projects in the United States. But new transit project construction is only a part of what will shape the future as public transit competes for customers one trip at a time. Transit managers need to understand their markets and competition, and how both might be expected to change in the years ahead.

In response, the 9th Annual UCLA Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment will provide attendees with an understanding of who transit customers are, how large societal shifts are likely to change the characteristics of their current and potential riders, and how transportation planning and policy should think about responding. These issues will be addressed in three ways during the forum. The opening panel will discuss demographic and technological trends and how these trends are likely to shape public transit ridership. The second panel will feature presentations of how agencies can respond to changing preferences, technologies and demographics. The forum will conclude with a keynote address from Metro Chief Planning Officer and former FTA acting administrator, Therese McMillan, to tie together the themes of the day and reflect on how public transit adds value to the transportation network and to society in Los Angeles and other U.S cities. 

Session 1 (9:00 AM – 10:30 AM): Current and future trends in transit riders and patronage.

What are the current ridership trends in public transit? How are demographic and preferential trends driving these ridership trends? Will an apparent “back to the city” movement by young adults continue? How can new services like Lyft, Uber, and Car2Go enable more car-light/transit-heavy lifestyles, or are these services pulling passengers off of buses and trains and into cars?  

Moderated by Brian Taylor, Director, UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies/Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies

  • “Does the driving decline portend a transit ridership surge?” Michael Manville, Assistant Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University
  • “A Taste for transit? Youth, immigrants, and transit use trends in the U.S” Evelyn Blumenberg, Professor and Chair, Department of Urban Planning, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
  • “Friend or Foe? Exploring opportunities for transit agency and private sector collaboration” Emily Castor, Director of Transportation Policy, Lyft

Session 2 (10:45 AM – 12:15 PM): How can transit agencies survive, and thrive, in a brave new world?

The trends from the first panel are replete with implications for transit operators and for transportation professionals alike. How are agencies adapting to these trends? What strategies are shown to deliver the best outcomes? Does it make more sense to tackle easy-small scale changes like stop consolidation or forge ahead on large service realignments?

 Moderated by Martin Wachs, Professor Emeritus, Department of Urban Planning, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

  • “What if we start over from scratch? How Houston is reimagining its transit system”  Kurt Luhrsen, Vice President of Planning, Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County
  • “Meeting service: How the New York City transit system is adjusting to current constrains and emerging demands” Robert “Buz” Paaswell, Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering, City College of New York
  • “New trains, new services, new networks, new fares, new partners… Metro’s strategies for building ridership in the years ahead” Phillip Washington, CEO, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Networking Lunch (12:15 PM – 1:15 PM)

Keynote Address (1:30 PM – 2:30 PM): “Public transit’s societal contribution: now and in the future” Therese McMillan, Chief Planning Officer, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; formerly Acting Administrator, Federal Transit Administration

Moderated by Madeline Brozen, Associate Director, UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies

Closing Remarks – Brian Taylor (2:30 PM – 2:45 PM)

Sponsored By:




California Endowment Center for Healthy Communities
1000 N. Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Previous Events

Since 2008, the UCLA Lewis Center, in partnership with the Institute of Transportation Studies, has hosted a forum in Downtown Los Angeles to engage policy makers and practitioners with research and case studies on the connection between transportation, land use and the environment. Each of the past events, their themes and associated programs are listed and linked below.