Have you ever tried walking in Los Angeles? I have, and do not recommend it. Whilst visiting the area some years back, I ignored expert local advice and embarked upon what I assumed was a short walk through downtown L.A. Post tiptoeing underneath the 110 overpass and a brief entrapment on a crosswalk-less median, I understood why walking is not a part of the culture. The San Francisco Bay Area is no more pleasant, serving as the poster child for rapid urban growth with a highly underserved mobility infrastructure to support needs.
The demand to live, work and own in urban California has reached a breaking point. With more Californians crammed into already overpopulated urban centers, our commute envy of those spending less than two hours a day in traffic is at an all-time high. While California depends on its transportation infrastructure to support its economy – ranking fifth largest in the world by GDP measures – the aging system has created a formidable transportation crisis. As the system ages, it is becoming more challenging and costly to maintain existing infrastructure and accommodate much needed change. With a significant focus on climate change and building sustainable communities, it is explicitly known that they cannot function without a well-maintained multi-modal connectivity system. Given every component of California’s transportation system is integral to providing efficient and interconnected systems, how do we go about implementing long-term, sustainable solutions to address congestion amidst unreliable government funding and political tugs of war?
New air mobility entrants have attempted tackling the congestion issue, however to much surprise, review of rotorcraft operations in urban environments reveal marginal time savings. Time required to reach a helipad, often located at a major airport to one of very few commercially certified helipads in city centers, followed by another lengthy drive to the ultimate destination simply does not justify high operations costs of helicopter travel. Vehicles remain highly underutilized due to lack of intercity connectivity infrastructure, and the need for more commercially certified landing zones is ever explicit.
Having said that, building and improving the existing infrastructure remains hindered by the declining fuel tax revenue caused by the shift away from internal-combustion engines towards electric, hybrid and other fuel-efficient vehicles that are not subject to gas taxes at all. Even with California poised to impose the highest fuel taxes nationwide, the budget gap remains far too drastic to close. Building ground-based infrastructure is extremely costly as showcased by the controversial California High-Speed Rail (CHSR) project, so cities are looking towards the third dimension to combat congestion issues.
Pioneering Urban Air Mobility (UAM) efforts in the U.S., the city of Los Angeles is accelerating cooperation between private and public sectors. Reinventing mobility is unfolding real-time, with various local government entities joining forces with the private sector to change city landscape by rethinking urban planning and connectivity modes. Sustainable mobility yields innovation and profit, and while Los Angeles is leading efforts, the entire state ought to consider and adapt UAM as the way of the future.
Skyports recently unveiled the world’s first passenger air taxi vertiport prototype in Singapore and is actively seeking to solve the infrastructure issues by partnering with local governments and private companies to provide long-term solutions to California’s mobility crisis. While parallels between introduction of UAM and past technologies are too numerous to mention, we work rigorously to change the way our cities move success.