In part two of our two-part interview with LA CoMotion Chairman, John Rossant, we learn of exciting things to come by way of vast mobility improvements.  With the Los Angeles Olympics slated for 2028, what will transportation in LA look like?  Driverless taxis shuttling through zero traffic congestion?  Driverless flying taxis brought to us by a joint Uber/NASA venture – really?  Listen to find out!


Recording date – November 19, 2017

John Rossant: What’s so fascinating about this sector is exactly how fast moving it now is becoming. On the regulatory side things are moving quickly too. There won’t be any more traffic jams in 2028. I can assure you. You’ll order a flying driverless taxi from the Uber/NASA joint venture called Uber Air Taxis.

I completely agree with Mayor Garcetti when he says that LA will be the world capital of transportation technology. And I think that LA CoMotion can be what help that vision along. But it can also be the place where the industry meets once a year. That’s really why we’re investing in this. It can be very, very important for LA and for the world, and for this emerging ecosystem globally around mobility.

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility in the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California.

I’m Tom Smith and in this episode we continue my discussion with John Rossant.

John is the founder of New Cities, an international non-profit organization that focuses on improving life in cities around the world. New Cities recently hosted a 4-day event all about the future of mobility.

LA CoMotion took place right here in the Los Angeles Arts District. Some very bold and exciting predictions were made about how we’ll be getting around LA in the near future. What follows is the second half of my discussion with John.

So that’s here in the United States and you have a global perspective. But before we get to the global and maybe you can tie that in, what’s changed? Because there was electric cars back when we were figuring out if it was going to be, you know, a Ford or a car company that didn’t make it.

And then fast… and so that’s…it was back to the beginning of cars. But then fast forward to just a few years ago there was all the commotion about the film who killed the electric car. Right? And then we fast forward to the economic collapse. And I remember paying $5 a gallon for gas here in LA. And of course you know I had two V8 vehicles that I was driving that were just guzzlers.

So leading up to a few things have changed. But in your perspective, what’s changed that is allowing this vast clip that were experiencing?

John Rossant: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s a bunch of things happening at the same time. One is certainly technology. So whether it’s battery technology… I mean, you know, electric cars are now very competitive even without massive subsidies. I mean we’ve gotten, you know, the efficiency down the range is amazing. I mean forget Tesla 300 or 350 miles. I mean the new Chevy Volt. Amazing, wonderful car and it’s got 250, 260 mile range at a very, very, very competitive price. It’s a joy to ride. So you have technology and then you have of course, you know, autonomous vehicle technologies suddenly real because of the I.T. revolution.

You have the…. a very different approach of millennials. And then after millennials Generation Z etc. to ownership, to traveling, to having a driver’s license, the cost of car ownership is very high here. And then you have sort of Uber and Lyft bursting onto the scene, and you know gee maybe it makes sense not to have a car but when you need to go across the city, you use an Uber or Lyft. You use your bike or you use other means. Use public transportation.

So people are…you know my 12 year old kid for example. It’s very, very likely he will never have a driver’s license or own a car. Can you imagine that? I mean I’m still of the generation, I guess like you, Tom. I mean, you know, road trips, the idea of having my car. That was freedom. But freedom is, I think it’s thought of in other ways now by people who are much younger than us. So that’s a big shift, and I think also like in LA, I think people have people had enough of the smog and traffic jams and things like that. And then you look at 71 or 72 percent of the voters voted for measure for a tax increase in November a year ago which gave us measure M which is below 120 $122 million for public transportation infrastructure. Wow.

You know so I think it’s people’s perceptions are just changing. You know we’re at a turning point absolutely. We’re being certainly exceeding the hydrocarbon age. You know we are the internal combustion engine and those wonderful V8 engines that you loved and I loved, those will be a thing of the past and they’ll be in museums.And you know, that’s life and that’s good. Thank God. The other thing I think that…let me just add one little thing. And that is it’s become also a planetary issue. So it’s not only the smog in LA But you know with the unbelievably rapid economic development of China and India for example, you have billions of people wanting to have their own cars and that’s the planet cannot support that.

I mean it was one thing if only Americans and some wealthy Europeans drove cars. You know the planet could support that. But the planet cannot support six or seven billion people driving cars every day. And we see that and, you know, the smog in Delhi in Shanghai and Beijing, it’s killing it’s killing hundreds of millions of people.

Tom Smith: And speaking of other cities, you’re probably a good candidate to answer the question how does LA compare to some of its competitive cities around the world from the perspective all things mobility? And where we are with technology? In front, behind, catching up?

John Rossant: Well look, there’s a hell of a lot of catch up to do. But I mean one of the interesting things about LA and Southern California is that it’s like this great big amazing petri dish where you can experiment things because you have to. You have to solve the problems. I mean look. You know Copenhagen is light years ahead of LA or any other city in the United States in terms of, you know, sustainable mobility. I mean people bike there, their bike lanes are bigger than the car lanes. You know they’re going to be…they have a plan to become absolutely carbon neutral by very soon. I think sort of 15 years something like that.

You know any Nordic city is way ahead of any U.S. city in terms of sort of new mobility. You know any big Asian city like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei. Those big four have. I mean public transport that is just a dream. It’s efficient, it’s, you know, delays are in milliseconds. You could eat off the floor.

And It’s reasonable, it’s efficient, but I think what’s interesting about LA is that everything is to be built now so we can leapfrog a lot of things. I mean if you think of, you know, we don’t really have…I mean Metro of course is ramping up, but the public transportation here is, you know, it’s it’s very,very in its infancy compared to let’s say my hometown of New York. But in New York we have this legacy system of creaking transportation infrastructure that was put in, you know, well over 100 years ago for a city that was, you know, a third of the size that it is now. And you know I mean the tens, if not hundreds of billions of dollars New York will have to put into just into maintenance. I mean forget about putting in new lines. So here we are in 2017 and Metro is now just starting its expansion program in LA. So I think, you know, LA is going to be such a different, such a more wonderful city in 10 years because of everything that’s happening in mobility I think.

Tom Smith: So you mentioned LA and Paris and to New York. Do you see with the change that LA inevitably needs to be making, do you see at some point in time that LA becomes more progressive than New York in mobility and public transportation?

John Rossant: Oh absolutely, absolutely. And I think it already is in many ways. I mean I think its plans are more progressive. I don’t know quite how you define progressive. But I think this place is much more forward looking than any big city in the United States.

Tom Smith: Ten years. And I mentioned I listened to…[inaudible] said his talk that he gave it at the event or earlier. And you know he mentioned the Olympics and going to be here in 2028. OK. For a lot of us that’s going to be like a blink of the eye. Boom, here they are. What does mobility in Los Angeles, and cities. The Los Angeles city. You see some other massive factors that are adjusting. What does that look like when the Olympics are here?

John Rossant: Oh OK. Well let me let me have a stab at that one. That means Tom, let’s see you’re flying in from… I know you live here now, but let’s say you’re flying in to LA Olympics in 2028 from Honolulu. Because you’ll be living in Hawaii by then, the beach I can see you. OK see you come in. You will have a driverless taxi. Will pick you up because you would have ordered it when you’re getting off the plane. It’ll pick you up curbside at Terminal 6 at LAX., whisk you to your hotel and the next morning you will…

Tom Smith: Real quick. A driverless taxi will take me to my hotel.

John Rossant: Yeah.

Tom Smith: Will there be traffic congestion?

John Rossant: No, of course no. In fact traffic jams will be the sort of quaintest dark memory by that point.

Tom Smith: 2028

John Rossant: Oh yeah. Yet there won’t be any more traffic jams in 2028. I can assure you.

Tom Smith: I’m smiling here as that Los Angeles driver right now.

John Rossant: Yeah. So your hotel because you like the beach, you’ve come from Waikiki. So you’re going to stay on the west side at some hotel in Santa Monica on the beach. But then LA Commotion of course is downtown so you could take an autonomous vehicle, taxi, the same one that brought you in from the airport, and it’ll take you about 20 minutes to get downtown from the beach in Santa Monica. But you decide you need to be there a little bit quicker. So you’ll order a flying tack…flying driverless taxi from the Uber NASA joint venture called Uber air Taxis.

Tom Smith: Flying driverless.

John Rossant: Oh yeah. Completely driverless of course.

Tom Smith: By 2028.

John Rossant: Yes. Yes. Mean I think that’s probably pretty good bet. And that will take you in about five minutes from your hotel in Santa Monica to the site of LA CoMotion in the arts district. And then to get back to LAX. you’ll probably take an air taxi. That’s really you know the same one.

And you know just to tell you something. I was at the headquarters the other day a few weeks ago at LAX. of LAWA, which is Los Angeles World Airports. It owns LAX. And there now as you may have heard, they have a massive airport expansion because they need a new runway and you know, LA’s booming and so they you know have to expand the airport and they have to put in a new parking facility. Now spending in many many millions of dollars for a new parking facility in 2017 is the question mark over it. Yes you think well, in ten years time a lot of people a lot of the cars are going to be autonomous, will be shared. People won’t need to park at the airport. The whole point of autonomous vehicles is that cars are going to be used all the time instead of just 5 percent of the time which is what most of us use our cars. So why would you need a parking facility at the airport?

So they put a lot of time into thinking about what this new parking facility because they will need it over the next 10 years. But they’ve designed it in such a way so that this new facility LAX. can be converted to an autonomous vehicle holding zone. So the fellow was explaining that to us. And then he said, “and of course we’re putting in a reinforced roof.” And I said “what’s the reinforced roof for?” And he said “well that’s for the people coming to the airport and personal vertical landing and takeoff vehicles.” And I went “Oh, ok.” But my point is that’s being designed now in anticipation of what’s coming. So the world is going to change very very quickly Tom.

Tom Smith: Are those vertical transport carriers? Are they electric?

John Rossant: Yes they’ll be electric.

Tom Smith: So we have some some pretty big innovation in batteries. By way of weight that has to be…

John Rossant: But it’s happening already. I mean in fact where we’re sitting now at the Los Angeles clean tech incubator in the heart of downtown Los Angeles there’s a terrific company called Ampere which is developing an electric plane. Battery driven plane. And they’re pretty far along I can tell you. Great project.

Tom Smith: So thank you so much for joining me. This has been fun on both a personal and professional level. But before I let you go what does the next..what are your goals for LA CoMotion moving forward between now and the short term? The next few years, and then also we lead up to this very exciting time as you described for the 2028 Olympics?

John Rossant: Well yeah I mean look. I completely agree with Eric Garcetti with Mayor Garcetti when he says that LA will be the world capital of transportation technology.

I believe that. And I think that LA CoMotion can be what help that vision along. But it can also be the place where the industry meets once a year. That’s really why we’re investing in this. We think it’s…and it can be very, very important for LA and for the world, and for this emerging ecosystem globally around mobility. Whether it’s people who are developing batteries or scooters or car manufacturers who are, you know, repositioning themselves. Software makers, materials scientists. There is this emerging ecosystem around mobility and they need a place to meet. So I think they can be that.

Tom Smith: All right, excellent. Anything I missed?

John Rossant: Not at all, did you good job man.

Tom Smith: Ok. Well hey John, thank you so much, again.

John Rossant: Thank you sir, yeah that was fun.

Tom Smith: That wraps up this episode of iDriveSoCal. Thanks again to my guest, John Rossant who’s both the founder of New Cities as well as the new LA CoMotion event that will be going on every year. You can follow them at LACoMotionFest. I’m Tom Smith, until next time. Thank you so much.

Download Complete Transcript