If you live in Southern California you have much to brag about when it comes to the advantages our region has to offer.  However, traffic congestion is definitely not one of them.  By (far too) many measures, SoCal delivers the worst traffic on planet earth.  And one of the lead organizations in addressing the issue is the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.  We sat down with the non-profit’s head of Aerospace & Advanced Transportation, Judy Kruger, to discuss the economic portion of the mobility equation here in Los Angeles County and its surrounding area of influence.  Find out how autonomous parcel delivery will play a role in alleviating traffic in this iDriveSoCal Podcast.


Recorded April 17, 2018, Los Angeles, CA

Judy Kruger: whether they have a new technology that will go on a cube satellite or a flying car or a new data collecting technology for vehicles. It’s just all converging, whether it’s aerospace or advanced transportation, all the platforms that are around it. We’ve got the perfect setting with our 11 million people in one small, tight spot.

Tom Smith: Driving each other nuts on the 405.

Judy Kruger: Exactly. We’ve got the right setting to move this technology forward, and it’s going to be very exciting to see it.

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California. I’m Tom Smith, and today I’m downtown Los Angeles at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Joining me is the director of the industry cluster development … long title here … of aerospace and advanced transportation. Judy Kruger is with me. Judy, thank you for joining me.

Judy Kruger: Thank you, Tom. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Tom Smith: Judy is in charge of basically the portion of the LA County Economic Development Corporation that we here at iDriveSoCal, in our mobility interest … Judy’s in charge of that whole space. Anything that has to do with mobility, transportation, as it pertains to the county of Los Angeles, which I’d imagine also impacts greater than just the county of Los Angeles, Judy’s in charge of that development. Very excited to be sitting with you, Judy. Tell us a little bit about just high-level what your organization does, and what you do within it.

Judy Kruger: Certainly. At the LAEDC, we are focused on driving growth with these industry clusters. Advanced transportation could be, as you know, anything related to mobility, electric, autonomous, infrastructure, charging stations, alternative fuels, design studios. What we’re trying to do with our industries is grow them organically, and grow them in innovation.

Tom Smith: It’s a little bit of everything, and with that in mind I’d kind of like to focus on maybe the top kind of three-ish things, if we can right now, that you have on your plate.

Judy Kruger: If I were to pick the top three, what’s unique to Southern California in addition to our innovative culture is, Southern California by policy and environment was way ahead of the game in electric vehicles. Some of the spinoff of that is, unlike any other place in the US, we have six bus manufacturers in LA County. Actually, eight bus manufacturers in the region, electric bus manufacturers.

Judy Kruger: We are targeting assisting that industry grow, because it has a ripple effect to driving growth with an industry like that, that will additionally play into autonomous. That’s our second area. We’re looking at, how can we add urban planning to industry planning, and where can we help roll out projects on the autonomous side?

Judy Kruger: Then thirdly, we’re helping with infrastructure and charging stations, rolling out what the county needs. We have charging manufacturers in the region and designers in the region as well.

Tom Smith: Electric vehicles, electric buses. I know you’re very proud of the electric bus manufacturers that are here. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. The total percentage of electric vehicles anywhere, including LA County, is quite small, comparatively speaking, right? And that’s expected to grow, hands down.

Judy Kruger: Right.

Tom Smith: I want you to talk a little bit about that, because I’m sure you have some good insight. But then the other component is electric buses. We are in the traffic capital of the world by many metrics, if you look at INRIX, which is a company that monitors such metrics. But with that in mind, and I’ve been here personally for 13 years, maybe 14, once actually my wife and I took the train. Parked our cars, took the train to Staples Center, once. What I’m getting to is, not a lot of electric cars on the road right now currently. Not a lot of people taking the bus right now currently. Can you speak to both of those elements?

Judy Kruger: I would agree that our statistics show that bus ridership is down. However, that doesn’t match what’s actually happening on the ground in LA. In leadership roles and in conversations around the county, that’s the question. How do we innovate in shared mobility? What should the buses do, whether it’s revamping what their mapping grid work looks like in the county, or changing over the fleet to all electric, which has been on the state’s mandate for quite a while now. We’re looking at a combination of environmental issues that are driving electric buses, because we’ve got to have, especially in disadvantaged communities, we’ve got to mitigate the environmental issues for those regions with electric, and then on top of it, handle the shared mobility and rolling out what really needs to happen as a solution for the congestion.

Tom Smith: If people aren’t riding a bus, and maybe this isn’t under your jurisdiction in any capacity, and just tell me if it’s not, but if people aren’t riding a bus, it doesn’t matter if it’s pulled by horses or run on gas engine or natural gas or electric, right?

Judy Kruger: Right. We’re trying to wrap everything into one conversation when it’s separate issues. Shared mobility, whether it’s a bus or Uber or Lyft, or shared biking. That’s issue. Environmental issues are a second issue. Where buses are currently mapped, and maybe more strategically where they need to be remapped, those are separate issues. But they all kind of wrap together, because one thing we do know is that LA can’t stay the way it is.

Tom Smith: That’s part of the reason why I started iDriveSoCal, is because … countless hours of mind-numbing frustration in traffic. I don’t mean to put you on a hot seat here, but that’s part of the … just a true conundrum. I mean, we all sit in it, we all loathe, hate it, but yet we continue. And more and more people come here to Southern California because it’s fantastic living, right? Except for traffic. That’s the one thing that everybody says. But yet, what are we really doing? I guess you being on the front lines, you’re bringing industry in to the county to develop solutions for that pain point.

Judy Kruger: Right. There’s the urban mobility piece, and unlike probably any other region, we wrap it together with industry growth. Both of those are hot issues for us at LAEDC. We want to grow the electric bus industry. At the same time, we’ve got the urban planning piece, of how to convince people to think ride share as a solution to congestion. And you know, it may be, and I’m not the only one saying this, but it may be that policy has to drive that more, just like policy drove the mitigation of environmental issues related to electric vehicles a couple decades ago. California was ahead of the game when it enforced policy that drove electric vehicles to mitigate the pollution issue. In the same way, we’re going to probably see policy that will drive the congestion issue, like other cities have done. Maybe there’ll be zones where you don’t get to drive your car.

Tom Smith: We talked about this a little bit off-mic. The councilman who … with a lot of citizens in the Playa Vista, Playa del Rey, Marina del Rey, Venice area, where the councilman had the big push. Was it Bonin, or Mike Bonin, or something like that? He had the big push for driving traffic down to one lane, and then all of a sudden that hugely backfired, and now that traffic is being put back to the way that it was. That’s the other weird thing, is that we all know there’s a problem, but then when solutions are proposed or actions taken to solve the problem, we’re all freaking out about it.

Judy Kruger: It’s a mindset change.

Tom Smith: Right?

Judy Kruger: You know, I drive in from Santa Monica on 10, inching my way along. I could take the Metro train in, and I have in the past, but I like my vehicle. That’s a mindset change I have to overcome, and a lot of Angelenos do as well, because we know we can’t stay where we’re at. That’s a little psychological, sociological change that is in process.

Tom Smith: It’s here first because we have the biggest problems, the biggest pain points, and because of that we have the most innovative companies and technologies, is there anything else you want to touch on on that topic before we move on to autonomous?

Judy Kruger: We’re focused on industry growth. A hot topic right now that relates to industry growth is jobs. We’re an ever-shifting economy, probably at an accelerated rate just because of the demographics of LA. As we assist the six bus manufacturers in the region and we look at what the workforce needs are, that’s a hot topic on all leadership levels across the county, because if we then move on to the next topic, autonomous vehicles, that’s going to be a shift, and a big shift, in who’s hired and where. But even for engineers and line workers on our manufacturing for the electric bus manufacturers, that’s a agenda we’re looking at carefully and working with the local community colleges.

Tom Smith: On to autonomous. Huge topic. Followed it pretty closely here on iDriveSoCal. The accident just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, about a month ago now, kind of tapped the brakes on the progress. But I don’t think that’s slowing down, really. I think it’s just kind of like a minor reset. Very, very, very interesting topic overall, the concept of a car coming and picking me up and there not even being a driver in it. Then I know that package delivery is something that’s on the front burner. But tell me about autonomous driving as it pertains to the LAEDC.

Judy Kruger: Well, that certainly is one of the agendas we’re looking at. How can we assist in autonomous rollout? I think what should happen, and is probably currently happening, and that is advancements in parcel delivery, because there’s so many innovative companies that are autonomous, don’t hold passengers, and are lightweight and small moving. The technology for autonomous can continue to accelerate while all of the mapping and the glitches related to autonomy can continue to roll out without the danger of killing a pedestrian or a passenger. At LAEDC, we’d like to have a couple of pilot projects that are pilot to commercial roll out in the region for small, lightweight, slow-moving autonomous parcel delivery.

Tom Smith: What does that look like?

Judy Kruger: It could be as small as a small sidewalk drone that rolls along and delivers parcels that a business owner or someone in a home has to step out to the sidewalk and then open the drone or the vehicle and take their parcel in. It could be as-

Tom Smith: So this is, I’m at the office and I ran out of legal pads, and oh, I need some staples, and the little drone from Amazon or Staples or Office Depot, whatever, comes boogieing over …

Judy Kruger: Exactly, yeah.

Tom Smith: … and I take a break from my desk and go out when I’m alerted on my app and tap in the code or whatever, the thing opens, I grab my legal pads and staples, and I’m on my way and the autonomous package delivery vehicle is on its way to its next stop as well.

Judy Kruger: Yes. There you have continual rollout of the mapping and the testing of autonomous that’s going to help the passenger autonomous vehicles as well. I think the bigger picture is, we’d like to get some pilot projects on the ground going in California. The DMV regulations don’t allow for parcel delivery commercial application yet, and so we’re talking to a couple of companies about where they could roll out a parcel delivery that’s both business as well as residential in one pilot project area. That’s really where we should be at. I just think it’s going to be an interesting platform to see roll out. We’re seeing it roll out across the US in different pockets, and I think LA’s just prime for seeing, like I said, some parcel delivery pilots roll out in the region.

Tom Smith: Do we have an ETA on any of those?

Judy Kruger: Well, I’d like to see some parcel delivery rollout this year, and we are talking with some companies that are looking at pilot projects. But again, we’ve got regulatory hurdles that need to be moved in order to move this ahead.

Tom Smith: Let’s touch base on what you had in mind, on mind there, for infrastructure, charging stations.

Judy Kruger: Well, there’s multiple organizations that are coordinating efforts. We can start with actual charging manufacturers in the region, and others that are doing the slow charger and fast charger manufacturing. There’s plenty of companies that are setting up for distribution of chargers. There’s additional county and city organizations and nonprofit organizations that are mapping out areas that need chargers, like desert areas.

Tom Smith: As it pertains to the next 12 months, 24 months, and 36 months, what are the most exciting, three most exciting things that Southern Californians are going to see in LA County as a consumer rolling around?

Judy Kruger: We definitely should see autonomous parcel delivery in the region. We have some, quietly and privately, testing of autonomous vehicles in the region as well. We’re not understanding necessarily how quickly this is rolling out because this is behind private fences. But also we’re going to continually see the innovative side of LA, and whether that’s shared mobility and … You know, I live in Santa Monica, so I see the Bird being rolled out, and I think it’s just fantastic. We even have another scooter called URB-E actually being manufactured in Pasadena. Very cool technology because it’s collapsible and you can easily put it on the Metro. That’s a very nice first mile/last mile solution. If we were all to ride buses and really embrace shared mobility, whether it’s the Metro train or the Metro buses, the URB-E fits nicely into a compartment or in front of you folded, and it’s all electric.

Tom Smith: Well, it’s an exciting space and it’s an exciting time. It’s an exciting time to be here in Los Angeles. I thank you for your time, unless there’s anything else that you’d like to add.

Judy Kruger: No. I think this is always an interesting conversation because we’re tying in urban planning, and how quickly can we do it, and growing the industry. It’s just a very exciting region to be a part of. You know, we weekly meet with companies, whether they have a new technology that will go on a cube satellite or a flying car or a new data collecting technology for vehicles. It’s just all converging, whether it’s aerospace or advanced transportation, whether it’s clean fuel or alternative fuel, and all the platforms that are around it. We’ve got the perfect setting with our 11 million people in one small, tight spot.

Tom Smith: Driving each other nuts on the 405.

Judy Kruger: Exactly. We’ve got the right setting to move this technology forward, and it’s going to be very exciting to see it.

Tom Smith: Judy Kruger of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, director of the industry cluster development, aerospace and advanced transportation. Thank you so much for being with me. I’m Tom Smith. This is iDriveSoCal. We’re going to reconnect with Judy in the future for sure, but until next time, thanks for listening.