Los Angeles’s streets are famously congested, home to some of the worst traffic in the world. In 2015, the average L.A. driver sat through 80 hours of traffic delays, according to a report by Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The city is also consistently home to some of the most miserable stretches of road in the country.
In a lot of ways, this isn’t unexpected—L.A. is a city built around freeways, and the car remains the dominant form of transportation for Angelenos. For decades, the city has struggled to wean its inhabitants off the automobile in a myriad of ways, planning improvements to the underutilized public transit system and starting a bike-share program. So far, those attempts have had little effect on car usage in the city; public transit usage is down and just one percent of L.A. residents ride their bikes to work.
Enter GoLA, a recently-launched mobile app that aims to reduce the number of cars on the street and shift the way L.A. residents think about commuting. The app links various transportation options, including biking, public transit, ride-hailing, and driving, and then allows users to compare each method to see which is the fastest, cheapest, or greenest.
“When you walk out onto a curb, you don’t know that there might be a bus arriving around the corner, or that there’s a ZipCar sitting in the garage across the street,” says David Cummins, the senior vice president for mobility solutions at Xerox, which co-produced the app with the city.“You can’t know all of the options that are out there. And not only that—you can’t really know what the optimal option is.”
GoLA is meant to help fix that problem, Cummins says, by presenting riders with the most optimal routes and allowing them to prioritize by their needs (they can optimize a route that’s either the cheapest, quickest, or greenest). The app also estimates the number of calories burned in a given trip (biking to work or walking to a transit-stop, for example).
Its creators hope that by presenting users with all of their options, the app will help them begin to think of their commutes differently.
“We’re trying to make [commuters] aware of things like tracking their carbon footprint and calories burned,” Cummins says. “We want to help people see that maybe getting around town isn’t all about getting from Point A to Point B in the quickest way possible. Mobility can be fun. It can be a good way to get a workout; it can have a social aspect if you want it to.” Eventually, the app will contain a scorecard feature that tracks a user’s carbon emissions or calories burned; they’ll be able to share the details on Facebook, too.
In the next month, the app will turn on a payments feature, allowing users to pay for ride-sharing in the app itself.
The city of Los Angeles will hopefully benefit from the app, too, by culling anonymous data from users and analyzing the most-traveled routes in order to optimize the placement of bike-share stations and transit stops. With that help, it’s possible the city might finally manage to make a dent in the city’s freeway gridlock.