Michael Manville: Measure M and the (Potential) Transformation of Mobility in Los Angeles

Michael Manville is an associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and a faculty fellow at UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies. His research examines transportation, land use, and public finance in large cities.


In the last ten years hundreds of local governments across the U.S. have used direct democracy to increase funding for public transportation. Transit ridership, however, continues to fall, even in places where voters have explicitly approved new taxes to fund it. Why do voters support transit taxes if they do not want to ride transit? This paper uses evidence from Measure M in Los Angeles — a large transportation ballot measure approved in 2016 — to examine this question. Using both original survey data and archival qualitative data provided by L.A. Metro, Manville suggest that voters supported Measure M because they believed public transportation would benefit them in their role as drivers by reducing traffic congestion. Voters believed this, moreover, because transit advocates saw a congestion-reduction message as most likely to be successful at the ballot box. Transit, however, is most successful in places where driving is harder, not easier, so a vote for transit based on the idea that it will make driving easier suggests opposition to many of the complementary policies — higher density, less parking, congestion charges — that actually make transit work. Survey data confirms that most L.A. residents do not support transit-complementary policies, and further suggests that many current L.A. transit riders would prefer to travel by car. Manville concludes that transit ballots in auto-oriented cities succeed in part because they suppress latent conflicts over space, but that transit itself will only succeed when those conflicts are settled in favor of nonauto modes.

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