Tech Firms See Opening to Tackle L.A. Traffic

Travis VanderZanden, an investor in autonomous car companies like General Motors’ Cruise and a former executive at Lyft and Uber, wants to get people out of cars. After moving to Southern California last year—and confronting the city’s notorious traffic—he began work on a startup called Bird. The company recently launched a fleet of lightweight, electric scooters after raising more than $10 million in venture capital, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Bird is the latest entrant into the Los Angeles area’s push to develop new technologies and policies that will compel commuters to switch to shared vehicles, bikes, scooters or public transit—in short, anything other than driving alone in their cars. While the region’s last 100 years have been shaped by the automobile, many residents and policy makers are worried that self-driving cars will create even more traffic once commuting distance is no longer restricted by humans’ tolerance for long drives. In response, some venture-backed companies are looking for opportunities to reshape commuting habits.

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“We’re part of the overall transportation puzzle,” Mr. VanderZanden said. “L.A. is the perfect market to experiment.”

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“L.A. is a symbol of car culture and congestion. If we can offer something of value that fundamentally changes that dynamic in the L.A. area, it will be a replicable model for many environments around the country.”