It propelled SpaceShipOne into suborbital space, so maybe a low-altitude version of the X Prize could give Angelenos more space on the road. Here's how it might work: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority carves out some of the $115 billion in transportation funding that's headed to the region over the next couple of decades to stage a contest.
It also creates two teams. Team A tries to lure as many motorists out of their cars as possible by building rail. (Note to referee: Ex-bus riders don't count as ex-motorists.) Team B must lure motorists to telecommuting. The team with the most ex-motorists after a set period of time wins the prize.
(Let the general public chase the bounty too. The X Prize was just a $10-million purse, yet it helped induce the birth of private spaceflight as well as a host of technological innovations. Is it really so fanciful to think that it could conquer gridlock?)
Does telecommuting really stand a chance? Absolutely. Telecommuters already outnumber rail commuters in the L.A. area, and according to U.S. census data, those who work from home outnumber total transit commuters (rail and bus) in most of the 50 most populous metro areas. A zero-minute commute alone is an enticing carrot -- imagine what an extra nudge might do.
This column first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.