Image from Teamster.org of a horse and buggy and a motorized jitney bus

What will it Take to Change one’s Commute?

With the convenience of driving alone, what will it take to change one’s commuting pattern. Well, it may take some good old-fashioned marketing, and lots of it.

You like the convenience of driving your own car, right. Being able to get in your car and drive to anywhere you want to go, whenever you want to go.

You are not tied to anyone else’s schedule. You don’t have to wait for anyone. If you are running late, who cares. No one is waiting for you.

The same is true on your daily commute. You don’t want to be tied to someone else’s schedule. If you have to work late, there is no problem. Your car is there and no one is waiting for you or relying on you to leave at a certain time.If you feel sick, you can leave whenever you want.

The one draw-back in this type of thinking is the resulting congestion and bottlenecks on our nation’s highways when most of the people in a region drive to work alone. Unless you live pretty close to where you work, there is a good chance you sit in traffic a good part of your day. Since employers  rely on the productivity of their employees, sitting in traffic congestion inhibits one’s ability to be productive. And this is costly to employers, whether they are in the private or public sector.

To bear this out, I did a little research. From the Auto Insurance Center, statistics showed that approximately 86% of the U.S. Population drive to work. That is no surprise there, but I am surprised it is that high. Of those commuters, 75% drive alone and they lose approximately 42 hours a year stuck in traffic jams.

Traffic

If you want to understand the true costs of this phenomenon, each commuter wastes an average of 19 gallons of gas while sitting, and fuming, in traffic. That takes about 163 million barrels of crude oil to produce, almost two months of Texas’ total annual oil output, which is hard on the environment as well as the pocketbook. In fact, based on both the cost of time and the price of fuel, traffic jams cost a commuter approximately $960 per year. Think about how many bags of groceries that could buy.

With the expense of more highway or mass transit infrastructure, the logical approach is to address the demand of our roads and highways instead of scrambling to keep-up the supply. But again, that means changing one’s habit which is very difficult. And the convenience of driving alone is tough to compete against, even if driving alone leads to worsening congestion.

It certainly is much cheaper to encourage carpooling, vanpooling, telework, or flextime than to build another road. The problem is how to sell other commuting modes. Well, it takes good marketing. Though it is a transportation problem, it takes a marketing approach to sell the advantages of other commuting options over the convenience of driving alone?

Take for instance the recent ad campaign by the DC based Commuter Connections, a network of transportation management organizations based throughout the Washington metropolitan area. Commuter Connections began airing a short radio commercial that spells out how carpooling makes people happier and saves them time and money. Since many people listen to the radio in their cars, they are bound to hear the ad during rush-hour while sitting motionless in traffic. I have heard the ad myself and remembered thinking, “what a good ad campaign.” And good timing too. Who says radio is dead?
van

Also, check out the promotional youtube video from Carpool.CA. It is entitled “Do Your Bit… Share It”! It’s always good to market to one’s pocketbook.

It is clear that to promote other commuting options, you need to work continuously at changing commuters’ habits and behaviors. And this takes time. If commuters receive repeated messages in the media about the benefits of transportation options, eventually they will start to consider carpooling or vanpooling over driving alone.

And it doesn’t hurt if companies or transportation agencies offer conveniences and incentives to help encourage other commuting options. Another strong program Commuter Connections offers, among others, is their Guaranteed Ride Home. If a commuter registers with the Commuter Connections database, and uses an alternative mode for commuting to work at lease twice a week or more, that commuter is guaranteed a ride home, four times per year, in case of emergency or unforeseen need to stay late at the office.

The America Marketing Association defined marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Seems to me that the promotion of carpooling, vanpooling and other commuter options to drivers on congested roads fits well with the principles of marketing, at least in this context. This is the case especially with the reference, delivering something of value to “society at large.” What could be more of value to society than reducing the number of cars on the highway and at minimal cost?

James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of Counties as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.

Thailand Crash

Thailand’s Deadly Roads and the Global Pandemic of Traffic Crashes

A total of 463 people died in 3,791 traffic crashes in Thailand between December 27, 2018 and January 2 of 2019. Yes, you read correctly. In the span of seven days, 463 people lost their lives during the country’s “seven dangerous days” over the New Year holiday when Thais were traveling to visit friends and family for the one week festival. This was an increase to 2017’s 423 deaths during the “seven dangerous days”.

Thailand’s roads are the deadliest roads in Southeast Asia. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 22,941 people die each year in traffic crashes in Thailand. That’s an average of 62 deaths per day. 73% of those deaths are people riding motorcycles, which have become the most popular form of transportation for many households. Thailand is also ranked 2nd in the world for most lethal roads after Libya by the World Health Organization. Their road collision-related death rate is 32.7 out of every 100,000 people. In Libya, in 2015 their reported rate was 73.4 deaths out of every 100,000 people. In United States an estimated 40,100 people were killed in 2017 with a current death rate of 12.4 out of every 100,000 people. But understand that even though United States has a higher total of traffic crashes per year than Thailand it has a lesser rate because United States has an overall population of 325.7 million whereas Thailand has a population of 69.04 million.

Why is Thailand’s traffic fatality rate so high? One of the noted obstacles to safer roads is lack of enforcement of traffic rules. Drunk driving and speeding are the most reported causes of crashes. In addition to drunk driving and speeding, the failure to wear helmets and seatbelts and the lack of restraints for children are among the biggest risks for road safety that is embedded in the culture. Cultural habits can be difficult to change. The number of police traffic stops have increased in certain areas and there have been more signs mandating motorcyclists to wear helmets, but are those the only factors when it comes to tackling this problem, especially if they have proven to not be efficient enough?

Road safety is a worldwide issue that is not addressed enough. Road crashes have been labeled a global pandemic by the Pulitzer Center and are the eighth leading cause of death for people of all ages, with 1.35 million people dying on the road in 2016. These crashes and untimely deaths are preventable.  Globally, there are proper measures to approach this great issue that requires a collaboration of disciplines:

  • Policies and enforcement in regards to proper speed limits, alcohol impairment, seat-belt use, child restraints, and safety helmets.
  • Adequate road design and transportation facilities (bicycle, pedestrian, motorcycles, and transit). When possible separate motor vehicles from more vulnerable modes such as people walking and biking. Promoting safer and more efficient travel for all users: motorists, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. Placing traffic calming and proper signage.
  • Encouraging and implementing the use of safe and flexible modes of public transportation.
  • Powerful public awareness campaigns
  • Making vehicles more protective and visible for occupants, pedestrians, and cyclists. Using high-mounted brake lights and reflective materials on cycles, carts, rickshaws and other non-motorized forms of transport.

For something so preventable, traffic crashes in Thailand and around the world really need a bigger outcry.

Jazmin Kimble is an Urban Planner and Urban Designer  from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Architectural Design, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.

Katy freeway (I-10) in Houston, Tx

So, How’s the Commute?

Why do we pick one job opportunity over another? That is if you are lucky enough to have more than one offer at a particular time. What are the priorities in that decision-making process? Are these priorities changing as more millennials enter the workforce?

Traditionally, a candidate would select the job that pays the most money. Yes! “show me the money.” You want a job that fits your skills and ambitions, and one that provides more opportunity for advancement. It is a common perception that nothing else really played into the decision.

Well, as the transportation geek that I am, I propose there is much more to it today than money. I am not arguing money is no longer important, especially in areas like the DC Metro where I live, but other factors are becoming increasingly important. And, again, in the DC Metro area which has some of the worst traffic congestion in the county, the commute is a prime factor in that decision.

 

Traffic

The common scenario at one time was you take the high paying job in the city, but you buy a house far out in the suburbs where housing is much cheaper. As properties become more expensive, the further out you live, you put up with a commute that may require two to three hours per day sitting in your Single Occupied Vehicle (SOV). You just have to deal with it. Well, that may be becoming less the case with the current work force.

Several years ago I was out of work and landed a position on temporary assignment. A few months later, the company offered me a permanent position but I was also offered a second job from another employer, a local government. I actually drew up a matrix to compare pros and cons for each of the jobs. The length of the commute was a key factor. Unfortunately, both jobs were at locations over 20 miles from my home, but one job required a 20 minute shorter commute than the current job I had. I took the new job.

 

drawing of van

But I am not referring to just the length or hassle of the commute. Candidates consider other commuting options that would be available with this new company. What other commuting options would I be referring to? Well does the company have access and/or opportunity for an employee to use:

  1. Transit (light rail, commuter rail, or bus)
  2. Ridesharing ( carpools or vanpools)
  3. Biking or Walking to Work
  4. Telework
  5. Flexible Work Hours

And there are also the incentives (financial or other) a company can provide to help employees consider other commuter options? These may include:

  1. Pre-tax subsidies
  2. Discounted passes
  3. Incentives for non-parking
  4. Shuttle access
  5. Guaranteed Ride Home
  6. Employer Assisted living

I recently read a tweet from Michelle “Shelly” Parker who manages the regional GoTriangle TDM program for the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area.

She posted her article from a local business publication in which she notes that with low unemployment in many areas across the country, companies are looking at ways, some may be viewed as extreme, in attracting talent for their open positions. While many companies are limited in what they can provide, a company that provides commuter benefits and a strong commuter options program can go a long way in recruiting much needed talent.

It is clear that commuting considerations should not be dismissed as something just for “green conscious” companies or companies in large metropolitan areas. Ms. Parker referenced recent research that suggested employees having left their job due to commuting challenges or are beginning to look to their employers to help them address their commuting challenges. A number of companies in the Research Triangle Area offer financial support to cover employee commuting costs, as many do here in the Washington metro area, so it seems like a no-brainer that companies should consider incorporating commuting benefits as part of its bottom line. If they don’t, they could be left behind in attracting talent.

commuteSo what can a company do? The first step is the company should survey its employees. Find out what their needs are. It’s also good if employers use free TDM consulting services to identify commuter options specific to their company location, employee schedules and travel options. These consultants use carpool, mass transit, biking, walking and telework best practices to develop commuting-assistance programs for businesses and provide guidance for selecting and implementing programs as well.

The first question employees consider before accepting a position is, “How am I going to get to work?” If a company includes commuter benefits in human resources and personnel practices, that company can add value to compensation packages and help their workers integrate a work-life balance at a new level.

During my long career I have had opportunities to take metro rail into work, bike to work during nice days in the summer, and even take flex days off. I have to admit that I was happiest at work when I was able to examine a number of options for commuting. At one position, I had a subsidy to help cover the cost of using metro rail, as well as a pre-tax benefit when the subsidy began to not keep pace with rising Metro fares. I also had a  position in which my employer provided facilities for locking and storing bikes and providing showers, so I didn’t stink the entire day. That went a long way in improving my satisfaction with the position.

So, if an employer asks his/her employee “how was your commute?” that employer should consider how they themselves can influence that response. The company may not only attract worthy candidates with a comprehensive commuter benefits package, but also keep them for the long-term.

James Davenport is a TDM Employer Outreach Specialist, on contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Before that, James worked for Prince William County/Department of Transportation as a Regional Planner. In that capacity, he represented the county in regional forums and worked with planners and staff from other localities and transit agencies to help the region plan for its transportation future. For many years, James worked with the National Association of Counties as a project manager providing education and outreach to county officials, staff and key stakeholder groups on planning issues such as transportation, water quality, collaborative land use and economic development.





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