Traffic

What does it cost to drive?

In a previous blog I asked, “what will it take for you to change your commute?”. In reading that question, you may have responded “NOTHING.” Nothing will prompt you to change your ways. That is your “driving solo in a car” ways.

I admit, being able to get in your car and drive anywhere you want to go, whenever you want to go,  is quite an advantage and difficult to argue against. 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. If you feel sick, you can leave whenever you want. This is especially true for your commute to work. How can one top the convenience of driving alone? Why would I want to participate in a shared car or shared van arrangement?

Well, you should know that the convenience does come at a cost. The cost may not be so obvious at first, but you are paying for that convenience. How much?

 

smart-car-1Well in 2017, Americans paid, on average, $3,037 to cover the indirect/hidden costs of driving which included sitting in traffic and searching for parking. Also in that year, the average total cost of driving was $10,288. This is a staggering figure.  Are you beginning to see how driving alone to work may not be as advantageous as you once thought?

How do I know this? I came across an article in the March/April edition of  “@Livemore” a publication of the Dulles Area Transportation Association (DATA). The research was drawn from the  first ever published report on the “Cost of Driving” by INRIX, an analytics company that researches the connection between technology and transportation.

Sometimes I don’t like to drive, especially to areas that are dense and built-up. The reason for this is the hassle of finding available parking. I don’t know about you, but I hate driving around and around in the search for parking, and often over paying on a street meter or paying the inflated cost in a parking garage. According to the INRIX research, drivers spend on average $3,000 per year on parking. The type of costs that are integrated into this estimate include:

  • Waste of time,
  • Carbon emissions,
  • Parking fines,

This may be the reason many drivers are excited about the idea of having fully autonomous vehicles in the future. The car will take you to your destination, then disappear. When you are ready to leave, you can snap your fingers and voila, there is your car. Not going to happen folks, at least not in the near future.  Parking will continue to be a drawback to driving for a long time.

Your next argument could be, I work in the suburbs. I have unlimited parking in the suburban office park where I work. True enough, but you must understand there are other costs to car ownership and driving everywhere you go. These include:

  • Purchasing or leasing a vehicle, including finance costs
  • Depreciation of a vehicle
  • Maintenance and service (I can vouch for that having paid over $2,000 in recent car repair)
  • Insurance
  • Fuel
  • Tolls
  • Taxes
  • Lost productive time sitting in traffic
  • (fill in the blank)_____________

And remember, with the rising cost of property and real estate, some companies, or their property managers/owners, may not find it as lucrative to continue setting aside valuable space just for parking. Don’t be surprised if your employer starts considering charging for parking, especially as congestion in suburban areas becomes more problematic to commuters. An increase in traffic congestion may prompt employers to look for ways to encourage shared driving in order to help reduce congestion and better assure their employees arrive to work on time.

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Recent trends show employees are increasingly leaving their job due to commuting challenges, and that employees are beginning to look to their employers to help them address their commuting challenges. As a result, a number of companies are beginning to cover employee commuting costs if they use alternative modes of commuting (carpooling, vanpooling, transit, biking)  while increasingly charging solo drivers for their “parking privileges.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you if that happens to you at your company.

So what can you do? No, I am not suggesting you sell your car, though kudos to you if you do. It’s basic economics, the less you drive, the less wear and tear on your car. Consider a carpool or vanpool if your schedule allows it. Look to telework, and potential transit opportunities. The bus may not be so inconvenient. If you do consider these options and cut back on your driving alone to work, your wallet will thank you.

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.

vz

Vision Zero: No one should lose a friend to a traffic crash

Every time I read about a traffic fatality in the District, I breathe a sigh of relief when I don’t recognize the name. On Friday April 19, 2019, that all changed. That morning, I saw on twitter that a cyclist had been struck and killed. I said a silent prayer, raged a little on the inside, and then moved on with my day. Later that evening, I open twitter and I saw a name I recognize, Dave Salovesh. In the middle of the movie theater, I burst into tears.Bicycle locked to a light post. The bike is painted white as a symbol of a ghost bike.

There’s not much I can more say about Dave that hasn’t already been said here, here, here, here, and countless other places. Dave and I had known each other for nearly a decade. He and I rode the Fort Circle Trail in Ward 7 a few times, including the one time he, Brian McEntee, and I wiped out on the hill between Branch Avenue and Naylor Road SE. When I would get discouraged about the challenges I faced in my projects, Dave was always there to support and encourage me. My friend is no longer here because he was struck and killed by someone driving 70mph on Florida Avenue NE. The most upsetting part of Dave’s passing is that it was preventable, as are most other traffic-related deaths.

Last year, over 40,000 people died in a traffic-related incident. While not a significant percentage of the total U.S. population, each person, like Dave, left behind family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and other loved ones. Not to mention the residual trauma experienced by bystanders who witness the crash and emergency responders. In addition to the social loss, there is the cost of each death via lost wages for the family, property damage, city resources, and others. For example, the CDC estimates the cost of crash-related deaths for the District of Columbia was $34 Million in 2013.

Nspiregreen developed the Vision Zero Action Plans for the District of Columbia and the City of Alexandria. As Chanceé Lundy mentioned in our last blog post about Vision Zero: “Without swift action and accountability, DC Vision Zero is just a plan with pretty graphics. We developed it with policies and enforcement mechanisms that should be implemented. It is a tool to address what has become all too common behavior in the District. There should be less talk about Vision Zero and its possibilities and more actions that prioritize the District’s most vulnerable users.”

To the political leaders, fellow planners and engineers, advocates, and residents: Vision Zero requires more of us than platitudes, dreams deferred, and delay by unnecessary studies. It requires us to take immediate actions to prevent people from dying on our roadways. It requires us to be okay with removing parking, reducing the number of vehicle travel lanes and lane widths, removing highway infrastructure to reconnect the street grid, and changing the signal timing to ensure safety, as well as reallocating the public right-of-way for public transportation, bicycle facilities, and sidewalks. As a region (and frankly as a nation) a paradigm shift needs to occur. We have to begin prioritizing safety over urgency, traffic flow, or speed. If we are willing to accept a few minutes delay in our drives, we can guarantee that all will reach our destinations safely.

The DC region has the tools, knowledge, and plans to make our streets safer. All we need now is bold, brave, and steadfast leadership to make the tough (but right) decisions to advance those plans from paper to reality. No one else should lose a friend to a preventable traffic crash.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

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?
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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.





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