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.
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?
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.