Every year traffic congestion worsens, robbing individuals and governments billions of dollars. Do alternative means of commuting hold the key to solving the congestion crisis in the United States?
If you commute to work on a daily basis in a metropolitan area, you are well aware that traffic jams and slow moving traffic consumes more of your time and money each year. In fact, the average commuter in the United States spend 38 hours stuck in traffic delays each year, while commuters in Los Angeles spend as much as 90 hours annually in traffic jams. The cost of traffic congestion are not just limited to commuters – business owners in South Florida complain that traffic problems are costing them sales as people try to avoid congestion in central business districts. According to a Deloitte University report, the costs of traffic congestion in the US total $121 billion annually. What is the solution to the traffic congestion in the United States?
Public Transportation, New Roads, and HOA Lanes Are Not the Solution
Traditionally, local and state governments attempted to High Occupancy Vehicle (HOA) lanes to encourage carpooling. Others launched public information campaigns promoting the use of public transportation, including buses and light rail. Research shows neither of methods are effective in easing traffic congestion. Even building new roads, what would appear to be the most obvious solution, does not work to reduce traffic jams as people simply shift their commuting route thus shifting the congested areas. If these traditional strategies are ineffective in reducing traffic congestion in metropolitan areas, what is the solution to decreasing the frequency and severity of traffic jams in our nation’s cities and suburbs?
Recent Commuter Transportation Innovations
During the past few years, entrepreneurs have introduced alternatives to traditional means of commuting in urban areas.
- Car sharing services, such as ZipCar, allow drivers who subscribe to their service to book a car online when they need to travel. In addition to eliminating the need to own a car, people who use car sharing services tend to consolidate their errands and in town travel into fewer trips to get the most value during the time they have access to a vehicle.
- Ride sharing or carpooling, while not a new method of commuting, is now easier to do with riding apps like Via and Split , as well as ride sharing services that help people find others who are traveling to the same place. The advantage these apps and services bring to carpooling is that people are not limited to sharing rides with co-workers, which is traditionally how carpools formed.
- Bicycle commuting is also gaining popularity as people in urban areas that it is often faster to ride a bike to work than to travel by car since bicyclists easily navigate through traffic jams. A frequently cited obstacle to riding a bike to work or school is the lack of places to store the bicycle securely during non-working hours. Bike sharing services like Zagster solve this dilemma.
- On-Demand ride services act as an alternative to taxis. Many people choose to use ride service apps like Uber and Lyft to go to their jobs when they want to do some work instead of driving but need the privacy and quiet space that buses and subways do not offer.
While these alternatives to traditional methods of in town commuting are new, so no hard data exists to demonstrate their efficacy in reducing traffic congestion. What potential impact do these new modes of commuter transportation on decreasing traffic congestion?
Geospatial Data Analysis Forecasts Smart Mobility is the Answer to Commuter Woes
A group of data scientists from Deloitte University, with the support of consultants from the US Federal Highway Administration and various regional and municipal transportation authorities, conducted a geospatial analysis to determine the impact alternative transportation methods may have on reducing traffic congestion. The team’s primary sources of data include the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the Census Transportation Planning Products. The inspiration for the framework for this study is the plan developed in Helsinki, Finland to eliminate the need for individual car ownership by 2025.
Defining the Benefits of Smart Mobility
To determine the benefits of each alternative mode of commuting, referred to collectively as Smart Mobility, the researchers calculated the benefits in terms of cost savings for both commuters and city governments. Table 1 illustrates the components of the Smart Mobility cost saving analysis.
|Direct Benefits||Indirect Benefits|
|Consumer Saving Benefits||
|Government Saving Benefits||
Table 1: Operational Definitions of Smart Mobility Benefits
Findings: Smart Mobility Reduces Congestion
While not every alternative means of commuting appeared to work in all sectors of a metropolitan area, all four urban alternative commuting methods offered cost savings. A summary of where each urban transportation is effective and how each method saves commuters and governments money is provided in Table 2.
|Commuting Method||Annual Total Cost Savings||Metro Areas Benefited||Commuter Benefits||Government Benefits|
|Ride Sharing (Carpooling)||$ 30.3 Billion||10-15 mile perimeter from city center||
|Bicycling||$ 27.6 Billion||Urban Core and CBD||
|Car Sharing||$ 3 billion||Dense Urban Core||
|On-Demand Car Services||$1.45 billion||Areas without Access to Public Transportation||
Table 2. Benefits of Smart Mobility
Given these cost savings, how do urban planners and traffic engineers make metropolitan areas Smart Mobility Friendly?
New Considerations for Urban Planners and Traffic Engineers
Using the findings from their analysis and input from Federal, state, and local transportation and traffic experts, the Deloitte research team developed the following recommendations to follow to make metropolitan areas Smart Mobility ready:
- Expand the number of HOT/HOA lanes on key urban corridors and make parking more accessible and convenient
- Increase and improve infrastructure for bicycle commuters
- Wider and safer bike lanes, preferably separated by curbing from car traffic
- Dedicated bicycle traffic signals
- Installation of sensors to track and monitor bicycle traffic
- Adapt current car centric traffic engineering and planning methods to accommodate bicycle commuters
- Expand the reach and availability of parking for car sharing services
- Encourage developers to include dedicated on street and/or off street parking spaces for car sharing services
- Conduct research and experiment to determine the most effect ways to integrate in demand ride services into a comprehensive municipal transportation plan.
In order to reduce traffic congestion, urban planners and traffic engineers need to shift their mindset from a focus on expanding infrastructure to accommodate more vehicles to considering the most effective means for an individual to move from one location to another. Realistically, with the limited amount of funding available for transportation on both a Federal and local level, find new ways to use existing infrastructure is likely the only feasible way forward.