Tuesday, November 08, 2005

TDM Talk

The conventional wisdom in the TDM arena is that incentives are good as well as necessary. We spend quite a bit of time coming up with new ways to provide incentives to help commuters find a different way of getting to and from work.

And, the field is not too hot on disincentives although there will always be advocates for pushing on that approach.

There is old evidence that making the commute a completely level playing field (i.e. no free parking, no transit passes, no discounts for carpools, no subsidies for vanpools ... in an area where parking comes with a cost) yields about the same drive alone rate as does providing incentives for ridesharing and transit. The "old" ARCO vs. Bank of America example is the prime candidate for this example.

Another argument about offering incentives is that if the incentives stop, commuters go back to however they were commuting before.

Give-aways, raffles, drawings, and promotions are frequently used and are regularly criticized for leading to "higher numbers" but not much real result. Effectiveness depends on who was recruited, what information was provided, and many other factors.

The question of this blog: Do you advocate the provision of incentives to cause a reduction in drive alone commuting? Why or why not? The question and answer may seem obvious but after talking with many states, MPOs, local governments, and others around the country, the issue is not universally obvious.

What is your best argument (either way)?

-- Tad


David Ungemah said...

It seems to me that any entity that offers incentives needs to consider the temporal objectives in such an offering. Recognizing Tad's correct statement that incentives have, at best, a temporary effect on commute habits, then how incentives are applied should be evaluated relative to their objectives. For example, incentives may be wholly appropriate for the short-term reduction of traffic in construction work zones. Or for special events, where traffic is expected to be higher and/or transportation services in great demand. Or for catastrophes and other scenarios where the public sector needs commuters to use different means of travel.
Where incentives tend not to make sense are for the sustained, long-term improvement of modal choice in a region. This is akin to spraying water from a squirt gun on an acre wildfire. In the case of the wildfire, the best defense is the management of the future growth of that fire -- creating fire-lines, removing fuel for the fire from the area, and generally guiding the fire so it can put itself out. For TDM practitioners, it would appear that structural improvements to parking, land use, and development review that provide an "everyday, everywhere" incentive to use alternative modes will be more effective in managing the growth of traffic than trinkets and trash.

Kalon Kelley said...

The statement that incentives have, at best, a temporary effect on commute habits is arguable. Relevant here is the Atlanta, Georgia program wherein temporary carpool incentives were discontinued, but fully 2/3 of those who had started carpooling were continuing to do so 9 to 12 months after the incentives ended.

It seems that there is inertia to carpooling (the discomfort of modifying my behavior, contacting strangers, etc.) that needs to be overcome, and appropriate incentives can motivate one to do this. But after a carpool is in effect, the benefits are so obvious that for many incentives are no longer required.

Obviously this is an empirical issue, but I would not take at face value the claim that the effect of incentives will be temporary.

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