Thursday, February 11, 2010

TDM has failed us; Bury it

As a marketing guy and a wordsmith, I enjoy these types of “telework vs. telecommute” discussions. From my POV, it’s our job to use words and language that will engage our target audiences… not the jargon of our technical peers.

Case in point is the old debate on “Transportation Demand Management”. After all these decades I would guess that less than a few percent of commuters have any idea what it means. The term has failed to serve our community of TDM evangelists. It’s a losing phrase and it’s time to bury TDM.

Commuter Choice and Commuter Options have been suggested and tried for years, but neither of these have taken off.

I would like to get the debate restarted by suggesting:

Green Transportation Options
Green Transportation Strategies
Green Transportation Alternatives
Green Commuting


Denis Eirikis
Clear Light Communications Inc.


Clear Light PR said...

I promised to compile posts of substance sent to me that were not sent out to the list serve. This was received from a well-known TDM expert at CUTR:

Hi Denis,

Thanks for being the consolidator. Two quick observations:

Even though I think most people in the community of TDM practitioners are probably in the field for green/sustainability/environmental reasons (and I certainly count myself in group), much of the interest and support TDM is in highway organizations concerned about congestion, not about the other things. If we are “just” about green, we will lose that support. And I second Dan Kaempff’s comment about the appeal of green to the commuting population. We found that in Washington state as well, and it holds for other kinds of energy conservation. “green” is a niche market and unfortunately doesn’t attract as many new people to change their behavior as we would like.

I also want to broaden the scope of TDM from commuting to other kinds of trips. I think the TDM opportunities are much greater for non-commute trips, but most of these might not have as much effect on congestion as on emissions. And I think non-commute TDM may not look anything like commute-focused TDM. So I cringe when I hear names like “smart commuting” and “commute options,” because that just keeps pigeonholing us.

So, I’m with Chris Simmons on this.

Edward L. Hillsman, Ph.D.
Senior Research Associate
Center for Urban Transportation Research
University of South Florida
4202 Fowler Ave., CUT100
Tampa, FL 33620-5375
813-974-2977 (tel)
813-974-5168 (fax)

West said...

I learned more about what people are doing in the field, by reading the responses to this, than at any other time. It's great to get folks fired up! I feel like I just watched a good conference session.
Whatever it gets called, I like the idea of broadening the scope of TDM as mentioned by Edward Hillsman. There are many ways to approach and define these transportation issues. And I'm sure we can come up with a really great new acronym in the process!

Anonymous said...

I think we need to recognize that TDM covers a broad range of activities. To my mind, the term "transportation demand management" successfully conveys that. The issue is successfully describing the range of our programming and activities.

For example, as Edward says, I too cringe at describing the industry as a whole as "commuter services." The fact is, though, that some programs really offer only that, or that providing matching or route assistance for commuters is a big part of what larger programs do. To that end, "providing commuter services" is one valid way to describe an activity of "transportation demand management."

I think that the real challenge might be in retraining TDM professionals that our responsibilities are much broader now. That TDM includes ridematching and commuter assistance, but it also includes planning, it includes infrastructure improvements (bicycle racks, for example), it includes programs that encourage density (such as carsharing), and other innovative efforts.

Really, our focus should be on managing the demand at the root - that is, not merely replacing one trip with a cleaner one, but eliminating the need for the trip altogether. That can include educating not only commuters, but homebuyers; not just businesses, but zoning boards.

All the terms bandied about on the listserv are perfectly acceptable as ways to describe specific programs within specific geographic regions, but none of them are going to work for everybody.

David said...

Given how long this debate has been going on, I think it is safe to say no other durable name is going to fully capture the meaning of TDM to the satisfaction of a majority of the practitioners. I don’t even see a need to come up with a new name for Transportation Demand Management. As many have pointed out, TDM refers to a broad group of disciplines that have reducing vehicle trips as a common bond (for congestion, energy, "green" or other reasons), while also providing access. I suspect only a small portion of the people in the TDM field has the broader scope of TDM as their primary emphasis. More are concerned with one or a few strategies or tactics for accomplishing TDM objectives within the myriad of programs and initiatives that fall into the category.

What we really want is to excel at presenting the needs for/benefits of these strategies and tactics in compelling ways to all of our stakeholders to grow support, funding, cooperation and participation. We need to be experts at communicating TDM values to all of the different audiences we need on our side, realizing no one approach will succeed for all purposes. In most cases, the best messages will not include the words “transportation demand management”. When TDM is mentioned outside the audience of TDM professionals, it may be a matter of audience education to define TDM as the group of disciplines concerned with the objectives you are there to espouse.

Consumers are interested more in the specific services that meet their individual needs. Branded services with recognizable benefits and easy to find and navigate touch points yield greater awareness and involvement among prospective participants and sponsors. There would seem to be few instances where we need to “sell” TDM in the industry sense to a consumer market. We are more about selling individual or bundles of TDM “products” to consumer markets. It doesn’t seem necessary to give TDM a consumer-friendly identity.

Planners, governing agencies and funding sources are interested more in results and efficiency. Clear, factual statements about what projects are, who they serve, the benefits they provide and their relative efficiencies are needed. Educating these audiences, if they’re not already, on what TDM encompasses may be an appropriate step in maximizing their support for TDM projects they can influence. But, defining TDM is not the key objective.

Elected officials, government and community leaders, and influential organizations are more often motivated by what is in it for them. We must tailor our messages for audiences that influence local, regional or national decisions to how TDM projects produce benefits that are aligned with their interests. This often includes helping to solve problems where the influential target can receive credit for being part of the solution, or blame for not being. Statements to these audiences about benefits and efficiencies should be presented in the contexts of their areas of responsibility, interest and influence. Again, education about TDM in the broader sense may be appropriate, but is not among our highest priorities.

I suspect that our own personal satisfaction is all that can be improved by having a new name for TDM. I believe we further our industry more by emphasizing the parts than by emphasizing the whole to our stakeholders. Virtually no one outside our world is compelled to try to see the whole; though there is clear need for helping influential audiences at the highest level visualize the whole. We can best magnify the positive impacts of TDM by continuously perfecting our individual and collective skills at planning, funding, implementing, operating and selling products and services that efficiently reduce trips by impacting consumer choices about whether to make a trip or how.
Director, STAR Regional Vanpool, Houston

James Grayson said...

As I read the multitude of varied comments regarding a new name for the concept of TDM, I came to realize there must be a change / modification in the philosophy of the concept.
Instead of the Management of the Demand for (increased) Transportation, the aim should be to Manage (and encourage) the Reduction of Congestion. => Congestion Reduction Management <=.

Jonathan said...

Dear All,

I am firmly of the belief that neither TDM or anything with 'commute' in it is sufficient. Communication is critical in fostering sustainable travel behaviour (see community-based social marketing).

TDM could easily be TSM substituting Supply for Demand. The fact is we are interested in both. Anything with 'commute' alienates all other forms of journey, such as leisure or tourism travel. Europe uses Mobility Management but this is also problematic as it is a term also used in ICT.

In the UK they use 'Smarter Choices', in Ireland 'Smarter Travel' and in Australia 'Travel Smart'. I like Smarter Travel for three reasons - (1) It encompases all types of journey, (2) it can be used for energy, waste, water etc e.g. Smarter Water, Smarter Energy, and (3) its is postive.

Furthermore, there is no alienation of traffic engineers or transport planners, or other practitioners in the field.

People DO need to understand what we do and what we are trying to achieve. Therefore our terminology should be clearly understood.

Jonathan Daly

Travel Behaviour Change Specialist
Melbourne, Australia