Monday, September 24, 2012

Less Traffic Thanks to Telecommuting and Young Adults

"In 1888 Bertha Benz, wife of the carmaker Karl, drove 66 miles from one German city to another to prove to the world that the “horseless carriage” was suited to everyday use. Mrs. Benz succeeded beyond her wildest dreams."

This is The Economists' introduction of an article on urban transportation and the evolving trend of less car travel: "The road less travelled: Car use is peaking in the rich world. Governments should take advantage of that." Less travel? Can this be right? See Figure 1 below.

A few more quotes from the full article "The future of driving -- Seeing the back of the car -- In the rich world, people seem to be driving less than they used to" are as follows:
  • Modern life is unimaginable without the car. The automobile has powered the growth of cities and steered their sprawl. Its manufacture has created millions of jobs and eased the development of many millions more.
  • Cars are integral to modern life. They account for 70% of all trips not made on foot in the OECD, which includes most developed countries. 
  • In the European Union more than 12 million people work in manufacturing and services related to cars and other vehicles, around 6% of the total employed population.
  • The equivalent figure for America is 4.5% of private-sector employment, or 8 million jobs.

An interesting revelation of the research reported in The Economist is that current and future young people tend to travel less. There are several reasons for this:
  1. Young people tend to socialize more via digital media and meet less often.
  2. Car use has become more expensive for young people's parents to afford a car for them or for the young people to afford the sky-high insurance fees.
  3. At least some of young people's college or professional education can be via distance learning.
  4. Job opportunities for young people are less and lower rewarded in the stagnant economy of the EU and of several debt-laden states in the US.
  5. Young people are getting their licenses later than they used to (see Figure 2 above.)

In addition the full democratization of the automobile (meaning that women own and use cars at rates similar to men) concluded at the end of the last century. So this "catch up" trend leading to traffic growth has ended.

More and safer bikeways, subsidized vanpooling, supported telecommuting and, in some cases, clean and reliable mass transit chip away at the dominance of the car. See for example below the gains in vanpooling and telecommuting in Washington State.

Recall that Honolulu rail will increase transit share roughly from 6% of TheBus today to 7% for combined bus and rail. It would be much easier to obtain this 1% with more vanpools and telework!  There is a real world example  for this: Portland, the poster child for light rail. From 1980 to 2011, working at home (mostly telecommuting) increased by 55,000. This is more than three times the growth in rail transit commuting (17,500). During the last decade, working at home passed transit as a work access mode in Portland, and with virtually no public expenditures as opposed to the billions spent on rail lines.