Thursday, December 17, 2015

Five Ways TDM Is Invisible (and Why That Should Change)

Originally published by Mobility Lab.

Transportation demand management is like an alarm clock.

It’s the under-appreciated mechanism that, once set into place, plays a significant role in changing your routine and habits over time. The alarm clock does the dirty – largely invisible – work of taking you from a restless, grumpy night of sleep into the sun-shining, coffee-scented, iPad-reading promise of morning.

In TDM’s case, this means getting people from schlepping through their daily drive-alone habit to waking up to a world of better transportation that exists for them, from bikeshare to carpooling to transit.

Average Americans almost never consider altering their transportation habits. TDM is the path to changing that.

1.) TDM encourages

When we think about bicycling, for example, most of us skip right to the most memorable part: feeling free with the breeze in our faces and, in the city, breezing efficiently past the dozens of cars backed up at every light and stop sign.

What we forget about are the little ways we were educated and changed our minds from simply taking the car for every trip – as we had done every day since biking became “uncool” in our circles of friends along about high school or thereabouts – to consciously replacing a good number of car trips with bike trips.

Mobility Lab estimates that BikeArlington’s outreach work shifts about 300 Arlington, Va., residents from commuting by driving alone to commuting by bicycle each day. Within the region, only Washington, D.C., has a higher share of residents who bike to work most days. 

Further, bicycle commuting increased an impressive 40 percent in Arlington between 2012 and 2013, according to the most recent U.S. Census American Community Survey.

“This year, we’re trying harder than ever to reach the 60 percent who have concerns, but would bike if those concerns were addressed,” says Tim Kelley, BikeArlington’s operations manager.

What Kelley is talking about is TDM, but he has no reason to ever say that it’s TDM.

2.) TDM informs

One of TDM’s greatest tricks is how it works to integrate into established business and policy processes. Most local, regional, and state TDM government agencies and transportation management associations focus on going directly to employers and developers to help them with transportation information that meets their particular needs.

There are guidelines, regulations, tax breaks, and all kinds of other hurdles that make sense for transportation experts to centrally handle for everyone else.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has introduced the excellent idea that calling this kind of information something as wonky as “TDM” really doesn’t help anyone.

This is because TDM funding is often tied to congestion mitigation and air quality, but everyday travelers care much more about “total travel time, travel time reliability, and having a mode that allows them to be flexible in the times they travel,” according to research by TransitCenter. The Oregon DOT has redesigned its statewide plan by rebranding the term to “transportation options” to be more relevant and thus more effective at informing Oregonians.

In addition to actual programmatic – and publicly “invisible” – work, such as informing employers of pre-tax commuter benefits, TDM agencies and TMAs need to spend more time on rebranding, communicating, storytelling, and marketing.

3.) TDM happens behind closed doors

TDM happens mostly behind the scenes, often making it very difficult to tell compelling stories about the programs companies institute to make commuting easier for their employees.

Some of the greatest business successes are simple things, like Boeing being named a “Champion” by Arlington Transportation Partners due to the corporation’s local initiatives, which include adding showers and secured and enclosed bicycle parking for bicyclists, and priority parking for shared-ride commuters.

But these kinds of things have proven to not get a lot of mainstream press, and “installing showers” is not particularly newsworthy beyond the internal office newsletter. So learning these kinds of best practices typically happens through repeated TDM-agency outreach.

One of the best ways to discuss TDM for those interested (or, often, mandated) is to couch it within other, trendier terminology. TDM is a connecting thread across transit-oriented development, complete streets, walkable activity centers, integrated corridor management, and livability, sustainability, and Vision Zero initiatives.

4.) TDM creates incentives

Non-automotive transportation options are at an unfair disadvantage in the United States. Our policies rain down a flood of incentives aimed to get you in your car alone.

TDM tries to look after the little guys: bicycling, walking, transit. There is a lot of work ahead to get the powers to be to understand that actually incentivizing these things rather than parking and cars is what we have to reimagine in the face of overpopulation, pollution, poor health, and the rest of our societal problems.

A great example is the Georgia DOT program, Georgia Commute Options, which, according Atlanta NPR affiliate WABE, “offers free commute options for residents and employers,” compensating them with cash and prizes to ultimately eliminate nearly a million vehicle-miles traveled each day in Atlanta.

5.) TDM changes our minds

It’s all about behavior change, which is tricky. But the best TDM programs truly do focus on moments in people’s lives when they will be making the most major changes. If a new company is moving to town or when people are purchasing new homes, those are key times when TDM experts can influence travelling behavior. Once that new resident locks into driving alone every day from her new home across the city to work, a major opportunity has been lost.

A big part of this that leaves TDM practitioners dangling is that public transportation infrastructure – like subways, buses, bikeshare systems, and good sidewalks – needs to exist. Without them, a TDM practioner’s job becomes a lot more difficult and is limited to options like vanpools, carpools, shuttles, and teleworking.

We still don’t understand fully all the best ways we’ll inevitably need to reduce our collective car trips and make traffic jams less onerous. Part of the question is the transportation services themselves, and part is people’s perception of what is available or convenient or cool. They don’t know what they don’t know.

Social media could already be playing a huge role in helping quickly spread information about positive trends in transportation. And we already know that social influence is a key factor to behavior change in transport.

New technology and software offer some of our greatest hopes to shift behavior. App-based ride-hailing systems like Uber and Lyft deserve a lot of credit for getting people to think differently about transportation through simple on-demand transactions.

It’s these kinds of shifting attitudes and habits that the alarm clock of TDM seeks to instill in sleepers on drive-alone commutes. But instead of setting it and having it run invisibly all night, TDM agencies should be finding all the best TDM data and communicating it through storytelling. This would help the science of transportation behavior become more visible to us all.

Photo credits: From top, Masroor Hamid, Flickr, Creative Commons; BikeArlington; Boeing; Richard Roberson, Flickr, Creative Commons; Dean Hochman, Flickr, Creative Commons.

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