Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
September, 4th 2009
9:52
 

Nothing is a more effective motivator for change than the desire to reduce one’s own pain and suffering, right? Assuming that is the case, then the recently released “Commuter Pain Index” provides a clear case for a better transportation system in many of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. The IBM report aims to provide insight into the emotional and economic impact of consumer commuting.

On a related note, listen to this podcast we published on traffic congestion late last year:

Audio Content

Just as in last year’s index, Minneapolis commuters seem to feel the least pain, while my fellow Angelenos continue to plumb the bottom of the index. However, comparing 2008 to 2009 reveals some interesting changes – namely, that Boston, New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago all dropped in the index, with D.C. making the most significant descent downward. That decline seems to be closely connected with recession-related factors, including gas price sensitivity and increased desire to spend time with family and friends.

The index also details transportation choices in each of the 10 surveyed cities. One thing is clear – the car still dominates. As a native Angeleno, I assumed LA would have the highest solo car ridership. No, that distinction goes to Dallas and Miami, where 76 and 78 percent of commuters, respectively, drive to work alone. Not surprisingly, at 9.4 percent, the greater New York City area has the highest train ridership by a significant margin.

And as much as the car dominates commuters’ modes of transportation, it’s even more significant for non-commuting travel. Nowhere is that true than for Dallas, where residents turn to their cars 95.5 percent of the time. Even train-friendly New York metro area turns to the car more than 80 percent of the time when they aren’t heading to or from work. I’d love to see this figure broken down further, comparing the suburbs to New York City proper, then further comparing across the five boroughs where transportation modes vary based on proximity to bus and train routes. Future studies, future studies.

Another important finding coming out of the study is the gasoline price at which consumers will actively seek alternative forms of transportation. Most seem to see $4 or $5 as tipping points for seeing alternative arrangements, as outlined in the chart below (click to enlarge).

Gas price threshold

From the press release, a few more statistics:

  • - 55% say they are unlikely or very unlikely to make a driving trip of more than 50 miles from home over Labor Day Weekend.
  • - 34% report that they have decided not to make a driving trip in the last month due to anticipated traffic – the same percentage as last year.  These decisions have a major economic impact, as the reported destinations of these cancelled driving trips are:  25% recreation, 25% shopping, 16% entertainment, 9% eating out, 8% work, and 6% vacation.
  • - More than one-fifth (21%) of daily commuters say the recession has made them change the way they get to work, with 17% of drivers in this category carpooling more frequently, 30% increasing the number of days they work from home, and 26% taking public transportation more often.
  • - At the same time, lower gas prices this year have caused 23% of respondents to alter their commuting habits in a different way, with 19% of this group carpooling less now, 19% taking public transportation less often, and 17% working less often from home.
  • - 27% think accurate and timely road condition information would help reduce travel stress – four points higher than last year.
  • - 86% say they have been stuck in roadway traffic in the last three years. The average delay is one hour.
  • - The reported trouble spots for traffic congestion remain very similar to last year, for example, I-95 in both Miami and Washington, DC, as well as the Beltway/495 in DC.
  • - Only 3% of the survey respondents think roadway traffic has improved substantially, and no city in the study is significantly above that score.

In reality, the index serves to both reinforce what we already know – that commuting really bites – but also gives some added empirical data to make the case for why we need to improve our traffic and transportation systems. All of which requires new thinking for urban and suburban development, energy frameworks and transportation systems.

You can download the full Commuter Pain Index on ibm.com (pdf).

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Posted by: Karen
 
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