Cities can change commuters’ behavior

By Matt Darst

Did you drive to work today?

According to a recent survey by Xerox Services, 65 percent of respondents who drive to work don’t necessarily mind their daily commute. While you might think it’s good news people aren’t complaining about their drive to work, it’s not.

“Changing behavior can be difficult, but [these] suggestions… are a good start.” – Matt Darst, vice president of Parking and Mobility Solutions for Conduent
Take a look at this series of videos created by traffic planning software company PTV Vision Traffic, highlighting the inefficiency of cars compared to other forms of transit. One video shows how long it takes various modes of transport (cars, buses, bikes, trams and walking) to move 200 people each across a stop line. Buses and trams come in first, followed by walking and biking. Cars fare the worst, taking over four minutes to shift the 200 people in a single lane over the line.

In a subsequent video, traffic lanes are widened allowing each mode to move 200 people in the same amount of time. In this model, cars require eight lanes to keep up with a bus or tram, which only need one lane.

Personal vehicle use takes up too much time and too much space. Commuter perception and behavior must change. Fortunately, cities have an opportunity to direct modal shifts and encourage people to think differently and travel more efficiently.

Incentivize employers

The majority of people who drive to work do so alone, but since many are commuting to common destinations, it makes sense for employers to encourage employees to use ridesharing or public transit as alternative ways to get to the office. Transportation agencies can incentivize employers by offering municipal tax breaks or regulatory perks. Employers may want to consider the following actions to encourage behavior change:

  1. Subsidize public transportation and shared use commutes (such as carpooling, Lyft Line) and better market existing transit benefits;
  2. “Hire local,” or employ neighborhood residents, to reduce commute time and encourage cycling and walking;
  3. Launch on-demand, shared use car and shuttle service for commuters;

Promote multi-modal travel planning apps

Multi-modal trip planning apps can help change behavior by allowing users to compare a variety of ways to reach a destination, including a combination of public and private transportation options. Users are less likely to feel tied to their cars when they’re aware of the variety of available trip options.

We currently support trip planning apps in Los Angeles and Denver – two congested cities – to encourage commuters to take alternative modes of transportation by providing several route options. Modal options can be prioritized by the shortest, cheapest, healthiest, and most sustainable ways to get from point A to point B.

Regulation and partnerships

In addition to incentivizing employers and offering multi-modal trip planning apps, cities can consider new regulations, such as allowing shared use vehicles access to bus-only lanes or create new dedicated lanes, similar to high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes but on main arteries leading to a city center. Additionally, cities can implement a congestion charge for single occupant vehicles, excluding HOVs and shared use.

Cities are reexamining the philosophy behind public transit and are taking advantage of private shared use providers to help solve first/last mile problems. For example, the city of Centennial, Colo. and the Denver South Transportation Management Association are working together to connect people to the Dry Creek Light Rail Station. Commuters can get free Lyft rides to and from their homes to the station by booking through the Go Denver or Lyft apps.

Despite these incentives, some will continue to default to driving a car. Consequently, cities must also implement smarter parking solutions. Demand pricing at parking meters can get people parked faster and modify driving behavior, thereby reducing congestion. Consistent parking enforcement also ensures there’s more parking supply. Finally, reexamining the hours of operation and time limits at meters can help shift demand to underutilized spaces. Smart parking solutions reduce distractions and improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety as well, helping to further shift commuters to alternative modes.

Cities are getting creative to push drivers from their cars and to public transit and more efficient forms of transportation. Changing behavior can be difficult, but some of the thoughts and practices noted above can be a good start.

Please share your ideas for how cities can get people out of their cars in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Cities can change commuters’ behavior

  1. Dierk Gruenzig December 14, 2016 - Reply

    Its a great article and hits the point!
    In our near future, there is not space enough for cars.
    One reason of the success-story of cars from the past is the flexible use of it.
    It can be used to bring the kids to school, visit grandma, transport the shopping, bring you to work and back and also to vacation.
    The weakest point- beside the pollution of air and space – is the high investment. The variable cost/mile is small compared to the fixed cost. People, who invested in a vehicle wants to use it also to improve amortisation.
    If multimodal and intermodal transportation will offer the same or similar services, but not the high investment, will people not only change to alternative transport, but it also will open alternative transport to an additional segment of residents with limited income.

  2. Roman Kuropas December 14, 2016 - Reply


    Great article! It really takes collaboration from all the stakeholders you mentioned to make an impact. Please see our WGN link below on how we’re addressing first and last mile challenges in a Itasca a Chicago suburb.

    All: WGN has posted the story – feel free to share far and wide!


    Roman M Kuropas
    Founder and CEO
    Innova EV & Innova EV Car Share
    235 83rd Street
    Burr Ridge, IL 60527
    Innova EV – Proud to be the First Mile Last Mile eMobility Partner – US Dept. of Transportation Smart

    Join the Association for Commuter Transportation to learn more


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