Sunday, June 1, 2014

Using carrots and sticks to improve multimodal transportation

Photo: Washington Post
What are the best ways to get more people to bike, walk, and take transit and instead of driving? While incentives (carrots) work, disincentives (sticks) may work better.

Today's Post article "Has Dulles Toll Road outlived its value?" (print), "Higher tolls pushing many off the Dulles Toll Road" (online) looks at the effect that higher tolls are having on Toll Road user's travel patterns and attitudes.

It's no surprise that most people who use the Toll Road on a regular basis are not happy to be paying higher tolls. It's also not surprising that it may be affecting their behavior.

According to the article, some people contend that more commuters are using alternate routes to avoid the higher tolls. The number of trips taken on the Toll Road has decreased, but vehicle miles traveled in the US has decreased during the same time period.

People interviewed in the article claim more commuters are using alternate routes such as Lawyers Road, Leesburg Pike, Route 7, and Beulah Rd. But there is no real evidence that's the case. Maybe people are just driving less.

The best quote in the article is from Jessa Foor of Sterling who said rising tolls prompted her to leave her job in Arlingotn County for one in Reston, closer to home. "Most of the reason I left my job is that I was paying a ridiculous amount of money to spend two hours on the road."

Maybe the "stick" of higher tolls is having an effect. Is it a bad thing that people are taking jobs closer to work? In the case of Jessa, her commute is now about 6 miles vs. approximately 25 miles (I used rough estimates based on place to place distances). A 6 mile bike commute takes about 30 minutes.

America's Cities Are Still Too Afraid to Make Driving Unappealing, an article from The Atlantic CityLab, contends that cities have relied too much on using carrots and not enough on sticks. The article references recent research that looks at the effects of carrots and sticks in the U.S. and Europe:
This research asserts that carrots have been only modestly effective at promoting NMT [non-motorized modes] in the US, and this is in large part due to a lack of sticks to discourage alternatives to NMT, namely driving. Existing literatures provides case studies of European cities that employ a combination of carrots and sticks and also boast NMT mode shares far beyond that seen in the United States. Similar research is lacking in the US because of a lack of available sticks to study.
Would using more sticks be a "war on cars?" Not necessarily. It might just be a way to take into account all of the true costs of driving, including the cost of free parking, the cost to everyone who pays what user fees don't pay for road construction and maintenance, the indirect costs of air and water pollution, etc. Maybe it's time for a few more sticks.

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