The Daily Commute: We Need to Talk About the Other 99%
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
This year, many highly successful transportation organisations will continue to invest heavily in addressing “the 1% problem”. They will do this by throwing massive amounts of money at providing alternative transportation options for short utility trips. The flag bearers of this movement, ride-hailing apps and autonomous vehicle solutions, are indeed helping to change the ad hoc or 1-5 mile trip but they do little to address the twice-daily tidal wave of traffic congestion that afflicts cities around the world.
Ride-hailing apps such as Lyft and Uber remain embroiled in a much-publicised pricing war. Both companies have demonstrated innovation through their services as they have successfully disrupted the taxicab industry, but how do they address the fact that the vast majority of us drive to work alone? How many typical professionals with a 10-30 mile commute can afford to use Lyft or Uber twice daily?
Google has invested billions in the “driverless car”, which of course is a remarkable achievement from an engineering point of view and will surely lead to advancements in vehicle safety. But how will it address the issue of single occupancy? Is it possible that we will see a reduction in occupancy, as automated for-hire vehicles travel around cities waiting to be called by their next passenger(s)? Are we really moving towards the Zero Occupancy Vehicle as a solution to transportation problems?
As all of this and more unfolds, Carma continues with its focus on the 99% problem. For example, those with 10-30 mile commutes who spend, on average, $9,000 per year on their vehicle and one week every year sitting in traffic. Driverless cars and ride hailing apps simply do not address this.
There is no question that traffic congestion is becoming an increasing concern in our cities. Numerous corrective measures have been implemented around the world; from the congestion charge in London, to the “even-odd” license plate system in parts of China, to the thousands of rush hour tolling gantries across the US.
As a society, it is imperative that we work together to address the increasingly crippling commute. By pooling our resources more effectively, we could very quickly reach a solution that truly offers value (in time and money) to all of us. The crazy part is, the necessary resources are already in place today. There is no requirement to invest billions of dollars in new infrastructure, all we need to do is make use of the empty seats in our ‘riderless’ cars.
Traffic congestion is not a linear problem. A 2-5% reduction in peak-hour traffic volumes has been shown to lead to a 27%-35% reduction in total traffic delay (source: “Mitigation of expressway traffic congestion through transportation demand management with toll discount” Xing, J. ; Tokyo, Japan ; Takahashi, H. ; Kameoka, H. Published in IET Intelligent Transport Systems, 2009). If 2-5% of commuters in your neighborhood decided to carpool, imagine the impact this would have on travel times, quality of life and local air quality.
History has taught us that bringing about behavioral change is incredibly difficult. For most of us, commuting is like brushing our teeth. We do it twice a day (ideally), but we don’t even think about it. The last thing on our minds when we roll out of bed late for work is a change in routine. But if we continue to realise the benefits that a relatively small change to our lives can have, we might make more of an effort to help ourselves and those around us.
Austin, TX has seen one of the biggest population explosions in the US in recent times. This has resulted in unprecedented traffic levels and the construction of many more highways. However, the problem of induced demand teaches us that building more roads only propagates the problem and leads to more single occupancy vehicles. If we simply build more roads, traffic will eventually congest those also.
This conversation urgently needs to become one based on vehicle occupancy. Vehicle throughput is an outdated way to measure the effectiveness of our roads, because it fails to take into account the number of wasted empty seats which are highly expensive to drive around and which unnecessarily contribute to congesting and polluting our environment. Person throughput is a far more revealing and accurate measure of how we make use of our roads.
This way of thinking leads to different ways in which we can incentivize people to make better use of our roads. For example, imagine if all drivers started at a base level surcharge for their morning commute, which was reduced depending on the number of passengers in their car – becoming zero if at full capacity. No more tolls, just simple pricing based on how efficient drivers’ use of their seats (and therefore our roads) is.
To conclude, it is clear that increasing vehicle occupancy is today’s most urgent transportation challenge. The good news is that the rewards are vast. Reducing occupancy offers huge potential benefits for our fellow commuters, our neighbors, society-at-large and of course the planet. It doesn’t require massive funding or new legislation, it simply requires us to work together.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Why one city decays and another thrives can sometimes seem random. So, trying to foresee downrange why the future will happen in City A and not City B is hard. Moreover, to imagine that there is one formula that all 7.8 billion of us should adhere to, wherever it is we live, is clearly nonsensical.
In our work, we study, research, and rank places to determine what the best practices are to increase economic prosperity, social equity, and quality of life. Ultimately, the question we want to answer is: What is it that makes a city a place of the future? In our research, one thing has become clear to us: next-gen talent is the fuel for the future of place. And by extension, jobs of the future will happen in places of the future.
Digital twins and AI analysis would offer significant benefits to organizations across all sectors. By providing a comprehensive look at a geographical area and its infrastructure and assets, these technologies will enable smarter and more targeted field planning optimization. It could help digitize field surveys, offer new levels of remote engineering access, and enable contact tracing around COVID-19.
The focus will continue to shift away from the data itself and towards its relationships. The connections between data are where the most powerful insights lie. With enough data points, organizations can look to analytics to better understand the context and “see” the future.
AI at scale and emerging data technologies truly illustrate this connectivity and potential. Although it’s an emerging field, the benefits are limitless.
In my business, we’d rather not be right. What gets a climate change expert out of bed in the morning is the desire to provide decision-makers with the best available science, and at the end of the day we go to bed hoping things won’t actually get as bad as our science tells us. That’s true whether you’re a physical or a social scientist.
Well, I’m one of the latter and Meeting of the Minds thought it would be valuable to republish an article I penned in January 2020. In that ancient past, only the most studious of news observers had heard of a virus in Wuhan, China, that was causing a lethal disease. Two months later we were in lockdown, all over the world, and while things have improved a lot in the US since November 2020, in many cities and nations around the world this is not the case. India is living through a COVID nightmare of untold proportions as we speak, and many nations have gone through wave after wave of this pandemic. The end is not in sight. It is not over. Not by a longshot.
And while the pandemic is raging, sea level continues to rise, heatwaves are killing people in one hemisphere or the other, droughts have devastated farmers, floods sent people fleeing to disaster shelters that are not the save havens we once thought them to be, wildfires consumed forests and all too many homes, and emissions dipped temporarily only to shoot up again as we try to go “back to normal.”
So, I’ll say another one of those things I wish I’ll be wrong about, but probably won’t: there is no “back to normal.” Not with climate change in an interdependent world.