How Much Would Most People Pay For a Shorter Commute?

chart.gif(Data: IBM’s CPI)

As Washington conventional wisdom has it, raising gas taxes or creating a vehicle miles traveled tax to pay for transportation is impossible during the current recession. After all, who would want to squeeze cash-strapped commuters during tough economic times?

As it turns out, the public is very willing to pay for the shorter commuting times that result from less traffic — and they’re willing to pay top dollar, as IBM’s new Commuter Pain Index (CPI) shows.

When asked what value they would place on every 15 minutes sliced from their daily commute, 36.5 percent of CPI respondents said between $10 and $20. That’s about five times the recent trading price of a ton of carbon emissions on the nation’s climate-change exchanges.

And the price of a shorter commute was higher in more congested cities. In Los Angeles, 22 percent of residents said every 15 minutes not spent en route to work would be worth between $31 and $40 — or more than $100 per hour.

What does the data mean? For one thing, those who fear that voters would revolt if asked to pay more for a more efficient, less congested transport network shouldn’t let that stop policy-making. As every successful politician knows (and the president is re-learning on health care), messaging is the key to winning over the public.

In other words, Democrats who feign unwillingness to subject voters to higher gas taxes are ignoring their ability to control the message. When a greater contribution to transportation is pitched as a way to shorten commutes and give workers more free time, the prospect becomes more desirable.

And it’s not that lawmakers don’t know how to decrease congestion, particularly in the urban areas that were polled to produce the CPI. Reducing the number of car trips and lowering demand during peak travel times are proven to be a cheaper and more effective method of battling congestion than expanding highway capacity.

Is it time to nickname the White House’s Sustainable Communities Initiative the "Shorter Commutes Initiative"?

  • Steve Davis

    Important to note, that I think the IBM study is conducted online, skewing the results to solely an online (and therefore more prosperous) sampling. Which certainly doesn’t negate your point at all — just points to the need to price roads properly and steer the revenues into transit and other modes that can help those without the means or a car to get around just the same.

  • garyg

    What does the data mean? For one thing, those who fear that voters would revolt if asked to pay more for a more efficient, less congested transport network shouldn’t let that stop policy-making.

    Depends on how much more you “ask” them to pay and how you propose to spend the money. I see no serious evidence that voters are willing to pay significantly more to subsidize transit on the dubious claim that it will relieve road congestion.

    Reducing the number of car trips and lowering demand during peak travel times are proven to be a cheaper and more effective method of battling congestion than expanding highway capacity.

    The article you link here to with the words “are proven” neither proves your assertion nor even claims to.

  • Steve – the survey wasn’t conducted online. (I worked @ IBM with the folks who conducted it). It was conducted via phone interview and is statistically valid for the 10 cities in which the study was conducted. From the methodology:

    “The study gathered drivers’ opinions about local traffic and related issues in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Forth Worth, Los Angeles, Miami-Ft Lauderdale, Minneapolis-St Paul, New York, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, and Washington, DC. The survey was fielded by Survey Sampling International (SSI). 4,446 consumers responded — at least 400 in each city. The male to female balance was even. The results have a 2-point margin of error overall, and a 5-point margin of error when comparing cities.”

    Sorry for the long response. Hope that helps clarify.

  • Michael

    The amazing thing is people can have exactly what they want. two to four hundred dollars a month is exactly the difference between urban and suburban rent.

  • Rockfish

    What exactly do they mean? Per trip? Per day? And the idea is this would be done by transit infrastructure, not by just moving the people and workplace closer together?

    Doesn’t make sense to me. My commuter train pass is $290/mo and the trip is an hour each way. How much more would I pay if it were 45 min each way? Nothing.

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