TTI: Mass Transit Saved Drivers 45.4 Million Hours Last Year

Last year, the D.C. region ran away with the dubious honor of Most Congested Metro Area. D.C. area drivers wasted 74 hours and 37 gallons of fuel sitting in traffic last year, which would have cost about $100 over the course of the year. But the gasoline cost is just the tip of the iceberg.

According to the 2011 Urban Mobility Report, released today by the Texas Transportation Institute, this delay cost the average D.C. driver $1,495 once you factor in lost productivity and increased trucking times. In Chicago, it’s $1,568. L.A., $1,334.

Every year, TTI puts out their Urban Mobility Report, and every year we criticize it for its autocentrism. After all, its sole measure is how fast a vehicle can speed down a given mile of roadway. Maybe your city is dense and friendly to pedestrians and bikes, so that it’s easy to glide past the automobile gridlock on your short commute to work. Or maybe transit provides an excellent and affordable alternative to traffic jams. None of that matters to TTI. If someone, somewhere, is sitting in traffic, that’s all that matters. All other measures and modes of urban mobility are ignored.

TTI doesn’t bother to figure out how much time is saved if one avoids that congestion by taking transit, but they do examine how much time transit riders save drivers by taking vehicles off the road.

How public transportation reduces delays for drivers, 2010. Source: 2011 Urban Mobility Report, via APTA.

If there were no transit, the country’s drivers would be facing an additional 796 million hours of traffic delay. (Take that, drivers who grumble when their gas tax “user fee” funds mass transit!)

“Operational treatments” like ramp metering, traffic light timing, and removing crashed vehicles from the road have become much more effective in the last 20 years but still don’t come close to the savings provided by transit, saving about 40 percent as much as transit in terms of hours of delays, fuel, and costs.

Still, in TTI’s examination of congestion relief strategies, public transportation is barely alluded to and never mentioned outright, while operational treatments get significant attention. There is a shout-out to smart growth, or “denser developments with a mix of jobs, shops and homes, so that more people can walk, bike or take transit to more, and closer, destinations.” They also suggest telework and, of course, adding capacity.

TTI warns that congestion is only as bad as it is because the economy is still sluggish. We can expect a rapid worsening of the situation when the economy rebounds – 3 more hours of delay by 2015 and 7 hours by 2020, per commuter, with costs rising from $101 billion to $133 billion, more than $900 for every commuter, and enough wasted fuel to fill more than 275,000 gasoline tanker trucks.

I guess it’s time to really get to work on expanding and improving transit service then; right, TTI?

  • Bolwerk

    If there were no transit, the country’s drivers would be facing an additional 796 million hours of traffic delay.

    No, they wouldn’t, and this probably flies in the face of everything we know about traffic planning. Many drivers would simply stop bothering, vote with their feet, get a new job, or find some other way to adjust. One thing is clear: driving is no more a substitute for a good transit system than a good transit system is a substitute for driving.  They should stop being treated as substitutes.  They’re not substitutes, and they’re rarely even complements.

    Just think of the absurdity for a moment. Transit should be looked at as facilitating x hours of productivity, not facilitating x hours of drivers’ productivity. I don’t think you guys should believe TTI when they make claims like this, because the presumption that every transit user would flood the roads is plain false.

    (Take that, drivers who grumble when their gas tax “user fee” funds mass transit!)

    I probably shouldn’t say this, but those grumblers should fall on a spike. Just because some of their “user fee” goes towards mass transit doesn’t mean much income from mass transit users isn’t diverted to roadways.  The only difference is it happens through a general appropriations process, rather than as a fee on top of every transit ride sold, which only makes it more offensive.

  • Tom

    Bolwerk: you were right.  You shouldn’t say that.

  • Davistrain

    I tend to be suspicious of statistics like that in the headline, taking “hours saved” out to the first decimal place.  It reminds me of the various transit-related ballot propositions in California that receiving passing votes, despite dire predictions of failure.  My rather cynical comment has been.  “Of course they passed.  All the drivers out there were thinking,
    “Good! It will get all those other bozos off the road and onto trains so I will have smooth sailing on the freeway!” 

  • Herbie Huff

    This whole article seems to be written without knowledge the Fundamental Law of Road Congestion. For a recent summary of what we know about congestion, go here:

    The upshot: transit doesn’t cure congestion and it never will. There are many other good reasons to fund and improve transit systems, but reducing congestion isn’t one of them. I would urge the author of this post to read up on some of this research. Transit is a good alternative to congestion, but there is not a single case where a transit improvement has reduced congestion over the long term. Arguably, promoting the false claim that transit cures congestion leads to poor investments, as we focus on congested routes and amenities that will lure wealthier people out of their cars, as opposed to routes with high demand and a large number of carless, transit dependent (read: poor) people. These are not always different – in the case of routes serving downtown they are often the same. But they can be different. Streetsblog DC needs to do more to clarify these issues.