Feeling Your Pain In A Toyota

Building A Smarter Planet:

Nothing is a more effective motivator for change than the desire to reduce one’s own pain and suffering, right? Assuming that is the case, then the recently released “Commuter Pain Index” provides a clear case for a better transportation system in many of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. The IBM report aims to provide insight into the emotional and economic impact of consumer commuting.

Just as in last year’s index, Minneapolis commuters seem to feel the least pain, while my fellow Angelenos continue to plumb the bottom of the index. However, comparing 2008 to 2009 reveals some interesting changes – namely, that Boston, New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago all dropped in the index, with D.C. making the most significant descent downward. That decline seems to be closely connected with recession-related factors, including gas price sensitivity and increased desire to spend time with family and friends.

The index also details transportation choices in each of the 10 surveyed cities. One thing is clear – the car still dominates. As a native Angeleno, I assumed LA would have the highest solo car ridership. No, that distinction goes to Dallas and Miami, where 76 and 78 percent of commuters, respectively, drive to work alone. Not surprisingly, at 9.4 percent, the greater New York City area has the highest train ridership by a significant margin.

And as much as the car dominates commuters’ modes of transportation, it’s even more significant for non-commuting travel. Nowhere is that true than for Dallas, where residents turn to their cars 95.5 percent of the time. Even train-friendly New York metro area turns to the car more than 80 percent of the time when they aren’t heading to or from work. I’d love to see this figure broken down further, comparing the suburbs to New York City proper, then further comparing across the five boroughs where transportation modes vary based on proximity to bus and train routes. Future studies, future studies.


Elana Schor at Streetsblog Capitol Hill:

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.

Matthew Yglesias:

What’s more this suggests that congestion pricing could pretty substantially improve quality of life in a lot of metropolitan areas. If you had a city in which a $10 congestion charge could shave 15 minutes off commutes, the vast majority of people would consider themselves better off. A minority of people wouldn’t consider that a good deal (and they’d presumably be heavily represented among the group of people whose unwillingness to drive into the congestion zone during peak times would produce the reduction in congestion) but a large number of them ought to be able to appreciate the reduced taxes or higher levels of public services that the charge could finance.

James Joyner:

I simply don’t believe the numbers.   Matt’s commenter Paulie Carbone encapsulates my objection nicely:

“I think people are radically overstating how much they dislike traffic. 18% are willing to pay over $30 to save 15 minutes? If you commute to and from work, and work 5 days a week, 50 weeks per year, that’s at least an extra $7,500 per year.

And who really values their time that highly? If you think 15 minutes is worth $30, that’s $120/hour. Would these same people not work for anything less than $120 an hour?”

I make a decent living and insisted on the ability to work from home at least one day a week before taking my present job.  I find driving 45 minutes average each way a ridiculous waste of time.  But I wouldn’t pay $120 a day  ($20 x 3 x 2) to avoid it.

The problem with these surveys is that most people are innumerate.  (Which explains, for example, why a significant number of people spend more on child care, commuting costs, lunches, dry cleaning, and the like than they actually net from an unsatisfying job because the family “needs the money.”)


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