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"?

  • David Galvan

    I’m surprised people put the $ amount that high. Am I reading this right: People are saying they’d be willing to pay an extra $10 – $20 PER TRIP just to save an extra 15 minutes? For commuters, that’s what (5 days/week x 4 weeks/month x 2 trips/day x $10/trip = ) $400 per month?

    . . . actually, I guess that does makes some sense. Probably corresponds to the higher cost people pay for gas and car maintenance instead of taking the (always longer, but cheaper) public transit.

  • DJB

    People could also buy a shorter commute by living closer to work, which may or may not be more expensive, depending on the situation. It’s tricky to look at the decision to live somewhere this way though since lots of other factors are involved (e.g. schools, feeling of safety, social connections, home(including condo!)ownership opportunities).

    Higher gasoline taxes are unpopular in the U.S., despite the benefits they would have (lower traffic, lower pollution, boosting markets for alternative fuels and transportation modes, incentivizing telecommuting and flexible work hours, etc.), a truth which never ceases to frustrate me. Support for VMT taxes is even wonkier, but important.

    As far as the cleaner alternatives go, it helps to put their slowness in perspective:
    Walking and biking are a means of transportation AND substitutes for a trip to the gym.
    Transit and carpooling are a means of transportation AND a chance to read, or do work on an email-capable phone or laptop.

    You can multitask via the cleaner alternatives in ways you can’t (safely) driving alone. Plus, design cities instead of suburbs and you gain more in PROXIMITY than you loose in MOBILITY.

  • limit

    This is not news the price elasticity for gasoline has been well known in both theory and practice.

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