To reduce car dependence, increase transit frequency, provide free passes (also boosts school attendance). Telecommuting does not always translate to reduced travel

Excerpt, May 2021

Telecommuting does not always translate to reduced travel and can have hidden environmental costs. A recent California-based study reaffirms these findings and builds on what previous studies have already told us: travel behavior of telecommuters is more complex and often results in higher non-work VMT.

Researchers from University of California at Santa Barbara surveyed a mix of California residents to understand the difference in travel patterns of telecommuters and commuters. For people living in California, who mostly rely on automobiles versus other travel modes, the study finds that telecommuters on average accrue 1.37 times more VMT and make 0.53 more trips in a day compared to commuters.

Telecommuters with family members below the age of 21 were observed to make more trips as they are often designated drivers for younger family members. The study also found that traveling for telecommuters increased as education level and household income rose. An analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that in August of 2020, a quarter of the employed were teleworking, a majority of whom had an associate degree or higher.

The authors emphasize that travel behaviors and VMT could differ for telecommuters who live in neighborhoods and cities that have more transportation options and a diverse land use. Before policy makers and companies make telecommuting a norm post-COVID, it is important to work toward measures that counter induced VMT and travel. Densification of land use and improved availability of transportation options can help reduce both trip lengths and automobile usage.


Providing transit passes to high school students boosts attendance rates, transit ridership March 30, 2021

By James Hughes

In a Minneapolis study, providing free transit passes to high school students produced a 37.6% reduction (Data behind paid TRR Log-in) in excused absences and a 3.5 million ridership increase on Metro Transit over a one-year period. To qualify for a “Go-To” pass with the City of Minneapolis, students must meet one of three requirements: live inside the school attendance zone and outside the school walk zone (a two-mile radius around the school); be eligible for free or reduced lunch (FRL); or be enrolled in a citywide learning program that requires students to travel during the school day.

The City of Minneapolis decided to transition from yellow school bus transportation of students to public transit in 2014 due to the increasing complexity of student transportation, including sports/after school activities and varying destinations after each school day. The reduction in yellow school bus use for high school students also contributes to lower traffic congestion during rush hour and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. To accommodate for the additional trips, Metro Transit supplements routes frequently used by students during AM and PM rush hours to ensure reliable transport for students.

The program had the largest impact on the attendance records of those students within the two-mile walk zone from school, where children were eligible for passes based on FRL status. From indication of FRL status, researchers assumed these children may have a higher difficulty finding reliable transportation to school compared to higher socioeconomic status students.

“Both pass use and pass eligibility were associated with improved excused and total attendance for FRL-eligible students living within a 2-mi radius of their school, with higher estimated treatment effects than those of the general sample. This implies that FRL-eligible students may have found more benefit than students who became eligible through the distance criteria. It is likely that FRL students had fewer transportation options before the beginning of the program. Additionally, these results imply that student passes are useful even for students who live close to school.” (Pg. 11)

School attendance plays a large part in student performance and lifetime achievement. School districts should ensure that children with potential transportation challenges have many options to get to school on time, a free transit pass being one.

From Minneapolis, other large cities can take the research presented to justify a movement away from yellow school buses and to support their municipal transit system both for student and city benefit. Students are allowed more frequent and reliable transportation, while the  municipality benefits from  increased ridership and reduced competition for transportation services. With this transition, students are provided another transportation option and are introduced to transit at a much younger age—potentially creating transit riders for the rest of their commuting lives.

Photo credit: Tony Webster at FlickrPosted in EquityMultimodal

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Minnesota and California move toward reducing VMT to address climate change

 March 30, 2021, SSTI,

By Rayla Bellis

Minnesota and California both made progress this month in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the need to drive.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) recently made a highly anticipated decision to adopt a number of recommendations from the state’s Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council (STAC) made in December 2020, including setting a preliminary statewide goal for a 20% VMT reduction statewide and per capita by 2050. For the average Minnesota driver, that will mean traveling about 45 fewer miles per week in 2050 than today. MnDOT’s response to the STAC recommendations notes that the state will finalize the goal (including potentially setting interim targets and different targets for the Twin Cities region and Greater Minnesota) after engaging the public and stakeholders through the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan process that will occur throughout 2021.

MnDOT also plans to develop an approach for estimating program and project VMT outcomes by assessing both induced demand from adding lanes and reduced demand from increasing walking access, as well as evaluating the accuracy of travel demand forecasting methods.

In California, the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) released a public discussion draft of its plan to use infrastructure development to reduce VMT. The Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure (CAPTI), created in response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order, will be finalized later this year.

The draft CAPTI comprises 28 action items, intended to “help advance a slate of projects that meet climate goals, ensure that these projects are prioritized for state funding, and promote project construction and operations that minimize emission and impacts from climate change.”

Here are some of the action items that are of particular interest to the state DOT community:

  • CalSTA and Caltrans will develop new ways to mitigate increases in VMT from highway projects. One such approach would be mitigation banks, permitting project sponsors to purchase allowances that would go to fund VMT-reduction projects.
  • CalSTA and Caltrans will convene a working group to explore regional pricing strategies, such as cordon pricing and congestion pricing.
  • State agencies will leverage transportation funding to incentivize low-VMT land use policies, including streamlined approval for multifamily and mixed-use developments, reduced off-street parking requirements, or density bonuses.
  • CalSTA and Caltrans will convert underutilized highways into multimodal boulevards.

Though motivated primarily by climate policy, CAPTI also seeks to address the transportation system’s entrenched inequities, such as pollutants that disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities. For example, one action item calls for Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission to reform the way they prioritize projects by using a newly created equity assessment tool.

Photo credit: Michael Hicks at Flickr