New Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s administration has the opportunity to take a fresh look at transportation funding and invest more dollars in commuter services that get maximum efficiency from our existing infrastructure and provide critical access to jobs at very low cost.
Fifteen local and regional commuter assistance programs in rural, suburban, and urban areas all around Virginia help people get to work and other destinations without the need for driving in their own vehicles by using transit, car- or vanpools, teleworking, biking, and walking. This takes millions of trips off the roads.
If, for example, a way could be found for the state to provide to these programs only $20 million per year more than the current $6 million in state funds, it could nearly quadruple their services. This could free up space on existing roads to make travel easier in congested areas. Twenty million dollars is only one half of one percent of total road and transit spending in Virginia, but it could potentially save many millions of dollars in the need for road construction. This potential return on investment deserves more serious study.
As documented by numerous studies, commuter services (or transportation demand management – TDM) produce many benefits for individuals, their companies, their communities, and the Commonwealth as a whole.
- For individuals, they can mean saving thousands of dollars per year on commuting costs, less stress, time savings and more time with families, or access to a job.
- For companies, they mean easier recruitment and retention of employees, less stressed and more productive employees, and lower parking costs.
- For communities and the Commonwealth, they mean less traffic, getting the maximum use of our transportation facilities, and thus reducing energy consumption, unhealthy air pollution, and climate changing greenhouse gases. They also support compact, walkable development, which today’s market is demanding.
Commuter services have major beneficial impacts on our transportation systems. For example:
- On I-95, vanpools and carpools supported by the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission and GWRideConnect reduce single occupant commuting by approximately 5,000 vehicles each work day – equivalent to traffic carried by an entire lane of highway in the peak period. If all those people drove alone, I-95 essentially shut down during the rush periods.
- Arlington County Commuter Services removes 45,000 single-occupant vehicle trips per day from the D.C. region’s roads by shifting them to other modes. For a comparison of scale, approximately 37,000 passenger vehicles are carried daily on all eight inbound lanes of I-395 and I-66 during the three hour morning rush. This saves 31,000 gallons of gasoline and 350 tons of air pollution each day.
- Collectively, Mobility Lab estimates that, each year, Virginia’s commuter services agencies shift 16 million vehicle trips and 340 million vehicle miles of travel off the roads, increase transit trips by 9.5 million trips, and increase transit fare box revenue by $30 million.
Commuter-services programs are the perfect strategy for today because they free up road space for drivers, save energy and promote energy independence, reduce air pollution, and provide improved access to jobs, all at relatively low cost. With additional funding, they could quickly expand and garner rapid results compared to other kinds of transportation investments.
Photo courtesy of Terry McAuliffe