Rebranding “TDM” Could Fix the Industry’s Communications Struggle

CMAQ unfair

[quote_right][feature_box title=”TDM TAKEAWAY” title_color=”fff” header_color=”369″]TDM practitioners should start exploring beyond the limits of the industry’s largest federal funding mechanism.[/feature_box][/quote_right]

Would a common definition of the term and practice of transportation demand management help the industry find other funding sources, do better lobbying for policies, and gain wider acceptance and popularity?

And, as we at Mobility Lab constantly ponder internally, is the user-unfriendly term TDM keeping us from reaching these goals as well?

Kirk Hovenkotter, a program analyst at TransitCenter and a Mobility Lab contributor, asked these questions and urged TDM professionals to potentially reexamine their organizational goals and definitions of their work during a recent talk in Baltimore at the Association for Commuter Transportation annual international conference.

(Flip through his presentation here.)

With 59 percent of funding for regional TDM programs throughout the country coming from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Program, Hovenkotter said TDM organizations are somewhat forced to tailor their work to goals that are not Americans’ top priorities.

CMAQ funding

Some of TransitCenter’s latest research shows that people 30-years-old and above choose their mode of travel based on factors that don’t align with CMAQ’s requirements to target congestion mitigation and air pollution.

Total travel time, travel time reliability, and having a mode that allows them to be flexible in the times they travel are the top three ways people choose their mode of travel.

“The top motivations for people [on their urban mobility choices] weren’t traffic congestion or environmental impact, but access to affordable, reliable, efficient transportation options,” Hovenkotter said.

He also noted: the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) found that businesses that implement TDM programs do so because they were either responding to regulation or trying to recruit top talent. Congestion mitigation and air quality were not top priorities.

Kirk Hovenkotter

Kirk Hovenkotter

Hovenkotter, in stressing the limitations of the TDM phrase, noted that it is defined differently from organization to organization.

Having examined how TDM practitioners across the U.S. define their core work, TransitCenter has detected a transition from calling it “TDM” to repositioning it as simply “transportation options.”

He said the “bellwether” case may be the Oregon Department of Transportation’s statewide plan that forgoes the phrase “TDM” for “transportation options” and is funded by a grant from the FHWA.

The Oregon DOT plan “shies away from TDM and recognizes that the benefits of ‘transportation options’ go beyond congestion mitigation and air quality, and that many of the users who will be implementing strategies don’t have that primary focus. Their definition of ‘transportation options’ says nothing about congestion mitigation, system efficiency, and increasing occupancy. It focuses on creating choice, which is just a stark contrast [to other definitions]. It really broadens its perspective.

“Please take the time to read the Oregon Transportation Options Plan. It is 80 pages long, but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time,” he added, to laughs.

Suggesting that ACT could potentially take on the cause of rebranding the industry to carry forward the Oregon DOT’s efforts, Hovenkotter said, “There is this fine line we have to walk between being too broad and too vague and losing people that way.

“But I think the idea of ‘transportation options’ is so much more clear to me than ‘managing demand.’ It’s something you can communicate so much more easily to electeds or someone you see on the street.”

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Oakland Planner

The term used reflects the agency’s objectives. If the objective is reducing greenhouse gases and adverse effects on air quality, a more appropriate term would be Trip Reduction. If it is improving access to affordable, reliable transportation options, call it Mobility Improvement or Enhancement.

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