The Transportation Cost-Savings Calculator

Up to $11.80 in benefits can be gained for every $1 invested in bicycling and walking opportunities, according to the Alliance for Biking & WalkingIncreased active transportation could yield an estimated annual benefit of $10 to $66 billion for the United States, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Active transportation is also associated with better fitness, reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, and lower rates of obesity and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


“Mobility management” or “transportation demand management” (TDM) programs provide great bang for a very modest buck. The return on investment for corporations, government agencies, and consumers can be astronomical.

These programs provide shorter trips, more trip options, reduced travel delay, as well as benefits to business and society, such as increased economic vitality and enhanced public health and safety. This project is developing a calculation method to estimate the return on investment in “TDM” programs.

It is difficult to compare the value of TDM investments with investments in roads, transit, and other transportation infrastructure because successful TDM is typically expressed as travel reduction, while road and transit investments are measured by impacts on system capacity or utilization.

It will become even more important for TDM programs to document system performance benefits given the new emphasis required by policy called MAP21. But, evaluation of TDM solely as a transportation benefit underestimates its value, because TDM also contributes to other social goals, such as pollution reduction, energy conservation, public health, safety, quality of life, and economic vitality.

The Transportation Cost-Savings Calculator project is designed to monetize a range of benefits in terms that are understandable and compelling to policy makers. In an era of constrained funding, it is critical that the TDM industry effectively communicates the value of these investments.

The project team is currently investigating the following broad categories of potential TDM benefits:

This project is designed to benefit not only Arlington, Virginia, where Mobility Lab’s research team is based, but all TDM programs and transportation experts in Virginia, nationwide, and internationally. We have solicited supporting data and ideas and have been pleased by the widespread interest.

This project is:

  • Defining a comprehensive set of TDM benefits to society
  • Developing consistent measurement approaches to estimate the economic value of the benefits
  • Developing an approach to compare the return on investment from TDM projects to other transportation projects, and
  • Calculating the economic value and return on investment to businesses, governments, commuters, and other stakeholders who invest in TDM programs.

There is a huge range of potential benefits. Some areas of TDM benefits are easier to document in monetary terms than others. We do not intend to overlook those benefits that are harder to monetize, but due to the complexity of the project, we anticipate this being a multi-year effort.

Our method is building upon the existing TDM impacts measurement approach of Arlington County Commuter Services, which quantifies vehicle trip and “vehicle miles traveled” reductions, to develop a similar system of factors to monetize benefits. We are researching monetization methods used in other fields (such as system operations, health, community planning, economics) to ensure that the method conforms to reliable and accepted practices.

The results will inform policy makers and funding agencies of the comprehensive value of TDM investments across a range of benefits to the public, and will provide an approach to compare the value of TDM investments to other kinds of transportation investments.

Photos by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious, the Asian Development Bank, and Degibo on flickr

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