Survey Says: There is Interest in Alternatives to Driving Alone, but Barriers Remain

One of the largest programs at Triangle J Council of Governments both in terms of budget and number of TJCOG employees working on the program is our Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program. TJCOG serves as the administrator for this important regional program which is designed to reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicles.  Anyone who drives in our region is well-aware of the importance of the work to reduce trips! Our TDM team recently completed an annual survey of commuters and is excited to share the results with our members and others. Read on for some highlights…

– Lee

Every other year TJCOG conducts a major employer survey aimed at exploring the habits and attitudes of commuters across the Triangle region. This survey is part of our Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program, which aims to reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicles by supporting and encouraging carpooling, public transit, biking, walking, and teleworking. This spring we completed the 2017 edition of this survey, which surveyed over 14,000 employees across nine different employment centers in the region. The results illustrate that we are indeed making progress towards diversifying our travel behavior. However, there is still much opportunity to make important gains moving forward.

Let’s begin with the good news: TJCOG’s regional TDM program has successfully spread the word about incentives that can help people make the switch from driving alone. Across the board, awareness of these incentives – such as the carpool-matching tool, subsidized transit passes, and the emergency ride home service – was up when compared to numbers from the 2015 survey. The regional transit agency website, GoTriangle.org, saw the biggest gains, with over 61% awareness in 2017 compared to just 46% in 2015.

More good news: many people took advantage of these incentives to change their commute habits, either temporarily or permanently. Over 24% of respondents, nearly 1 in 4 people, were able to try, start, or increase their use of an alternative mode of transportation in 2016. Teleworking was the most popular choice with over 2,000 people either starting, trying, or increasing use of this option – a number TJCOG hopes to increase next year with the launch of its employer-targeted Telework Toolkit.

But even with these successes, the fact remains that the vast majority of people – about 85% – still drive to work alone, adding to the economic, environmental, and quality of life challenges in our region. And this isn’t because people aren’t interested in other options; 63% of respondents said that they were somewhat or very likely to try an alternative to driving alone given the right circumstances. Unfortunately, a number of significant barriers stand in the way of allowing people to make these choices.

When asked about obstacles, many people cited a lack of bus infrastructure such as limited frequency and few stops, as well as bus trips that take much longer than driving. The lack of safe walking and cycling routes was also a major barrier, particularly for people that live five miles or less from their work.

So what can we do as a community to expand the transportation choices people have? Unsurprisingly, respondents indicated that transit improvements would be a major influence on their transportation decisions, something local leaders are working on with light rail, commuter rail, and bus improvements all in the pipeline. Municipalities could also consider more park-and-ride lots, another factor that ranked high as an influence on decision-making. People that live close to where they work (five miles or less) said that adding more biking and walking infrastructure that connects neighborhoods to employment centers would also influence their transportation choices.

There are also a number of ways that employers can help their employees use other forms of transportation. Having flexibility in work hours to accommodate buses or carpool schedules ranked high as an influencing factor on mode choice, as did financial incentives, such as a small allowance or subsidy for taking the bus, carpooling, walking, or biking. These types of incentives can be a win-win for employers, as they can reduce the need for expensive employee parking, and they can also qualify employers for national recognition and support through the Triangle Best Workplaces for Commuters program.

When compared to similar sized regions across the country, the Triangle area tends to rank low in the use of non-driving forms of transportation to get to work. Sadly, not only does this have negative impacts on our environment and traffic congestion, it can also cause serious barriers to our region’s economic competitiveness. A 2014 study by the American Planning Association found that 81% of millennials felt that affordable and convenient alternatives to the car were at least somewhat important when deciding where to live and work. Without providing commuters choices, our region may fail to attract the talent necessary for economic growth. This survey provides some valuable insights into what we can do to help more people enjoy alternatives to driving alone to work every day. Check out more survey results in this infographic; TJCOG TDM Survey Results.

For more details on the survey or the Triangle TDM program contact Jenny Halsey at jhalsey@tjcog.org.

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