Travel time peaked in the 1990s, new research shows

Americans spent more than 10 hours per week traveling in the early 1990s—the highest amount in two decades—but that number has since dropped below 1975 levels to less than 8.5 hours, according to a new study published in Transportation Research Part A. The resulting travel time peak, mirrors a similar peak in average vehicle miles traveled that occurred roughly a decade later. This earlier peak, however, suggests that important shifts in travel behavior were already underway well before the recession took hold around 2007.

Equitable access to opportunity: The growing distance between people and jobs

Recent studies show that travel times and costs for all commuters are increasing, particularly in the past five years, and a recent Citi Premier commuter index documents average commuting costs. These costs are regressive in nature, creating a particular burden for lower-income commuters, who are much more likely to live farther from employment and have long commutes and travel times, regardless of mode. The inequitable impacts of this challenge manifests in lost opportunity for lower-income commuters.

Researchers apply travel time reliability measures in modeling and project evaluation

Transportation planners and traffic analysts who typically measure road performance in terms of delay are beginning to incorporate measures of travel time reliability, which describe the hourly and daily variation in travel times due to congestion and transit delay. Two new reports prepared for the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP 2) provide a better understanding of the value of travel time reliability, and also insight into what might be the most appropriate uses for such measures.

Beyond mobility—prioritizing accessibility in urban transportation

The San Francisco Transit Accessibility Map is a new online tool showing how much of the city is accessible by transit or walking within a selected travel time. Although the map is useful as is, it also presents an enormous opportunity to develop a richly layered analysis that could be used to understand accessibility more broadly by adding data on non-work as well as work destinations. It could also highlight the need to improve accessibility for underserved areas.

Do transportation agencies value time more than travelers do?

Tolled traffic lanes on otherwise unpriced facilities offer a unique opportunity to understand how much people are willing to pay for a faster commute and to truth test the assumptions used by transportation agencies to judge the benefits and costs of potential projects. One of these projects, the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on Washington’s SR 167, demonstrates the difficulty of accurately predicting how travelers will value reductions in travel time.

Population growth in San Francisco creates challenges for transit

A recent long-term transit strategy proposal by San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni) Director Ed Reiskin aims to cut travel times on some bus and light rail routes in half. However, this is far from the first time an idea like this has been proposed and many of the previous efforts involved controversial measures that would reduce the number of transit stops.

Study highlights importance of travel time as a metric

As commute times increase, married women work fewer hours or even drop out of the workforce according to a forthcoming article. The finding helps explain differences in women’s workforce participation across various metro areas. Its focus on travel time as a driver of economic outcomes, the article has clear relevance to transportation agencies that are wrestling with setting meaningful, outcome-based performance measures.

Time Pollution (John Whitelegg, 1993)

In his 1993 essay, originally published in Resurgence & Ecologist, the author tries to explain why the more people try to save time, the less time they seem to have. This is true of transportation as well, and he uses travel time as an example of this phenomenon. Regardless of what mode people chose, they tend to average the same amount of time traveling. He also points out that there is a fundamental difference between speed and access. This is an interesting read when considering performance metrics for transportation systems.

Measuring Urban Transportation Performance: A Critique of Mobility Measures and a Synthesis (CEOs for Cities, 2010)

This report offers a new view of urban transportation performance. It explores the key role that land use and variations in travel distances play in determining how long Americans spend in peak hour travel.