Ease of travel leads to upward mobility. Yet, in transportation demand management (TDM)—an industry focused on making mobility options more diverse, efficient, and sustainable—programs disproportionately benefit high-income earners.
TDM has a much broader and more impactful role to play in our communities. It’s time for equitable and inclusive TDM that expands participation and tailors programs—going beyond climate goals and vehicle trip requirements—to directly improve people’s lives. Here are five ways to make that happen:
1. Expand participation.
Most TDM policies are focused on two populations: (1) employees who travel to work during peak commute hours and (2) residents who live in new, multifamily residential developments. Relying on market-rate housing developers and large employers to lead TDM implementation excludes low-wage and hourly workers who commute outside traditional peak hours. This disproportionately affects people of color. 1
Mobility programs offered at market-rate residential developments and large employment sites should also be offered at public and affordable housing developments, and they should be made available to non-peak commuters. Diverse, efficient, and sustainable transportation options need to be within everyone’s reach. This includes transit subsidies, rideshare discounts, and parking cash-out programs. In practice, city and regional policies should work to broaden participation.
Case Study: Casa Arabella
The City of Oakland has a reduction-based TDM policy that requires all new developments that generate more than 50 net-new a.m. or p.m. peak-hour vehicle trips to prepare and implement a TDM program. Unlike other cities’ TDM programs, multifamily, affordable housing developers are required to participate. 2
At Casa Arabella, a newly constructed affordable housing development in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, residents have access to the following mobility benefits:
- Mobility Wallet: Households receive $150 per year in flexible transportation dollars, providing residents access to multiple transit agencies and micromobility services.
- Bicycle Library: Residents can borrow bicycles and gear through an on-site bicycle library. Non-recreational bike trips can shift household costs and improve health outcomes. These bicycle libraries also help residents avoid the significant financial investment of purchasing and maintaining a bike.
- Family Amenities: Residents can rent collapsible utility carts and strollers, helping families without access to a private vehicle meet their daily transportation needs.
Case Study: Large Employer
A large employer in Oregon is thinking differently about how it helps employees get to work sustainability:
- In 2018, the employer implemented a subsidized Lyft program designed to support people who work the night shift. The program provided a subsidized Lyft ride to or from work during hours not well served by transit.
- In 2021, the employer is exploring ways to support low-wage workers by implementing a wage-based daily parking program. The program would tailor the parking price based on income to support equitable access to transportation options.
Expand TDM policies to improve mobility and access for more people—for both commute and non-commute trips.
2. Think bigger.
While policy is an effective way to require mobility programs at the site-level, practioners need to take more action to meet equity, climate change, and vehicle-reduction goals sooner. Site-level mobility programs should be bolstered by regional programs that pool resources. Practitioners already have the knowledge and multidisciplinary skills to create and deliver far-reaching programs.
Case Study: Alameda CTC
The cost of transportation to school is often cited as a barrier to attendance and participation in extracurricular activities. In recognition of this issue, the 2014 Measure BB Alameda County Transportation Expenditure Plan (TEP) included $15 million dedicated to implementing an Affordable Student Transit Pass Pilot (STPP). Working closely with community stakeholders, the Alameda County Transportation Commission (Alameda CTC) designed a three-year pilot and ultimately created a free transit pass program. Today the program involves more than 10,000 students in 75 schools and continues to expand. The STPP provides an example of how to expand programs to more people to influence all types of travel. 3
Key Takeaway: Look beyond site-specific TDM programs to meet critical goals related to equity, climate change, and vehicle reduction sooner.
3. Tailor programs and engage the community.
TDM policies and mobility programs are most often written by transportation planners and implemented by transportation coordinators, property managers, and developers. Typically, program participants—residents and employees—are not included in planning, branding, or implementation. But mobility programs are more effective when participants understand their benefits. An equity-centered approach involves listening and co-creating programs that elevate and represent the local community.
Case Study: Hunters View
The John Stewart Company (JSCo), an affordable housing developer in San Francisco, is updating the mobility program at Hunters View, a Hope SF project in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. 4 JSCo is committed to a resident-led process.
As part of the update, JSCo staff spoke with the resident council and circulated a parking and transportation survey to all residents. The feedback highlighted residents’ mobility needs, and residents offered their recommendations for how to promote non-driving modes. Suggestions included a neighborhood shuttle managed and operated by residents, a community-designed parking permit program, and the relocation of a nearby bus stop and shelter. Once complete, the updated TDM program will include recommendations brought forth by the residents who know which mobility programs are most suitable for the site and their needs.
Support community-led processes that tailor mobility programs to local needs and priorities.
4. Change the narrative.
Technical terms like “transportation demand management” and “TDM” lack meaning to the average person, even though they’ve been part of transportation planning and engineering vocabulary since the oil embargo and energy crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. Ideas like equitable travel options and expanding access to services and jobs, on the other hand, are easily relatable. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, bus boycotts led to free, organized carpools, jitney vans, and an explosion of bicycling and walking to and from work and other points of interest. Bringing a similar focus on equitable regional mobility to TDM planning should include changing the language to promote its goals and benefits.
An approachable vocabulary that encourages participation and emphasizes transportation choice—rather than suggesting management of participants—is likely to bring fresh enthusiasm for initiatives and to increase effectiveness. This includes avoiding technical terms like “TDM” in public-facing communication, as well as creating programs that are relatable, approachable, and tailored to the unique needs of people in the community.
Case Study: ODOT
The Oregon Department of Transportation swapped “TDM” for “transportation options.” The state-wide plan is dedicated to:
- Managing demand across the transportation system.
- Educating students and the public about how to travel safely.
- Connecting veterans, low-income populations, communities of color, and others on how best to get to and from work.
As part of the program, ODOT hosts an annual campaign to encourage commuters to try non-driving options. The campaign, Get There, is straightforward and has garnered positive public support. In 2019, the program of over 5,000 participants redirected more than 275,000 trips to non-driving modes. 5,6
Create approachable programs that remove jargon to improve communication and relatability.
5. Redefine success.
Mobility programs are deemed a success by how well they meet quantitative metrics, like reducing vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) and the use of single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs). While VMT and SOV reductions are critical, other factors should be taken into equal consideration when evaluating programs.
- Recognize longer-term, secondary benefits. While a free bus pass may equate to fewer SOV trips, it is also—and perhaps more significantly—a ticket to upward mobility: to a job, school, housing, and essential services. The success of a mobility program should not be solely based on quantitative goals, especially when the secondary benefits are evident.
- Quantitative metrics should not overshadow the action and the implementation of direct benefits. Equity-centered TDM involves spending more time piloting and implementing direct benefits (e.g., the distribution of vouchers, universal transit passes, bicycles, and parking cash-back payments) to ensure better mobility options. In some cases, this may mean spending more time on implementation than evaluation.
Case Study: Alameda CTC
While Alameda CTC’s Student Transit Pass Program is evaluated based on several quantitative metrics, the Commission also considers the program’s secondary benefits, such as (1) change in truancy and attendance, (2) participation in afterschool and extra-curricular activities, (3) access to jobs, and (4) change in household savings and financial security. Surveys and focus groups indicate that the free transit pass helps students access their jobs and extra-curricular activities, improves school attendance, and alleviates financial stress on families. During the pilot, a participant shared, “The program has helped my family save money… Money spent on transportation can now be used on food.” Programs like STPP are effective because they seek to reduce non-driving trips while providing people tangible quality-of-life improvements.
Measure more than just VMT and mode shift. Document the lived experiences of program participants and their improved access to opportunity.
The success of a mobility program should not be based solely on reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and meeting mode-shift metrics. Mobility is seldom about getting from point A to point B. It’s about secondary benefits: the ease of getting to a job, visiting family, accessing essential services, and attending school. Planners and practitioners need to unravel the current formula focused on managing demand and create plans and programs that expand access and opportunity for the greatest number of people.
Dana Rubin, Senior Associate
With support from Lauren Mattern, Naomi Doerner, Carmen Chen, Tom Brown,
Brie Becker, and Sahar Shirazi
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019). Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/race-and-ethnicity/2018/home.htm
- City of Oakland (2017). Transportation Impact Review Guidelines. Retrieved from https://cao-94612.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/oak063581.pdf and City of Oakland (2020)
Standard Conditions of Approval. Pp. 59
- Universal fare-free transit is being piloted in several cities across the U.S., including Kansas City, Kansas and Olympia, Washington. After one month of the program, Olympia saw a 20 percent increase in ridership compared to the prior year. CNBC.com (2020). Americans spend over 15% of their budgets on transportation costs—these US cities are trying to make it free. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/02/free-public-transportation-is-a-reality-in-100-citiesheres-why.html
- The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing, city agencies, and private partners initiated the HOPE SF program in 2007 to replace dilapidated public housing developments, and build affordable, workforce, and market-rate homes. During construction, residents were provided temporary housing and the right to return. Upon completion, HOPE SF will have replaced 1,900 public housing units and will add more than 5,300 homes of various levels of affordability. For more information go to: https://www.hope-sf.org
- Oregon Department of Transportation (2019). Oregon Transportation Options Program – 2019 Annual Snapshot. Retrieved from https://www.oregon.gov/odot/RPTD/RPTD%20Document%20Library/TO-Progress-Snapshot-2019.pdf
- Oregon Department of Transportation (2015). Oregon Transportation Options Plan. Retrieved from https://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/Planning/Documents/OTOP.pdf