Our Approach to Problem Solving
In this Section:
Work Smarter, Not
Harder to Improve Transportation
ComprehensiveAnalysis of Benefits
Transportation Demand Management
Transportation Price Reforms
Work Smarter, Not Harder to Improve Transportation
"Work smarter, not harder" is a motto for good management. It's a reminder to continually search for better solutions to the problems we face.
There is a great need for better solutions to our transportation problems. Too often, solutions consist of simply more of the same: building more roads, expanding parking facilities, maintaining low fuel prices, buying more automobiles, increasing transit subsidies, and generally devoting ever more private and public resources to transportation.
There are good reasons to question such solutions. With current underpricing of automobile travel (although owning a vehicle is expensive, driving has never been cheaper, due to low fuel prices, abundant free parking and unpriced roads) it is virtually impossible to reduce congestion, accidents, road and parking facility costs, pollution, sprawl, and poor mobility options for non-drivers by simply doing more of the same.
Attempts to solve one problem often exacerbate others. For example, increasing roadway capacity to reduce congestion in one area often worsens downstream congestion problems. The bottlenecks simply move around, while other transportation problems increase.
When all impacts are considered, accommodating more vehicle traffic is not necessarily better for society. Like any economic input, transportation activities experience diminishing returns: while society may have benefited in the past from increased motor vehicle travel, it is wrong to assume that additional travel growth will provide similar benefits to individual consumers, communities, or our economy.
We believe that there are smarter ways to solve transportation problems. The Victoria Transport Policy Institute has identified innovative strategies for more efficient and equitable transportation. They are technically feasible and cost effective. They involve giving consumers more choices, creating a more balanced transportation system, and removing market distortions that result in excessive and economically inefficient travel choices.
Comprehensive Analysis of Benefits and Costs
In order to understand the true value of these innovations it is necessary to start with an understanding of transportation impacts. Just as a consumer needs accurate information on the full ownership and operating costs of a vehicle they are considering purchasing, society needs an accurate accounting of the full benefits and costs of alternatives when making transportation policy and investment choices.
Our report, Transportation Cost Analysis; Techniques, Estimates and Implications, and the Transportation Cost Analyzer computer software program, are designed to do exactly that. They provide a comprehensive analysis of the full costs of eleven travel modes, including costs to users and society. This information can help identify the full cost and potential cost savings (benefits) of a particular transportation activity, policy or program. It can answer questions such as, "What are the full costs of an increase in motor vehicle travel?" and, "What are the full benefits of a transportation demand management strategy?"
Although there have been several transportation cost studies, Transportation Cost Analysis is among the most comprehensive, and is the only one that is regularly updated as new information becomes available. It is written as both an overview to costing theory, a detailed reference for the various costs, and a guide to applying comprehensive economic analysis to specific transportation decisions. It is intended as a bridge between theoretical research application of theory to real-world transportation planning and policy decisions.
Some of these costs are relatively well-known, such as the costs of owning and operating a vehicle, travel time costs, and roadway facility costs. Other impacts are not well known or difficult to quantify, so they are frequently overlooked in transportation decisions. Our report Land Use Impact Costs of Transportation examines one important category of impacts - the economic, social and environmental impacts of paving land for roads and parking facilities, and the incremental costs of low-density, automobile oriented land use patterns.
The Costs of Automobile Dependency takes a broader look at impacts that result from high levels of per-capita motor vehicle travel, reduced travel alternatives, and automobile oriented land use patterns. Automobile Dependency and Economic Development summarizes evidence indicating that an excessive level of automobile dependency can reduce a region's economic productivity and development, due to its high cost burden.
When decision-makers evaluate highway capacity expansion projects it is important that they take into account the effects of generated traffic. Our report, Generated Traffic; Implications for Transport Planning describes how generated traffic impacts are often overlooked in the economic analysis of highway projects, resulting in an overestimate of the benefits and an underestimate of the full costs. This skews transportation investment decisions toward roadway projects and away from alternatives that may be more cost effective and economically beneficial overall.
Of course, these ideas are controversial. Automobile industry representatives have criticized costing research by VTPI and others. Evaluating Criticism of Transportation Costing examines the validity of these arguments, much of which reflect a distorted application of the basic economic theories used in transportation costing.
Transportation Demand Management Solutions
"Transportation Demand Management," or TDM, refers to many different strategies that encourage more efficient transportation behavior. Our report, Potential TDM Strategies, identifies more than three dozen specific demand management strategies.
A common problem with TDM planning is that most people are only familiar with a limited number of strategies. Often, a committee is formed to develop a TDM plan, and each member has a pet strategy: ridesharing, telecommuting, congestion pricing, transit improvement, bicycling. The committee spends all its timing arguing over which is the "right" strategy, and concludes that none can "solve" the transportation problems. It is important that TDM planning begin with a review of the full range of strategies and a realistic understanding of what each can achieve. A package of strategies can be developed that work together. Although most TDM strategies can only affect a limited amount of total trips and solve a small portion of transportation problems, a comprehensive package can have large impacts, providing significant benefits to consumers and society.
The Guide to Calculating TDM Benefits provides an overview of the various benefits of demand management programs. Evaluating Public Transit Benefits and Costs; Quantifying the Benefits of Non-Motorized Travel for Achieving TDM Objectives and Traffic Calming Benefits, Costs and Equity Impacts describe how to use a comprehensive analysis framework for evaluating specific modes or programs.
In Win-Win Transportation Solutions we identify the most technically and politically feasible TDM measures. Each provides multiple benefits by implementing more efficient and equitable transportation policies. If fully implemented to the degree that they are justified in terms of economic benefits, these strategies would approximately meet the U.S. and Canadian Kyoto agreement emission reduction objectives, and reduce traffic congestion, accidents, financial costs, and other environmental damages. Who says protecting the environment is expensive?
Transportation Price Reforms
One of the most important categories of TDM strategies is to reform the way we pay for motor vehicle travel. Our report Socially Optimal Transport Prices and Markets examines the magnitude of distortions in our current transportation markets that result in inefficient, excessive and inequitable transportation choices. It finds a number of significant market failures that harm virtually everybody over the long term. This report concludes that an economically optimal transportation market would result in 35-60% reductions in motor vehicle travel. In other words a significant portion of current motor vehicle travel results from market distortions. Consumers would gladly choose alternatives for one-third to one-half of their trips if given a less biased market.
The report Road Relief; Tax and Pricing Shifts for a Fairer, Cleaner, and Less Congestion Transportation System in Washington State, which we co-wrote, describes a package of technically feasible and cost effective revenue-neutral tax and price shifts suitable for implementation at the state or provincial level which would greatly improve transportation system efficiency.
Many people are surprised that the packages we propose include only a modest increase in fuel taxes. A far greater impact on vehicle travel is achieved by implementing distance-based vehicle insurance, which converts vehicle insurance from a fixed cost into a variable cost by having insurance companies prorate premiums by vehicle mileage. The more you drive, the more you pay, which more accurately reflects a vehicle's insurance compensation costs. Our report, Distance-based Vehicle Insurance; A Practical Strategy for More Optimal Pricing, describes how this would be implemented and the benefits that result.
Another major market distortion is the abundance of free parking, which results, in part, from zoning laws with excessive parking requirements. Our Pavement Buster's Guide describes why parking and road requirements tend to be excessive, the costs that result, and how to implement more efficient parking and roadway policies. As discussed in Parking Requirement Impacts on Housing Affordability, excessive parking requirements impose a cost burden that reduces the economic viability of developing affordable housing. This helps explain why we face a housing crises, including excessive housing costs for many middle- and lower-income households, and homelessness. A number of residential parking policy changes are recommended to encourage more efficient and equitable use of resources.
Of course, many of these proposed policy changes raise equity issues. Our report, Evaluating Transportation Equity, gives an overview of how to incorporate equity into transportation decisions. It identifies several types of equity.
Who’s Roads? Defining Bicyclist's and Pedestrian's Right to Use Public Roadways examines one particular equity issue, whether it is fair that non-motorists use public roads although they do not pay vehicle user taxes that fund highways. The report points out that the local roads that are used most by cyclists and pedestrians are funded by local taxes, which residents pay regardless of their travel behavior. Roadway cost studies can be used to estimate the costs imposed by various modes. This analysis indicates that people who drive less than average tend to overpay their roadway costs, while those who drive more than average tend to underpay.
Innovation requires reexamining some of our assumptions and perspectives.
The solutions we recommend tend to provide multiple benefits: increased consumer choice, financial savings for consumers and taxpayers, reduced congestion, safer roads, less pollution, and a reduction in other environmental impacts. As discussed in our report Reinventing Transportation; Exploring the Paradigm Shift Needed to Reconcile Transportation and Sustainability Objectives, a "reductionist" analysis that considers only one or two problems at a time may conclude that conventional solutions (such as widening highways, increasing parking capacity, vehicle efficiency and alternative fuel mandates) are most cost effective. But a "comprehensive" analysis that considers a wider range of benefits and costs will usually give more priority to demand management solutions.
Our report, Comparing Emission Reduction Strategies, gives a specific example of how a comprehensive analysis framework can be used to evaluate policy alternatives. It concludes that technical solutions, such as vehicle efficiency and alternative fuel mandates, tend to solve just one or two problems at a time, and often exacerbate other problems if they encourage even more vehicle travel. A comprehensive analysis tends to recognize the greater total benefits resulting from TDM solutions. A Critical Evaluation of Electric Vehicle Benefits examines the full benefits and costs associated with electric powered vehicles.