Marketplace Scratch Pad

No gain in commuting pain

Scott Jagow Sep 10, 2009

I missed this when it came out a few days ago, but I thought it was worth mentioning. IBM’s annual commuter pain index has some interesting data in it, like how much would people pay to have a shorter commute?

I wrote about this subject a couple months ago, after noticing lighter traffic here in LA. Turns out, in just about all the major cities surveyed, commuter pain is down from last year. LA went from a perfect 10 (unbearable torture) to an 8 on the scale. Atlanta went from a 7 to a 4, Dallas from a 5 to a 2 and so on. The obvious assumption is that fewer people have jobs to drive to, and people with jobs are staying home more often for budgetary reasons.

A couple of other seemingly contradictory findings:

  • More than one-fifth (21%) of daily commuters say the recession has made them change the way they get to work, with 17% of drivers in this category carpooling more frequently, 30% increasing the number of days they work from home, and 26% taking public transportation more often.

  • At the same time, lower gas prices this year have caused 23% of respondents to alter their commuting habits in a different way, with 19% of this group carpooling less now, 19% taking public transportation less often, and 17% working less often from home.

A temporary lull in traffic, while being a recession blessing, certainly shouldn’t be a data point for future urban planning. Streetsblog points out something else from the survey:

When asked what value they would place on every 15 minutes sliced from their daily commute, 36.5 percent of CPI respondents said between $10 and $20. That’s about five times the recent trading price of a ton of carbon emissions on the nation’s climate-change exchanges.

And the price of a shorter commute was higher in more congested cities. In Los Angeles, 22 percent of residents said every 15 minutes not spent en route to work would be worth between $31 and $40 — or more than $100 per hour.

Now, if I could only finish developing that software program to make traffic disappear, I’d be rich.

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