What is Transportation Demand Management?

What is TDM and why does it matter?

Transportation demand management (TDM) has become a hot topic in recent years. This is thanks in large part to the many ways in which technology has made using and promoting smart transportation choices easier. From a conceptual standpoint, TDM is concerned with the ways in which people make optimal use of locally available transportation resources, with a strong focus on getting people out of single-occupancy vehicles and into more efficient modes of commuting.

In essence, TDM balances the people-focused and infrastructure-focused ways in which problems like traffic congestion, infrastructure costs, parking challenges, and environmental impact can be managed or reduced. Strategically, it functions on two major levels:

At the surface …

At the surface level, TDM aims to provide information, incentives, resources, and support to people who want to make the best possible use of available transportation options. These alternatives include public transit, carpooling, vanpooling, ridesharing, walking, and cycling. Some conceptual models also include telecommuting as a TDM topic.

Going deeper …

On a deeper level, TDM is also concerned with urban design and municipal planning. Specifically, TDM strategies can be used to encourage broader engagement with transportation alternatives, and guide local residents to use them more often. At this level, key concepts include walkability indices and “complete streets,” sustainability, urban livability, and the integrated management of key transportation corridors.

While practically all major cities use TDM principles to inform policy decisions and development projects to some degree, it is still a relatively underused tool despite its powerful reach and transformative potential. At RideAmigos, encouraging top-down adoption of TDM programs is one of our primary goals, and we’re working not only to change the way people get around, but also the way people think about getting around.

A Brief History of Transportation Demand Management

As an identifiable concept, Transportation Demand Management first emerged in the United States during the 1970s, growing directly out of two major events: the 1973 oil crisis that sent the price of petroleum products skyrocketing, and the 1979 energy crisis that once again resulted in inflated prices and long lines at gas stations. These events made it clear that overreliance on single-occupancy vehicles had become a major problem, and that alternatives needed to be developed to alleviate energy consumption while reducing traffic congestion and helping everyday members of the workforce save money.

TDM In the beginning

Early approaches to TDM borrowed heavily from the transit infrastructure developed in Western Europe, which has historically seen relatively few commuters using single-occupancy vehicles. In North America, carpooling became an increasingly common practice during the 1970s, at a time when most people worked regular 9-to-5 schedules and splitting fuel costs became a necessity in the face of soaring gas prices. However, as fuel prices receded to far more affordable levels during the 1980s and early 1990s, initial efforts to import TDM concepts into the American transportation mainstream went into decline, and single-occupancy vehicles reaffirmed their dominance as the preferred mode of transportation.

One of the most stubborn stumbling blocks was a general lack of forward-thinking policy decisions. Much has been written about the “culture of the car,” and for a long time, many North American municipalities catered to the needs of single-occupancy vehicles, focusing infrastructure development on accommodating greater and greater volumes of cars and trucks. It wasn’t until the later 1990s, when the realities of global warming became apparent, that palpable changes began to take place. Environmental concerns, along with urban sprawl and high growth rates in city populations, finally convinced city planners and municipal governments to start thinking about transportation and commuting differently.

Modern approaches

Today, practically every major city in North America is exploring ways to reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicles and encourage smarter, more efficient options. Priority lanes for carpoolers have become a fixture in many major transportation corridors, and improving the usability of alternative transportation methods has also become a priority. Municipalities are making heftier investments in mass rapid transit, public transportation, bike infrastructure, and city walkability, to name a few. Yet, for maximum effect, these changes need to be implemented using a cogent, comprehensive strategy that draws on proven ways to get people to forego single-occupancy vehicles.

The Main Objectives of Transportation Demand Management Strategies

Fundamentally, Transportation Demand Management is about more than just managing the way people get around; it’s about the overall health and wellness of communities. As such, the field has evolved to include a number of specific objectives, all of which are supported by the use of better methods of transportation. Examples of major TDM objectives include:

Reducing traffic congestion

Getting cars off the road is one of the most common and most immediate goals of transportation demand management. When fewer vehicles are competing for road space, traffic moves more quickly, average commute times come down, and the environmental impact of idling is reduced.

Conserving energy and reducing emissions

The damage caused by vehicle emissions and greenhouse gases is undeniable. It’s a major contributor to problems like climate change and environmental degradation. Therefore, getting people to make better use of shared transportation options is one of the most important ways in which communities can do their part to encourage greener thinking.

Improving community health and fitness levels

TDM can also lead to better levels of health and fitness among community members by encouraging people to be more active as they move around town. Improving the walkability of cities and adding cycling infrastructure such as dedicated bike lanes are two of the most important ways TDM strategies can be used to promote healthier and more active lifestyles.

Achieving equity

One of the major problems associated with prioritizing the needs of drivers is that it leads to inequality. As more resources are dedicated to the infrastructure needs of single-occupancy vehicles, those who don’t drive or are unable to afford their own car suffer. The best approaches to TDM seek to create a level playing field, in which the interests of all community members are taken into account in equal measure.

Boosting urban livability

Studies have shown that community-oriented modes of transportation can lead to significant improvements in personal satisfaction and happiness. People are more engaged when they are active stakeholders in the communities they live in. By improving social quality for residents, commuters, and visitors alike, TDM helps improve the overall livability of cities.

Solving parking problems

High demand for parking can cause major headaches in urban areas, leading to major increases in traffic congestion at peak times. TDM offers streamlined approaches to the creation and management of parking infrastructure by making it more accessible and affordable, thus reducing spillover rates and improving traffic flow.

Enhancing community safety

The more cars that are on the road, the more pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist safety becomes an issue. One of the key ancillary benefits of reducing urban traffic congestion is improvements in community safety. As such, it’s a central concern of any comprehensive TDM strategy.

Helping commuters based in rural areas

People who work in cities but live in areas with low population densities tend to commute by car. Most often this is simply because alternatives aren’t readily available. Examples of programs that encourage rural-based commuters to make better use of alternative options include free or inexpensive parking at mass transit stations located outside central business districts, carpool lots along common routes for easier ride sharing, and increases to comfort and security features at these locations.

Making alternative transportation more affordable

One of the most effective ways to get people to leave their cars at home is to make TDM-preferred modes of transportation more affordable than solo driving. Making communities less dependent on single-occupancy vehicles also has a trickle-down effect. It also reduces the amount of resources people have to earmark for their transportation needs. This, in turn, supports other important TDM objectives, including better livability, improved equity and community safety, and reductions in traffic congestion and environmental impact.

Various methods can be used to achieve these objectives. TDM-friendly policy decisions and legislation are essential, but elements like incentives for using sustainable transportation, disincentives for driving, education and information accessibility are also important.

Enacting Positive Change through Transportation Demand Management

The most effective and successful approaches to transportation demand management draw on the combined power of a range of strategies to achieve the aforementioned objectives. Common strategies include:

  • Making information about locally available alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles easy to access and use.
  • Marketing the benefits of commuting alternatives to business owners so they encourage their employees to use them.
  • Supporting a diverse range of transportation options, including not only public transit, but also carpooling, vanpooling, ridesharing, walking, cycling, and others.
  • Incentivizing the use of smart, sustainable commuting methods.
  • Discouraging the use of single-occupancy vehicles by introducing tolls and surcharges that increase the cost gap between solo driving and other options.
  • Introducing limits on driver accessibility to key commercial areas of cities with high levels of traffic congestion.
  • Capping single-occupancy vehicle trips, or increasing the average passenger density of privately operated vehicles.

Changing the culture and attitude of commuters naturally comes with difficult challenges. It isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. Yet, as TDM becomes an increasingly visible element of urban living, awareness naturally rises and people become more mindful about the impact of their transportation decisions. One of the most powerful ways to continue to foster and nurture change is to leverage technology. User-focused TDM tools make finding and using better methods of transportation easier. This is where solutions like the RideAmigos commuter engagement platform and apps can have a major impact.

Technology to empower change

The transformative power of technology is one of the most effective available tools in the fight against traffic congestion and the environmental and social damage it causes. RideAmigos is working to bring transportation demand management stakeholders together. We provide change-making tools at all levels, from government, enterprise, and education sectors right down to everyday end users. If you’re interested in being a part of the solution to urban transportation problems, contact us today.