How the World Beats Traffic

I am participating in: How the World Beats Traffic, “A virtual panel discussion with international experts on how cities are using congestion reducing fees to combat gridlock”

Date: November 2, 2015

Time: 12pm EST [11 am CST, the only Time Zone that matters ™]


 Congestion is the bane of urban life in Canada, as it is elsewhere in the world. Too many people driving too many cars at the same place at the same time—that’s congestion. Growing urban populations, lack of accessible and reliable public transit, outdated infrastructure—all of these contribute to the growing trend of road congestion in our cities. While road-use is free, congestion is extremely costly—both to our economies and our quality of life.

On November 2nd, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission will launch a major report on the critical missing piece of our urban mobility agenda: congestion pricing. We Can’t Get There From Here: How Pricing Congestion is Critical to Beating It sheds light on the costs of congestion that we cannot solve with more road and transit capacity alone. It highlights the various and diverse pricing policy approaches that have been used successfully to reduce gridlock in cities across the world. And it considers how these lessons could apply to four of Canada’s biggest cities.

Video about the Canada Ecofiscal Commission.

So how, exactly, do officials figure out how many people will use mass transit projects? | MinnPost

Peter Callaghan writes an excellent piece for MinnPost “So how, exactly, do officials figure out how many people will use mass transit projects?” I was interviewed, as was Marty Wachs of UCLA and local planning officials and planners.

Selected quotes:

In a seminal 1992 study of the effects of the federal funding system, however, transportation economist Don H. Pickrell found that cities favored expensive capital projects over improved bus systems, largely because that was where the money was. The funding system had produced an incentive to overestimate ridership and underestimate costs. And why not: local agencies weren’t held accountable for the accuracy of their forecasts.

“You had grade inflation,” said David Levinson, the CTS Chair in Transportation Planning at the University of Minnesota. “Forecasts were being abused to achieve a particular outcome because there was a lot of money at stake.”

Levinson agrees that ridership forecasting is better today than it was. “There are probably still a few places you could stick your thumb on the scale, but not as many,” he said.

“They are better, without doubt, because the grossest abuses have been exposed and people don’t want to be embarrassed by having that be done again,” said Martin Wachs, professor emeritus in urban and regional planning at UCLA. “The boundaries are more demanding today than they were a decade or two ago.”

The FTA rules and guidelines also have the ability to produce underestimates of ridership, something that isn’t exactly unwelcome for transit agencies. “Agencies will use high forecasts to sell the project, then lower the forecasts so they can exceed that forecast when it opens,” Levi[n]son said.

… forecasters look at how people actually live and travel. Rather than count a trip from home to work as one trip and a trip from home to school as another, for example, the new method recognizes that people might go from home to work to lunch to the dentist and then to home. “We’re modeling what people actually do,” Filipi said.

Levinson, who is one of the experts conducting a peer review of the new models (which won’t be in place until after SWLRT is funded), agrees, saying the activity-based method more accurately capture how people actually use transit. “You can’t choose a car for going from work to lunch if you didn’t take a car to work,” he said.

For all the sophisticated modeling, though, both Wachs and Levinson concede that it’s impossible to separate the technical aspects of forecasting from the politics. Levinson, for example, said forecasts of costs and ridership are not used to determine which localities win federal money but to justify those decisions.

“If [Rep. Martin] Sabo and [Rep. James] Oberstar are well placed, their projects will get funded because it’s not just on cost effectiveness or ridership,” Levinson said of former congressmen who backed the region’s first light rail line.

“Certainly the FTA bureaucrats see their job as being objective and their purpose as being honest,” Wachs said. “But they are strongly influenced by politically elected officials whose goal is to bring money to their project rather than see it go to another state.”

Local agencies should have an interest in not overbuilding or not building at all if the ridership isn’t there. And general managers who have to operate those systems do worry about unsustainable projects, Wachs said.  But the elected officials are more interested in “ribbon-cutting” and figure that by the time the operating shortfalls appear, they’ll be out of the picture.


I will be on the panel at:


Junko Yoshida  |  Chief International Correspondent, EE Times
David Levinson  |  Professor, Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering, University of Minnesota
Adeel Lari  |  Director of Innovative Finance, State and Local Policy Program, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota
Sarah Palodichuk  |  Researcher, J.D., University of Minnesota
Mark Boyadjis  |  Senior Analyst & Manager, HIS Automotive
Date:  Thursday, November 5
Time:  11:00am – 11:45am
Session Type: 45-Minute Panel
Track: Fantastical Theatre Of Engineering Innovation
Pass Type: Conference Pass, Demo Hall Pass  Get your pass now!
Audience Level: All

Auto industry analysts believe the arrival of autonomous cars is inevitable. The question is not if, but how soon. Signs of this trend include recent advancements in Advanced Drivers Assistance Systems (ADAS). But do we really understand what it means for driverless cars to share the roads with drivers and pedestrians? What technology is needed and what must we learn before machines and humans can happily co-exist on Route 66?

*Moderated by Junko Yoshida, EE Times.