Transportation Demand Management—Overview and Benefits (Text Version)
This is a text version of the podcast episode Transportation Demand Management—Overview and Benefits from July 22, 2021.
Mollie Putzig: With the right approach transportation strategies can help address population growth, traffic congestion, and air quality, and even save money and help build community partnerships.
Erik Ringle: We sat down with some experts who work with Triangle Clean Cities, which covers the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region of North Carolina to talk about how transportation demand management, or TDM, benefits their communities.
Mollie Putzig: So, I'm Mollie Putzig.
Erik Ringle: And I'm Erik Ringle.
Mollie Putzig: And today we're taking about TDM, which can mean a lot of different things, like transit, active commuting, carpooling, improved roads, and this year many of us got very familiar with telecommuting. But how do you determine what's right for your city, your organization, or even yourself?
Erik Ringle: So, for this episode of On the Go, an on-road transportation podcast with Clean Cities, we're taking a look at that question and more. And to do that we're going to turn you over to one of our colleagues at the National Renewable Energy Lab, Steve Lommele, to take a closer look at why TDM is important, how to go about it, and what the future might look like.
Stephen Lommele: So, hi, everyone. This is Steve Lommele. I'm a transportation project leader at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and I work to connect insights from the Department of Energy's Energy Efficient Mobility Systems program, or EEMS for short, to stakeholders working to improve transportation and mobility in communities around the country. So, EEMS is a program of the Vehicle Technologies Office, part of the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. And EEMS works to understand the system-level impacts that emerging transportation technologies and services will have on mobility and to identify solutions that improve mobility energy productivity, which is the energy, the time, and the affordability of transportation.
So, one particular area of work that can benefit from EEMS insights and technologies are transportation demand management programs. And the focus of today's podcast is to dig into TDM with some folks who have some deep experience setting up and running a TDM program. With that, I'd like to allow each of our speakers to introduce themselves. So, Sean, if you can start us out please?
Sean Flaherty: Sure. Sean Flaherty, Principal Planner with the Triangle J Council of Governments. We are located in the greater research triangle region of North Carolina. I also serve as the co-coordinator for the Triangle Clean Cities Coalition.
Stephen Lommele: Thank you. Shuchi, please?
Shuchi Gupta: Sure thing. My name is Shuchi Gupta and I work as a planner at the Triangle J Council of Governments. And I am what you may say is boots on the ground for the TDM program. Thank you.
Stephen Lommele: Great. Thank you. John?
John Hodges-Copple: Thanks, Steve. John Hodges-Copple, the metro planning director at Triangle J Council of Governments.
Stephen Lommele: Thank you, John. Dale?
Dale McKeel: Dale McKeel, transportation planner with the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization. And we are the MPO that serves the western part of the Triangle region.
Stephen Lommele: Great. Thank you, Dale. Brandon?
Brandon Watson: Hey, Brandon Watson here with the North Carolina Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. And I'm a transportation planner and we serve the eastern side of the triangle located in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Stephen Lommele: Perfect. Thank you, Brandon. And Jill?
Jill Vitas: My name is Jill Vitas. I'm with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. I'm in the mobile source compliance branch, an environmental engineer, and we are responsible for the grant program for Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and also for the Volkswagen mitigation funds.
Mollie Putzig: Okay. So, now you know the team. Before we dive into TDM let's set the scene by hearing from John about the Triangle J region that we're going to be focusing on today.
John Hodges-Copple: Triangle J is a seven-county region and the triangle, right, is our three core counties—so, Wake County where our capital city, Raleigh, is located; Durham County, the city of Durham; and then Orange County where Chapel Hill is. And of course the research triangle actually referred to those three tier one universities: Duke, which always needs to be mentioned first, then UNC Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, and NC State over in Raleigh. And then the Research Triangle Park, this very large research park, is right in the middle. And in fact, the park operates as a foundation and the three university presidents and chancellors sit on their board, so it's a very collaborative, coordinated structure for the region.
But it's grown leaps and bounds. I think I mentioned back in the early '90s we reached a million. We reached two million back in either late 2019 or early 2020. And we'll reach three million in another 25 years or so, and we'll be the size in another 25 years or so of a Denver or a Salt Lake City or a St. Louis, a lot of these places that are much more advanced on their transit investment, say, than we are.
Stephen Lommele: All right. So, now that we've taken care of introductions, I'd like to dig into transportation demand management a little bit. So, John, if you could start out by just giving us a brief overview of what TDM is and kind of talk us through demand and supply side management for transportation and why specifically communities pursue TDM programs?
John Hodges-Copple: Yes, I'd be happy to. So, as anybody who works in transportation knows, we spend probably the lion's share of our time dealing with transportation supply issues. What roads are we going to build or widen or operate differently? What buses are we going to buy? What transit routes are we going to put in place? What active transportation facilities are we going to put down—you know, bike paths and sidewalks?
And so, transportation demand management then at its heart is really designed to make sure that whatever we invest in, roads or transit or active transportation, that we're using that as effectively as possible. The demand side, just like any kind of supply demand conversation, is about making sure that folks know about the facilities that could be used, the services that are available, and then encourages them to use them in ways that are most productive for the community. And so, whether that's for environmental reasons or other community benefits, that's really what transportation demand management is about.
So, the program as we run it and I think as many places do is about encouraging people, incenting them to take transit or to work from home, to telecommute, which of course during COVID has been especially important, or to ride bikes or to walk for those trips that can be done that way. And you might have heard in the introductions we've got two MPOs in our region—the Metropolitan Planning Organization is kind of that federal structure for making transportation decisions—and the state. And so, it's really through this collective effort that we're able to run the program.
And then, we work directly with service providers. So, nobody is going to decide to use transit because a regional planner encourages them to do so, but if they hear something from a coworker, from their employer, from their neighborhood they're far more likely to try something. So, our whole transportation demand management program is structured as a very broad partnership with the main service providers being those employers who have the direct connection to their workers. And in the case of the triangle we obviously have four very prominent universities, and so they're major partners. We have the Research Triangle Park, probably what our region is best known for as a brand. So, the park itself is a service provider and a partner. We work really closely with our regional transit agency, GoTriangle, as one of—as the regional service provider.
So, it's not just the activities themselves, the things we do to encourage, to educate, to incent, but then the whole process of undertaking that—who we work with and through. And honestly, in our region that's especially important for a number of reasons. One is we're very fast-growing. So, actually, just probably about a year ago we added our two millionth resident to the triangle, and all the forecasts are that over the next generation we'll add another million. So, we've got a lot of people coming. We're not going to be able to build everything to keep ahead of that growth. And so using what we do build or do provide is so critical in a rapidly growing sunbelt region like ours.
And then another big reason why this is important is because at least in our area our pollution concerns are primarily vehicle pollution. We don't have big belching smokestack industry kind of things. Most of our pollution comes from cars and trucks and it's—and we are an ozone area. So, getting rid of those emission precursors for ozone are really where we want to put our emphasis, and to the degree we can cut down on congested travel, that's a good way to do it.
Stephen Lommele: Great. Thanks so much John. Sean or Shuchi, do you have anything to add?
Sean Flaherty: I would just add on the return to investment side that the bang for the buck that we see in air quality improvements and congestion mitigation through TDM is usually top in class, if that's the right way to say it, in terms of this demand versus supply conversation, and that encouraging people to not drive alone to work, you're going to see a lot of benefits—less wear and tear on our infrastructure, John mentioned the air quality improvements. Our primary metric is reduction in the growth of vehicle miles traveled and from measuring vehicle miles traveled reduced we can calculate associated air quality benefits. And I think we'll talk about this a little later during the podcast but we're looking at other creative ways to measure performance and communicate that so that it's more meaningful to major employers and frankly even major decision-makers in the region.
Stephen Lommele: Great. Thank you, Sean. Now, John, you mentioned the importance of partnerships with other organizations in the community, so I want to give the MPOs and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality a chance to kind of weigh in on why TDM is important to their organization. So, Jill, if you might tell us a little bit about your role with the TDM program and why it's important to NCDEQ.
Jill Vitas: Sure. As John mentioned, for North Carolina and specifically in the metropolitan areas the biggest thing that we're worried about is mobile sources for precursors of ozone—so, NOx formation. And cars, trucks, construction equipment—they're all major contributors and things that we're going to need to be looking at. And from an environmental quality standpoint there are regulations in place. There's of course the federal emission requirements for motor vehicles. There's statewide or specific to counties inspection and maintenance programs that we're doing. So, from a regulation standpoint we're doing as many things as we can.
But then there's this other piece to the pie that John was talking about that is—it's more of a getting people to get out of their cars. How can we reduce—and Sean talked about it too—how can we reduce the vehicle miles traveled? And giving people options for a single-occupancy vehicle is a good thing. And it's going to be where we're going to have to go with the amount of growth we're having in the region. And so from a regulator standpoint anything that we can do to help reduce that VMT is going to be a good thing. And so TDM is a good thing.
Stephen Lommele: Perfect. Thanks, Jill. And then I want to give Dale and Brandon a chance to weigh in as well. Dale?
Dale McKeel: Sure. So, I would say from the perspective of the MPO we invest some of the congested mitigation air quality funds that come to the MPO into the regional transportation demand management program. And to look back historically, a lot of the demand for this program came from major employers in our region, particularly when the major highway that runs through Research Triangle Park was experiencing a lot of congestion. And as the region was growing, we were looking for some quick fixes that didn't involve major investments and road construction that would take a long time. So, that was the impetus for the program many years ago—one of the reasons that it got started.
But there are, in addition to some of the things that have been mentioned by others, I think the energy savings that we can offer to our residents are—is another important aspect of the program. And we have a lot of residents who may not be able to—or who do not own a personal vehicle, and by providing ways to affordably get to jobs which may not be near where they live, this program provides ways for our residents to get to those good-paying jobs that are also coming to this region.
And finally one other benefit of the program is the health benefits, particularly from the active transportation modes. We often promote safe routes to school. And more recently we've also looked at the health benefits of people walking and biking to their jobs and making use of the facilities that we're investing in for walking and biking. So, those are some additional reasons that the MPO is interested in this program.
Stephen Lommele: Great. Thanks, Dale. Yeah, I think that point about giving people options is really interesting and noteworthy, not only for people who are drivers of single-occupant vehicles, for people who don't have a vehicle and need other ways to get to work. So, that's a great point.
Erik Ringle: Mollie, that was a great look into why TDM is important to different parties and people. We also talked with our guests about how their organizations support transportation demand management. So, let's hear from Jill first.
Jill Vitas: Yeah, so from a North Carolina environmental quality perspective we are involved as a partner in part on the oversight committee. We are also involved in reviewing CMAQ proposals, as Dale was mentioning earlier, the fact that CMAQ funds are used for this purpose. We also review the other applications that the department of transportation receives and make sure that we support what it is they're doing, whether it be providing more services, replacing poor services, adding sidewalks, replacing buses, those kinds of things. That's what CMAQ is funding. And so, air quality, we review all those, make sure that they're meeting the requirements that we have from our state implementation plan and just ensure that we're not doing anything that we shouldn't be doing.
I guess another way that we support TDM is through the Air Awareness Program. We have an outreach and education program that gets out to the public, to school-age children, to just the general public to tell them about things that they can do to help improve air quality. And one of the best things that they can do is get out of their single-occupancy vehicles.
Stephen Lommele: Great. Thanks, Jill. And I'm not actually sure if we spelled this out earlier, but just to be sure, Jill, can you please tell us what CMAQ is?
Jill Vitas: Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality. And it's typically funding that is provided through DOT.
Stephen Lommele: Perfect. Thanks, Jill. So, Dale, maybe if you can walk us through a little bit about how your organization supports the TDM program?
Dale McKeel: Well, as with—as Jill mentioned, the way some of the CMAQ funding is allocated in North Carolina, NCDOT does suballocate some of the funds to the MPOs. And so, we use a portion of those funds that are allocated to the MPOs to support the regional TDM efforts. And of course the MPOs also have a member serving on the oversight committee, which provides oversight to the program and reviews applications we hear from service providers. And we also just participate in meetings of the service providers themselves to stay abreast of their activity and provide guidance to them as we're requested to do that.
Brandon Watson: So, yeah, we also serve on the oversight committee. It sounds like they—Dale and Jill pretty much hit about the oversight committee and the funding aspect of it. We—another thing I would say is strategic planning, we kind of bridge the gap between all of the transit programs in the area, the employer outreach with our TDM programs, and then all of our local governments that are a part of our technical committee and our executive board that are really making all of the transportation decisions in the area. And we have some small area plans and corridor plans that we try to incorporate TDM policies and kind of get the TDM partners engaged in crafting all of those plans.
Stephen Lommele: Also now I wanted to turn to the Triangle J Council of Governments to kind of fill us in on how TJCOG works in an administrative role to support the TDM program.
John Hodges-Copple: Yeah, thanks, Stephen. This is John. And I get real excited about this stuff, although it's process oriented. Not everybody gets excited about that. So, I did want to touch on maybe a couple of points. One is having a really good foundation with strong elected leadership and a defined plan. So, really, the TDM program started with both of the MPOs and NCDOT funding a plan, saying, "Okay, well, if we're going to have a regional TDM program, what would it look like? How might it be structured? What can we learn from other places?" And our regional transit agency, GoTriangle, actually served as the sponsor for that plan. So, that really set us on the right course because then it gave us kind of a little textbook to follow, which we've evolved over time with, but having that foundation was important.
And then our—you might have gathered from the discussion in a lot of places an organization like Triangle J would also be the MPO. So, you'll go to some places and the regional council and the MPO are cohoused. And that's not the case in our region—or many. And so, we've had great collaboration between the regional planning council—Triangle J—the two MPOs, both of which have their own kind of urban centers. I like to joke that our—and it's true—that our busiest freeway link in the entire region is right at the MPO border. It's I-40 in the Research Triangle Park, and that's where our two MPOs bump up against one another. And then NCDOT, a steady partner. In fact, NCDOT having a goal for reducing the growth in commute VMT was a big important standard for us to be able to measure ourselves against.
So, that strong leadership, that strong planning foundation, and that strong collaboration between the partners. It's a voluntary collaboration. DCHC MPO doesn't have to direct CMAQ funds to the program. Neither does CAMPO. Neither does NCDOT. But they've been consistent leaders on it. And as a result, actually, our two MPO policy boards on about an every other year basis come up with a set of policy priorities that they jointly adopt. And TDM is one of their top priorities, so they make it real clear that this is important.
And then, I think what—the Triangle J role in this is, I think, two main things. One is to help leverage this funding that comes from any individual partner. So, if CAMPO wanted to have its own TDM program, I don't think it could be leveraged as well as the fact that they can combine their funding with DCHC MPO, with NCDOT, and then getting our local service providers to put in matching funds. So, that leverage is one of the keys.
I think the second is administrative ease. I mean, you can imagine dealing contractually with the state department of transportation with two MPOs, with service providers, transit agencies. And so, we centralize all that hassle at Triangle J. We have kind of a consistent approach. We track things. We kind of make sure the I's are dotted and T's are crossed. So, we remove that burden from many of the funding partners.
And then the third is to really rely on this local service provision. So, we have—I think it's 14. Correct me if I'm wrong, Sean and Shuchi. I think we have 14 different service providers, which are funded annually through an annual call for projects to provide the services. And they range from regional services that are primarily provided by our regional transit agency, GoTriangle, to services provided through individual communities—so, the city of Raleigh or the town of Chapel Hill—to universities. I think we mentioned they have TDM programs, often individually branded, but they receive funding through this program.
And for all of our service providers, and especially the local ones, they actually overmatch on the CMAQ funds. So, people who are familiar with that congestion mitigation air quality funding source know that it's a reimbursable program. It reimburses for 80% of eligible expenses, therefore 20% having come from match. All of our local service providers put in at least a 50% match, so we're able to then leverage those CMAQ dollars to go even more widely. And I think having that annual call for projects also helps kind of keep organizations on their toes. It doesn't become something that they can automatically expect. They have to show that they're doing what they said they were going to do and that it's meaningful.
And then Triangle J also does the evaluation and monitoring for all of the services that are provided, so we're able to report on the impacts, which helps both the funders know that they're getting valuable services but also then lets the service providers know that their efforts are being monitored and looked at. And not just in a kind of punitive way. One of the reasons we like to do the evaluation and monitoring is there may be some activities that a service provider is doing that seem especially effective and then we want to share that with others and encourage them to pursue similar paths. All of the service providers meet as a group periodically to share experience, to help make the overall program better.
So, the administrative structure has—we've fine-tuned it over time but I think it's really worked for our particular situation. There may be other situations where a different structure would work, but that—I think the basic elements, having a firm kind of foundation and a plan, having strong elected leadership advocating for the program, leveraging funding from wherever it comes from, and then maybe more of a centralized, consistent administrative entity but then still having that local touch, that local service provider working directly with commuters and others that you're trying to reach.
Sean Flaherty: And this is Sean. I would like to build on John's last point there about the service providers and the manner in which they collaborate almost on a weekly basis, if not daily. I think that's a really important part of the success that we're seeing with the triangle transportation demand management program. A story that I really like to tell is about North Carolina Central University. We do have 14 service providers now but years ago I think we started with just four when the program just launched after that original plan was authored. So, we've been able to add service providers. And the story that I like to tell about North Carolina Central University is when we were able to bring them on as a local service provider for the university with just a mere $25,000 grant, our smallest grant to any service provider by far in that first year that they joined the program. What that meant was a lot more than just dollars. It meant that they had a contractual agreement with an organization that is supported by NCDOT in this program, by the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro MPO, which serves that university area, by the department of environmental quality, but even more so you had that North Carolina Central University service provider staff at the campus actually immediately being connected with other TDM service providers at major universities in the region, whether that be UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, NC State University, or even some of the community colleges.
So, that dollar goes a long way in supporting programs at the local level. And something else that I like about the North Carolina Central University story is with that small investment, the chancellor of the university took great interest in the program just because of—like almost any university or college campus, parking is an issue. So, all those partnerships really roll up and support the services across the region in, I think, a very collaborative way.
Stephen Lommele: Thanks, Sean. That's really helpful. And just kind of building on that a little bit, can one of you maybe tell us what does the TDM program look like to the community or to a commuter? What types of projects have been implemented? What's been successful? If I'm an individual driver kind of evaluating my transportation options, what sorts of things may have appeared to me over time based on the work of the triangle TDM program?
John Hodges-Copple: Yeah, that's a great question. And I'll let Sean and Shuchi dive in a little deeper. The one thing I would say is probably unlike many efforts, Triangle J doesn't really try to be out front on this. So, we don't want to confuse folks. We don't want to get between them and their employer or their university. So—and many folks who listen to this may not be old enough but there used to be an advertising campaign by the company called BASF and their tagline was, "We don't make the pipes. We make the pipes last longer." Or "We don't make this. We make it better."
And so, in terms of Triangle J we're really trying to not be out front with the public. If the public has no clue that there is a regional TDM program administered through Triangle J, that's not a problem. But what we want to make sure is that they know that there's Smart Commute at RTP and that they can call somebody at the Research Triangle Park foundation and get TDM services, or that they know there's an emergency ride home program available through GoTriangle, or that they know they can telework if they're an employee of one of our "Best Workplace for Commuters" companies.
So, a lot of it is tailoring the message and the engagement to the right relationship. And so, that's a lot of what we do. But I'll let Sean and Shuchi also weigh in on kind of how the public can intersect with the TDM program.
Sean Flaherty: So, I'll say yes, in addition to some of the examples that John gave, another big program that our service providers are actually required to administer as part of their local work plans is Share the Ride NC, which is the state's ride-matching service. And Share the Ride NC serves as a way for major employers to—exactly as it sounds—employees of these major employers define folks that they can carpool to work with. And Duke Energy is a large company headquartered in North Carolina, and Share the Ride NC is actually what Duke Energy uses for their employees to find ways to get to work without having to drive alone.
So, Shuchi, maybe you can provide some other examples? Each year our service providers do a great job—I think John mentioned earlier—collaborating and coming up with new innovative approaches to communicating with our communities. And I think we could probably talk about some of those most recent innovative opportunities now.
Shuchi Gupta: Sure, Sean. Thank you. So, I think one of the most recent examples that I can share is the series of webinars called Mission Possible. So, they write it as "Impossible" and then scratch the "Im" so it's Mission Possible. And this was a fantastic way in which over the last year the regional service provider called Triangle, they pivoted their TDM outreach to being online—as you all know that most of the people were teleworking and the ridership in transit and shared vehicles was low because of COVID concerns. And at the same time although the—at the same time now because the percentage of people who were teleworking had gone high, and what had happened was there was a larger number of concerns, as we could see in the media and other places arising from people teleworking in the COVID situation, not under the normal teleworking situation, something like ergonomics, working at home, how to get the right table, chairs, sitting straight, mental health issues, cybersecurity, and all of that.
So, GoTriangle had this quarterly webinar series, which were very well attended, I think one of the best-attended webinar series. At the last one I attended last week there were more than 100 participants, which—and it was on mental health with a very well-known speaker from North Carolina coming and talking about the kind of issues that people are facing and what could be done by folks to help address those. So, I think that's the most recent example that I can share on how innovative our service providers can be in terms of outreach—I mean, even pivoting, going a little bit outside the normal realm of things.
And then, another example I would like to share is one of our partners was planning to launch this pilot last year—but because, again, of COVID they could not—is to have something for our veterans. It seems that there are a lot of veterans in our area but a lot of them, they are not able to use transit and other shared modes because of certain health-related issues, although most of them would like to use these alternate commute options. And so, they developed a very unique program to address all those barriers in terms of noise and the post-PTSD kind of issues and encourage our veterans to use alternate commute options more. So, that's really very unique.
And then, I think Sean talked about Central—so, Central—North Carolina Central University. That's a university, which is located in a very dense area surrounded by a lot of residential neighborhoods, and they have been doing some phenomenal work working with the local neighborhoods distributing information on alternate commutes and going even—going beyond that normal audience for outreach and taking everybody together in terms of promoting alternate commute.
Stephen Lommele: Yes, thank you, Shuchi. That's really helpful. And I think it kind of helps us segue into our kind of next area of focus. I mean, you mentioned how the TDM program has sort of evolved and adapted with COVID-19. There's been an emphasis on telework and webinar series and thinking about how people can utilize transit and stay healthy. So, kind of thinking about the future of the TDM program, what do you see as challenges that you're going to encounter in the next few years? And maybe what new technologies maybe would you look to different service providers to potentially make available to the community?
John Hodges-Copple: Yeah, really good question. I'll offer a couple of quick things and then open it up to others. And encourage Dale and Brandon and Jill, if you've got thoughts on this too, because they're all part of those oversight committee meetings where we discuss just these kinds of issues.
So, I think I noted obviously we've got very rapid population growth. And one of the things we've seen over time is more and more potential service providers wanting to come in and start a program, which of course is great but then does put a strain on resources. So, whereas before, when we started the program, we didn't have places like Apex, like Holly Springs, communities in our region that are so fast-growing and now are becoming very large job sites, very amenable to TDM approaches. So, I think one of our challenges is going to be how to continue to grow the program.
Second is how to keep it fresh. So, it's just like anything else: It's kind of easy to fall back on a pattern, to kind of do what we've always done. And I think we're continually looking for ways to try new things, to be innovative. Not for the sake of just doing something different but to maybe look at things that we could do better or things that have some impact that could maybe be more meaningful. So, that's another challenge.
Equity, which has been mentioned a couple times, is a real focus. In fact, I think I mentioned that our two elected boards at the MPOs periodically revise their transportation priorities. They did this just earlier in 2021. And one of the things they specifically said was they want to see equity considerations taking a more prominent role, both in TDM funding decisions—so, the application process—and in the types of impacts we see. So, we're going to be in our application process moving forward asking our service provider applicants, "How will you be incorporating these concerns? How will you measure that? What will you do?"
We actually have one good example of one we started to do, but then again it kind of got put on pause due to COVID, where one of our providers was going to be working with new Habitat for Humanity landowners so that—or homeowners so that when they moved into their new house they would receive a free transit pass as an incentive to try transit. You can—I think some of the research shows that if you can get to people when they're making a change in some part of their life—a new home, a new job—that's an opportunity for them to try something new before they get into a regular pattern. So, I think that would be a great example of a TDM program approach that would have an equity lens, taking—making it easier for lower income homeowners to try transit.
But let me let others—and not just—it doesn't have to be just Sean and Shuchi but if others on the call have some thoughts on some of those future considerations, that would be good to hear.
Brandon Watson: This is Brandon. And I would add to that too that we have a lot of smaller communities around our area here in really both MPOs that are adapting to the rapid growth happening, which John was talking about, and it's really leading to a dramatic change in land use policies and transportation plans. One example of that is a half-cent sales tax that recently passed here in Wake County a few years ago that's led to a pretty large shift in transit opportunities in the area. So, I think that's going to be really just expanding the mindset of TDM here in the future. It's been traditionally to—the goal has been to reduce the growth of VMT. So, really thinking about the program more holistically is going to be important in the future. With COVID, with everything happening, and the growth of urban areas, a shift from not just a car-free commute but a car-free lifestyle seems to be gaining popularity in a lot of urban areas.
Stephen Lommele: Thanks, Brandon. And what particularly are people kind of turning to when they opt for a car-free lifestyle? What are they relying on to get around?
Brandon Watson: Yeah, so, I mean, I think you really see it in more dense urban areas. When you're living in downtown Raleigh or in a downtown urban core there's a lot more biking opportunities. The transit opportunities are a lot more with the frequent networks that are implemented in the area. So, yeah, I would say walking, biking, transit.
John Hodges-Copple: Yeah. And this is John. To kind of add onto that, I think one of the things that we'll be real interested in looking at is—we've probably all heard a lot that increasingly there's likely to be more of a hybrid model of working where folks who used to go to their office five days a week, maybe they're only going to go three, or maybe they're only going to go two. And I think especially in a kind of sunbelt metro area like the triangle where living totally car-free takes some work—we're not New York, we're not San Francisco, we're not D.C. where you can really kind of do that in wide areas. But if you used to be a two-car household because two people were driving five days a week to work and neither one of them felt like they could just go five days a week on transit or something, I actually think there's some real opportunity there for folks going, "Well, we can dial back to one car and I'll need it these three days, and you can have it those two days, and we're working from home the rest."
To me that's a potential real opportunity to grow kind of the TDM ethos, if you will. And it just happened to be one of the projects we had done at Triangle J pre-COVID, was to develop a telework toolkit and post it online, and kind of a guide both for employers—if you wanted your employees to be able to telecommute, what kind of things should you be thinking about; how can you do it—and for employees, if you're thinking about telecommuting, here are things you ought to be thinking about. And I can't remember what the statistics were, but needless to say the hits on our telework toolkit website went through the roof when COVID landed.
So, I think there's all kinds of opportunity, maybe not around a totally car-free lifestyle but maybe a car-light lifestyle.
Mollie Putzig: That was some great groundwork explaining successful TDM initiatives and projects. Now, what about if your community is looking to try TDM or improve on what they've already started? Steve asked the group what resources those communities might turn to.
Sean Flaherty: Absolutely. So, ACT is the Association for Commuter Transportation. It's actually an international organization with a really strong presence in the United States, and it really is the go-to resource for TDM practitioners. Internationally—as I mentioned, they have an international and national conference; they have regional conferences as well. So, beyond just networking with TDM professionals, there's all kinds of resources and best practices that they've been compiling for literally decades.
Stephen Lommele: Great. Thanks, Sean. And I think one other thing that might be helpful maybe for you, Sean, to share with us is I know that Triangle J Clean Cities is housed in Council of Governments, but what might be your recommendation for other Clean Cities coalitions who are interested in potentially supporting TDM programs or encouraging the development of a TDM program in their area?
Sean Flaherty: Yeah. Thanks. I'm glad you mentioned that because it's been on my mind as something that I wanted to be sure that we touched on here. While the Department of Energy Clean Cities coalitions across the country usually focus a majority of their time on the alternative fuel vehicle side of things, transportation demand management certainly falls under the umbrella of the national program and in fact is a line item in the annual reports that different coalitions are required to submit to the Department of Energy each year. So, those same performance metrics that are standard for transportation demand management and vehicle miles traveled and associated air quality benefits is certainly something that our Triangle Clean Cities Coalition in the research triangle region of North Carolina reports on as well.
And I'd go even further. I think the importance of CO2 reduction, greenhouse gas emission reduction moving forward, both for the Department of Energy Clean Cities programs but just general funding sources, hopefully new funding sources in the future will be important for Clean Cities coalitions and any TDM programs as well.
John Hodges-Copple: Yeah, and Sean makes a real good point. And in fact, at Triangle J our Clean Cities coalition predated our TDM program. So, when we took on the TDM program we saw just a natural affinity between the types of work they do—so, we put them in the same department. And when you think about it, kind of at their heart both are around trying to promote sustainable behavior change. So, in the case of Clean Cities, changing behavior on the types of vehicles and the fueling and the infrastructure associated with those, getting fleets comfortable, getting regular old people comfortable. And in TDM it's the same thing, you're working on behavior change. So, rather than the go-to of hopping in your car and driving to work here are other choices. Here's how those choices can work for you. And here's how we can make those choices easier for you. And so, both—whether it's alternative fuels and infrastructure on the Clean Cities side or commute and other travel behavior on the TDM side, it's all about making better choices easier for people to do.
Stephen Lommele: That's great, John. And I think the nice thing about that approach is that it's easy to slot in new choices as they evolve. So, as we've seen the rise in transportation network companies or micromobility, those sorts of things all are additional options for people, and they're all things that can kind of be plugged into that approach. Is that right?
John Hodges-Copple: Absolutely. Yeah, that's an excellent point because it can evolve. Yeah, we—I think we went through our wave of bike share and then scooter share and then now e-bikes are maybe going to extend that first mile/last mile. So, yeah, it's—any of those very rapid technology changes can fit within that structure pretty easily.
Stephen Lommele: So, just kind of wrapping up here, I wanted to give each of you a chance to share any final thoughts you have. I mean, I certainly heard kind of two major themes, is how do we do more with what we have, and then how do we give people options for getting to where they need to go in a sustainable way? Is there anything in particular you'd like to leave us with as we wrap up?
John Hodges-Copple: Well, this is John. I'll just take two seconds and then let others go. I think you nailed two of the big ones. The third one I would add in there is leverage. We're never going to have enough money to do everything we want to do. And so, taking these kinds of collaborative approaches with everybody putting in a little bit of stuff lets us—it really does have some synergy. It lets us do a lot more. It lets us be much more meaningful than if we all tried to go off and do this individually.
Sean Flaherty: And this is Sean. I think a big thing that we're looking towards to the future and improving the regional transportation demand management effort is communicating the results and benefits of our program more frequently and perhaps even in a more meaningful way. So, we've dropped the acronym VMT, vehicle miles traveled, at least 20 times during this podcast. If you say "vehicle miles traveled" to the average John Q. Citizen, it's probably not going to mean much to them. Now, with a bigger focus on greenhouse gas emission reductions we talked about—I think Dale brought up earlier the public health benefits of not just sitting in your car driving every day. When you look at reduced cost from wear and tear on existing infrastructure, all those things are benefits that might be a little bit more meaningful to members of our community.
So, as we look towards updating the triangle transportation demand management plan, we've actually been looking at the Federal Highway Administration's return on investment calculator for transportation demand management programs as a way to spit out some of those metrics that might communicate the benefit of the program a little bit better.
Jill Vitas: This is Jill. I guess just from an air quality perspective I don't think that we'll be able to continue to have the clean air that North Carolinians expect if we don't do things like TDM. We can—as I said before, we can have all the regulations in the world, but in the end it's going to be—come down to people making choices.
Brandon Watson: This is Brandon. And I would just add that, like I mentioned earlier, we can't—we're not going to be able to build our way out of congestion with the limited amount of funding we have and the limited amount of resources, and the desirability of areas to live and work where there are adequate transportation choices is continuing to rise here—and most places. So, I would just say that TDM programs are going to continue to be a cost-effective, sustainable, and collaborative strategy to increasing transportation issues.
Mollie Putzig: So, that's it for this On the Go episode on transportation demand management. Thanks to the team from Triangle J for joining us today and sharing your insights.
Erik Ringle: And with that it also looks like it's time for our transportation news, trends, and tidbits section. What do you have for us this time, Mollie?
Mollie Putzig: So, if you work in this space you might be familiar with the Federal Highway Administration's Alternative Fuel Corridor Program, which is establishing a national network of alternative fueling and charging infrastructure along highway systems. Our team here at NREL recently released an update to the Alternative Fuels Data Center station locator tool that helps planners and Clean Cities coalitions explore these corridors and build out stations around them. The tool now includes all of these designated corridors, as well as letting users easily measure the distance between stations to help plan for new infrastructure along these routes.
Erik Ringle: Okay, well, that definitely sounds like a practical and really helpful update. And so, if you're interested in taking a look at those alternative fuel corridors you can just find that tool at AFDC.energy.gov/stations.
Mollie Putzig: Thanks, Eric. And that's it for today's episode of On the Go. I want to thank the U.S. Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies Office and our team here at the National Renewable Energy Lab for their support.
Erik Ringle: As part of that, a big thanks to Brittany Conrad, our podcast editor. We couldn't do it without you.
Mollie Putzig: If you want to learn more about Clean Cities and its partnerships to advance affordable domestic transportation fuels and technologies, visit us at CleanCities.energy.gov.