Most Minnesota cities want to attract more people to visit, work, and live in them—and contribute to their local economies. However, many of these cities also experience congestion, pollution, and other traffic-related problems. So, how can Minnesota municipalities welcome people while limiting the impacts of vehicle traffic?
One answer is for local governments to manage transportation demand with the help of employers, using strategies and policies designed to reduce travel demand or spread it over more time and space. This approach is known as transportation demand management (TDM).
In a recent white paper, a research team led by Humphrey School professor Jerry Zhao, director of the Institute for Urban and Regional Infrastructure Finance, explores TDM best practices and makes recommendations for Minnesota cities and employers to better manage transportation demand. The paper was published by the Twin Cities Shared Mobility Collaborative (TCSMC).
“No one likes traffic or pollution, and TDM is a proven way to reduce both,” says William Schroeer, executive director of East Metro Strong and TCSMC steering committee member. “Just as important, when people use less parking, we free up a lot of room for more homes and businesses.”
TDM is particularly important given the increase in new work arrangements and subsequent changes in commuting patterns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers say. Data indicates overall traffic volumes have stayed relatively stable, and there is growing concern that vehicle-miles traveled could rise even beyond pre-pandemic levels.
“While some kinds of trips are down, overall, cities are experiencing a real rebound in vehicle traffic. The need to reduce that traffic is just as urgent,” Schroeer says. “Many people wonder if COVID has changed the need for TDM. This is in fact an excellent time to add transportation options. People reconsider their transportation choices at times of change, and this is a time of great change.”
To help cities and employers reduce traffic and emissions, Zhao and his team focus on TDM strategies such as parking management, commuter benefits, commute-trip reduction programs, and TDM plans for new or expanding private developments.
“Cities can require employers to implement these TDM programs and also implement them as employers themselves,” Zhao says.
To ensure TDM program success, the researchers recommend that cities:
- Set municipal-level TDM goals and targets that are measurable, specify a timeline, and outline applicability to employers and developers.
- Create or enhance ordinances that require or incentivize employers to implement commute-reduction measures.
- Monitor and report TDM goal achievement on a regular basis.
- Establish or improve enforcement mechanisms.
- Strengthen TDM education, outreach, and program promotion, including efforts to encourage the use of alternative transportation options.
- Collaborate with public and private agencies to offer assistance programs to building managers, developers, and employers.
- Encourage the creation of collaborative networks, such as partnerships between municipalities and transit agencies.
For employers implementing TDM programs, a critical best practice is offering a combination of incentives and disincentives to employees. For example, employers may charge a daily parking fee while also offering a flexible range of programs to make other commute options more attractive. Example programs include telework, transit pass benefits, a guaranteed ride home option, carpool- and vanpool-matching services, and options like shuttles and bikes with related amenities such as secure storage, lockers, and showers.
“Providing a variety of commute options has been critical to supporting employees’ ability to choose and the overall success of TDM programs,” Zhao says.
In addition, the researchers recommend that employers understand employee commuting behaviors and needs, define TDM targets, regularly monitor goal achievement, and take advantage of technology to integrate TDM strategies with their current systems.
Overall, employers adopt TDM initiatives to benefit their business. But regulatory requirements often are important in giving an initial push to employers and in creating minimum standards, the researchers say. Ultimately, these requirements may also help transform the corporate culture.
“Offering real choices is doable and popular,” Schroeer says. “As employers and municipalities work to become more inclusive, this is a great time for them to make sure that they aren’t advantaging people who can afford cars over those who can’t. Employers that do so see all kinds of benefits—financial, social, and environmental.”