Fixing the American Commute

American transportation is a mess. As the costs of repairs rise—fixing U.S. transportation would cost nearly the entire annual federal budget—and automotive technology advances, cars, often seen as a problem, may be our best hope.

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“Americans spend 5.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic.” Imagine what would happen to the economy if even half of that was spent producing goods and services.

As the article says, the concept of building your way out of the traffic problem worked in the 1950’s when America had plenty of money and space. You could argue they still have space, but in urban areas, where everyone seems to want to live, or feel they need to in order to get a decent job and lifestyle, green spaces are becoming smaller and sprawl is getting bigger.

Despite the stories we read about people in NYC that have never owned a car and don’t even have a license, the number of cars being registered each year are increasing at an alarming pace.

Ride-share and driverless vehicles are certainly part of the puzzle, as are more efficient modes of public transport, but what about home working, flexi-time or satellite offices? Businesses spend a massive amount of money on buildings and location infrastructure, but not so much on training management and staff to be able to work from home. A simple fact is that many companies don’t trust their staff and in some cities there are consultancies being set up to teach them how.

Take Unified Comms for example. It has been around for over 10 years in sophisticated forms and today many people have access to a wide variety of communication channels including instant messaging, VoIP, Smartphones, Tablets and communications networks from wireless to fiber. Yet, this is not being taken into the equation and I have to wonder if part of the reason is that the cost burden is being shared with the employee who frequently are not compensated for increased travel costs, or the costs of providing their own Internet and communications systems at home.

If a modest percentage of people were taught how to be productive working at home, and they did that 4-5 days a month it could have a huge impact not only on productivity, but also on the transport network. Of course there are businesses that need front-line staff on the job, that won’t change, but not everyone needs to be there all day every day. It is commonly accepted that a 5% improvement in traffic congestion has a positive impact on at least 15% of the commuters.

With population growth, there is a high likelihood that driverless cars, driverless public transport with shuttle hubs not dissimilar to those Jules Verne described well over 100 years ago will make a difference, but with population growth predicted in many cases at 30-40% in the next 30 years, these are also just short term answers.

Older generations might be happy for a slower lifestyle taking their many years of business problem solving into the country, once they have built the security foundations and raised their families, but population growth means youngsters who will want to be in the cities where the action, the entertainment and adventure lifestyle. So now, again as predicted in Science Fiction 100 years ago we build higher and higher. Skyscrapers become the norm because the greatest growth will be urban.Businesses will eventually realize the experience they are losing as the average age of decision makers drops.

The most important solutions, in my mind, aren’t so much in transport technology, but in people recognizing that they have responsibilities, that it is their choices to work in cities. Business needs to become more eco-centric because they are ultimately the ones driving people to commute. Why just as an example do we have big breweries and FMCG manufacturers in large urban centers? When I visited Jack Daniels in Lynchburg TN, they seemed to be fine about being out in the country, so did their workers.

They are near a freeway but not near the sea, they are a massive exporter and half of their staff can walk to work. Why are they so different? I’m sure their staff remuneration costs compensate for transport costs, because the real estate is cheaper and they don’t have to pay big city salaries, which are partly high because otherwise people couldn’t afford the cost of getting to work.

Whilst we need to adapt our transport systems, the biggest shift that business needs to make is a mind shift. Board rooms don’t seem to be very good at that. That’s why innovative disruptors, from small towns, or from shared incubation spaces manage to beat large institutional businesses. Those big businesses should keep an eye on the number of old wealth names that have been around for generations that are going broke. It’s nothing to do with a decline in product and service consumption.

Getting off my soap box now.

See on Scoop.itLocation Is Everywhere

About Luigi Cappel

Writer for hire, marketing consultant specialising in Location Based Services. Futurist and Public Speaker Auckland, New Zealand
This entry was posted in commuting, Intelligent Transport Systems and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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