A local transportation entity is looking to “make lemonade out of lemons” as it moves into a post-pandemic world.
This week, the Regional Transportation Council, which acts as part of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, approved a resolution to establish a regional goal to reduce the number of drive-alone commute trips during peak periods by 20%.
“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, our region experienced drastic changes in commute patterns,” said Sonya Landrum, Travel Demand Management and Safety program manager with NCTCOG. “This resolution concept was initially discussed and developed as a way to sustain the positive benefits of changes in travel behavior experienced during the COVID-19 restrictions.”
Regional travel trends showed a large increase in telecommuting through the pandemic and a sizable decrease in the number of people who drove and took transit, Landrum said.
In establishing its reduction goal, the NCTCOG staff looked at travel demand management (TDM) strategies including carpooling, taking transit, biking and telecommuting, as well as using flexible work schedules.
“Because TDM strategies are not a one-size-fits-all solution, all TDM strategies are encouraged to achieve the regional target,” Landrum said.
The 20% reduction number comes after consideration of the possible impacts of setting a target that was either too high or too low.
Setting too low of a target could mean no change at all to congestion or air quality levels, Landrum said. Meanwhile, a higher target could drastically improve air quality and decrease congestion, but it could also mean unintended impacts like decreased roadway use or negative impacts to growth in urban centers.
Too high a target could also mean increased fatalities on roadways. During the spring months of 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, Transportation Director Michael Morris reported that despite crash reductions, fatalities as reported by the Texas Department of Transportation had remained elevated compared to 2019 numbers, hitting a 42% gap in May 2020.
“That’s because human beings do really stupid things when they can go really fast,” Morris said during an August RTC meeting, “and they could go really fast in May (2020).”
As vehicle travel returned, Morris said at the time, drivers were unable to go as quickly on roadways. June 2020 data revealed an 11% reduction in traffic fatalities compared to 2019.
The resolution passed by the council on Thursday strongly recommends that both public and private employers implement, monitor and track a formal Employee Commute Program that reduces employees’ single occupancy vehicle trips.
The resolution also states that the council will evaluate a public sector agency’s participation in the program through a new policy established as part of the Metropolitan Transportation Plan Policy Bundle, which gives local public agencies funding offsets for federal transportation projects if they adopt a certain amount of policies that address issues impacting regional transportation.
Participation by private sector agencies could mean awarding regional funds for travel demand management efforts, such as purchasing transit passes for private sector employees to use, the resolution states.
“I think the private sector will get to their target through telecommuting,” Morris said Thursday, “but for the other 80% of the time, to encourage maybe more air quality improvement and to help our transit agency, that’s where the transit pass notion comes in.”
The council passed the resolution on Thursday without opposition.