How Much Would Most People Pay For a Shorter Commute?

As Washington conventional wisdom has it, raising gas taxes or creating a vehicle miles traveled tax to pay for transportation is impossible during the current recession. After all, who would want to squeeze cash-strapped commuters during tough economic times?

As it turns out, the public is very willing to pay for the shorter commuting times that result from less traffic — and they’re willing to pay top dollar, as IBM’s new Commuter Pain Index (CPI) shows.

When asked what value they would place on every 15 minutes sliced from their daily commute, 36.5 percent of CPI respondents said between $10 and $20. That’s about five times the recent trading price of a ton of carbon emissions on the nation’s climate-change exchanges.

And the price of a shorter commute was higher in more congested cities. In Los Angeles, 22 percent of residents said every 15 minutes not spent en route to work would be worth between $31 and $40 — or more than $100 per hour.

What does the data mean? For one thing, those who fear that voters would revolt if asked to pay more for a more efficient, less congested transport network shouldn’t let that stop policy-making. As every successful politician knows (and the president is re-learning on health care), messaging is the key to winning over the public.

In other words, Democrats who feign unwillingness to subject voters to higher gas taxes are ignoring their ability to control the message. When a greater contribution to transportation is pitched as a way to shorten commutes and give workers more free time, the prospect becomes more desirable.

And it’s not that lawmakers don’t know how to decrease congestion, particularly in the urban areas that were polled to produce the CPI. Reducing the number of car trips and lowering demand during peak travel times are proven to be a cheaper and more effective method of battling congestion than expanding highway capacity.

Is it time to nickname the White House’s Sustainable Communities Initiative the "Shorter Commutes Initiative"?

  • vnm

    36.5% of respondents are willing to pay between $10 and $20 for 15 minutes a day over what length of time?

    I imagine they’re saying they’d be willing to pay $10 to $20 per month if their daily commute were shortened by 15 minutes. If they’re saying they’d be willing to pay $10 to $20 per day then we’re talking about $330 per month assuming 22 workdays in a month and $15 as the amount paid. If we’re talking about $10 to $20 per each 15-minute increment, we’re talking about $660 a month if they’re able to save a half hour per day.

    Of course, none of this applies to time polluter Ed Fay.

  • If the typical commute time is 16.7 miles in only 31 minutes, shaving that 15 minutes off would mean increasing average speed from 32 mph to 62 mph. Unlikely, unless respondents both live and work at highway rest stops.

    My interpretation is that the time that the survey respondents are asked to value is time spent in traffic delays, which according to IBM averaged about one hour in duration in 2008. But 14% of drivers didn’t report a single traffic delay during the last year, and the report doesn’t make it clear how many delays the typical driver suffers in a year.

  • Streetsman

    Yes I was just commenting on how Park Smart should be called “Shoppers Incentive” or something.

    Congestion Pricing was a terrible name – two negatives. Should’ve been called something like “Speed Pass” or “Clean Commute.”

    “Green Light for Midtown” was pretty good and seems to have worked for Broadway. It’s all about how you spin it.


We all pay for the status quo of free car access to the most crowded parts of the city.

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