The Seven Whys of Travel Demand

Congestion is the dominant challenge in cities and infrastructure networks [1]

Putting the customer first is top priority for most transport agencies. This requires improving the quality of service to users by providing key infrastructure improvements, offering travel choices, managing as one network and providing integrated services.

Forecasting means a bottom up approach, projecting from where we are today – understanding the current and emerging challenges and what that means for the future.

The congestion challenge is a symptom of much more difficult issues: funding constraints, poor pricing signals and non-integrated networks. In reality, demand for travel can never be fully met. But there has to be a better way of responding to the demands.

Congestion is a result of open, unrestricted, unpriced access to the road network. In addition, traffic incidents result in unexpected delays, which are are perceived by users to cost 2.5 times expected delays [2].

Tolls on private motorways in Australia are an access charge, to finance infrastructure provision, maintenance and operations. Other infrastructure, like electricity, water and telecommunications, have usage charges. The problem is that road toll pricing signals deter users from using tolled motorways, even though they are designed to carry large volumes, safely – where we really want them to go.

Grand visions of transport infrastructure are being promised by the politicians seeking renewed mandates, then have difficulty delivering on these promises as funding is severely constrained.

There is international recognition for the need to move to user-charging: “There is a broad consensus within the transportation community that the current system of transportation funding is broken and that some form of user-charging strategy is needed to fund the future development and maintenance of federal, state, and local transportation systems” [3].

To be able to respond to, and manage travel demand, we need to understand the ‘7 Whys’, the motivators of travel demand from a user perspective.

The 7 Whys of Travel Demand

  1. Connected: can I get to where I want to go?
  2. Reliable: can I be confident in the time required to complete my journey?
  3. Value: does it provides me value for my money and my time?
  4. Safe: is my safety assured?
  5. Clarity: can I readily find my way?
  6. Service: am I a valued customer?
  7. Informed: am I told what lies ahead, can I make travel choices?

The next step in setting a transport strategy is backcasting – from where we want to be in the future, or a top down approach. A good example is in the New Zealand Statement of Intent:

Our goal for the transport network involves integrating land uses, transport networks, and the various modes, services and systems to deliver a seamless and safe ‘one network’ experience for customers.[4]

To effectively respond to and manage demand, provide safe, one networks, we need to develop strategies and tactics, from these ‘7 Whys’:

  1. Connected: develop connected networks for moving people and goods, fix the bottlenecks, and give priority for high value travel such as freight and business travel, and manage as one network.
  2. Reliable: provide accurate, timely real-time traffic information. Ensure quick clearance of incidents.
  3. Value: reduce unexpectedness, provide pricing signals to balance demand with supply through dynamic pricing, priced lanes and distance road user charging.
  4. Safe: target unsafe driver behaviour through education, controlling speed by variable speed limits and automated enforcement.
  5. Clarity: provide clear wayfinding with appropriate signs and online and mobile mapping tools
  6. Service: focus on customer service, these are paying customers.
  7. Informed: use technology to provide traffic information when and where needed, both before and during a trip, to enable trip choices (when to travel, where to travel and how to travel).

Understanding the drivers of demand – the ‘7 Whys’ – means we are able to adjust the policy levers to respond to travel demands. Intelligent transport systems means we are able to deliver these levers.

[1] Infrastructure Australia. 2015. Australian Infrastructure Audit. Our Infrastructure Challenges
[2] Small K.A. et al. 1999. Valuation of Travel-Time Savings in Predictability in Congested Conditions for Highway Use-Cost Estimation, NCHRP Report 431
[3] NCHRP Report 750. 2014. Strategic Issues Facing Transportation
[4] NZ Transport Agency Statement of Intent 2014-18

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