Both the private and the public side of transportation – roughly, the goods-moving side in the first place, the people-moving side in the second – have a keen interest in making their networks as efficient as possible.
Both sets of networks are relatively fixed, for transportation comes pretty dear inch for inch and mile for mile, and it can take years to get into place, so any opportunity to optimize the underlying infrastructure is a powerful step in the right direction.
The problem is is that the private and public sectors have differing levels of control over their networks. The freight rail company, having once attended to public safety, goods security, and the interaction with the other modes, can expand or subtract the traffic it carries up to some ceiling of capacity.
The addition of rail cars, labor, and equipment, is the challenging work of the freight rail profession, both planners and those charged with the execution, but it can be done. This is true broadly across the supply chain and within trucking, air cargo, pipelines and others; millions of dollars are spent in network optimization – including not only route structuring but facility placement – to squeeze the most capacity out of existing networks. There is in these cases a good deal of freedom in how to allocate your fixed resources to the best outcome for the owner.
The planner on the public side of transportation is faced with a different set of challenges. The highway, the bridge, the city street, are fixed as fixed can be. Supply isn’t going up anytime soon, so what is left to manage is demand.
However, demand is under the control not of some central planner, but the individual decisions of thousands of separate human beings. These thousands decide on their own whether to drive that day, where to drive, the time of day to drive…these and others are the many variables that the transportation planner needs to take into account. It is the reasons that projects have to allow for peak load through the day, the weeks, the years, and why most roads and bridges are far from optimized when viewed solely as a network.
This is common sense, and ties in with our national feelings about driving and personal autonomy. We expect to be able to go where we want to go when we want to go there.
This doesn’t mean that there’s not significant nibbling to do around the edges. The program that can subtly shift traffic to utilize the network when it is typically underutilized, and to shift traffic away from times or places of overutilization, has landed on something valuable indeed. This rationalizes the use of the assets, extends its life, smooths the flow of commerce.
The specialty circling around this issue is Transportation Demand Management (TDM), and it’s one that we have well under our belt here.
TDM strategies including simple ideas such as ride-sharing, to complex programs such as congestion pricing.
The benefits aren’t limited to utilization, or better to say that other benefits spin off of higher utilization, including reduction in congestion, improvement in air quality and carbon gas emissions, the conservation of natural resources, and the savings of time and money for the commuting public.
You will notice that human beings do not react well to being told what to do, so the arts of fact-based persuasion are important tools in the toolbox of the transportation consultant. First for the consumer must come awareness, then a compelling story, then a modest but real commitment, then execution, then retention. Public participation isn’t only a step to go through in transportation planning in this instance, but the entire point from the get-go. As the public more and more participates in alternative transportation choices, the lower the demands upon the people-moving infrastructure, and the longer the list of benefits that accrue thereby. – lsm
TranSystems is a company of subject matter experts, one of them is:
Courtney Reynolds is a program manager for the Florida Department of Transportation District 5’s award-winning reThink regional commuter assistance program. She specializes in program management, brand development, event planning and building coalitions and relationships with clients and stakeholders. She has been with TranSystems since 2009 working out of its Orlando, Fla., office.