Study: Impact of Cash Incentives on Driving

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The Seattle Times has an article titled Do cash incentives alter driving habits? It is about a study in which people are basically given money to drive less. At the beginning of the experiment, each volunteer was given a certain amount of virtual cash; throughout the study their cars were tracked with GPS technology and they had to spend some of their virtual money to move around. The amount they had to pay depended on road-type (highway vs. city) and time of day (rush hour) so that certain trips were more expensive than others. "They can save money by not driving as much, by choosing less-congested highways, or by staying off the road at rush hour." The incentive part is that any virtual money left at the end of the experiment can be exchanged for real dollars.The article starts with:

When he was given a new economic incentive to drive less this summer, Gregg Williams, of Woodway, didn't change his commute a bit.

Offered that same incentive, Bill Tan, of Burien, transformed his life. "I basically stopped driving," he says. [...] Tan says he drives so little now that he actually got a call from a study manager, asking whether the monitoring device on his dashboard still was working. The last time he checked his account online, it still contained more than $1,300. He's looking forward to a nice check when the experiment ends.

What this tells us is not only that financial incentives can work beautifully, but also that some people are trapped in their vehicles. Even when offered money, they can't accept it because they have no alternatives to their cars. Studies like this should tell policy makers and the people who vote for them that it is not enough to tell people to drive less, they also need access to fast, efficient and inexpensive public transit that are not the last resort of the poor but the first choice of smart people who don't need to waste time in traffic jams and stress over road-rage.

Tolls have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years as a potential solution to two related problems: too much traffic, and too little money to build anything to help alleviate it. New technology that makes toll booths unnecessary has accelerated the trend.

Motorists will pay a $3 round-trip toll to cross the new Tacoma Narrows bridge when it opens in 2007. The state Department of Transportation plans to open the HOV (high-occupancy-vehicle) lanes on Highway 167 between Auburn and Renton to solo drivers willing to pay a toll. For nearly three years all cars entering central London have paid a stiff charge; congestion has dropped 30 percent.

One last thing: Tolls are best used to raise money for public transportation and urbanism projects that make cities more sustainable so that as time goes on, things get better. Obviously, they should not be used to create more urban sprawl and make the problem worse...

High density is good, but we have to find a model that works for humans and the rest of nature.

::Do cash incentives alter driving habits?, via ::Autoblog, ::Telecommuting: Why don't you stay home?, ::Smog + High Fat Diet = Hardened Arteries, ::Take the Commute Solutions Challenge, ::Umbra on the Health Impacts of Biking in Traffic, ::20 Cents Per Mile For Bike Commuters in Florida, ::Yamaha Pays Employees to Leave the Motorcycle Home, ::Packed Like Sardines - Density is Good

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