By Ethan Goffman
New proposed legislation defines and funds TDM initiatives that could provide communities with opportunities to tackle transportation challenges more effectively based on local needs. Amid the blizzard of legislation in the early days of the Biden administration, it’s easy to overlook a small but important bill, H.R. 2514, the Mobility Options, Resiliency, and Efficiency (MORE) through TDM Act. If passed, this bill would fund Transportation Demand Management (TDM) nationally, helping to change the way people get around, from a system that subsidizes solo car trips to one that encourages mixed modes. On the ground, if enacted, the bill “puts out a new pot of money to deliver services and programs focused on improving transportation options,” according to David Straus, Executive Director of the Association for Commuter Transportation. This would save money, reduce traffic congestion, and help the environment. As Rob Henry, Public Policy Director of the Association for Commuter Transportation, put it, our current transportation paradigm is not sustainable – “from a climate perspective, and an economic perspective, TDM provides more choices for people.” These choices encompass public transit, biking, walking, and scootering.
Despite TDM’s tremendous potential, most people have no idea what it is, and even those who have heard the term might not understand it well.
When it comes to transportation, TDM is the successful complement to infrastructure, it focuses on understanding how people make their transportation decisions and helping people use the infrastructure in place for transit, ridesharing, walking, biking, and telework. “TDM is how you leverage the investments we make in our infrastructure and get the maximum benefit,” said Dennis Leach, Director of Transportation, Arlington. As Straus put it, “TDM is all about how we create an efficient multi-modal system that moves people” in the most affordable, efficient, and sustainable way possible. Or, as the MORE Act defines it, TDM is “the use of strategies to inform and encourage travelers to maximize the efficiency of a transportation system leading to improved mobility, reduced congestion, and lower vehicle emissions.” One can think of transportation infrastructure, roads, rails, and bridges, as well as cars, trains, and buses, as equivalent to the bones and muscles in the human body and TDM as equivalent to the nervous system, making decisions about how to use muscles and activating them through small, local nerve endings.
More concretely, the Association for Commuter Transportation describes TDM’s benefits as providing options for commuters, reducing traffic congestion, improving public health and safety, and connecting people to jobs.
What the MORE Act would do
H.R. 2514, the MORE Act, would first, define TDM at the federal level, and second provide a stream of dedicated funding, some $1 billion a year, said Rob Henry, and would mandate a TDM committee in each state. Currently, those jurisdictions that have TDM programs, cobble together a budget “through funding sources here and there and all over,” said Henry. If the bill is signed into law, funds would be allocated to the states and make their way to the local level, providing not just funding but awareness and goals regarding TDM.
The shape and character of TDM would be different in different jurisdictions, depending upon their needs. Indeed, the MORE Act allows plenty of choice at the local level. “There’s no one-size-fits all kind of approach to implementing TDM within local communities,” said Straus. For instance, rural areas may rely more on carpools and vanpools, made flexible by technology.
Behavioral change is notoriously difficult, and, in a country long dependent on cars, it’s hard to get people to shift to modes that might seem less convenient. Explained Straus, “one of the barriers with behavior change, especially when it comes to commuting behavior, you get into the pattern of ‘I drive to work, I drive to work, I drive to work.’ You know the public transit’s there, you may know that there’s a group of van pools in the parking lot, but don’t know how to access it . . . and you’re not confident about its ability to get you on a consistent basis from home to work.” Fear of the unknown breeds resistance to change. Old habits die hard.