Economic Development Research Group Blog

CONGESTION PRICING – AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS FINALLY COME (TO THE U.S.)

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In the early hours of March 31 st , New York State took the landmark step of moving forward with implementation of a congestion pricing policy for Manhattan. [1] With this deal, NYC edges out other cities like Seattle [2] and Los Angeles [3] to be the first in the U.S. to impose a charge on all vehicles entering a specific zone of the city. Other kinds of congestion pricing like dynamic rates for express toll lanes have existed for years, but drivers generally have an alternative option to reach their destinations without paying a fee. Starting in 2021, that will not be the case for almost any vehicle traveling into Manhattan below 60 th Street – only emergency vehicles and vehicles transporting someone with a disability are exempt from the charge established in New York’s legislation. I wrote back in February about how congestion pricing and road usage charge discussions...
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Resilience Economics in Action: The Example of US-101 in California

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Many MPO’s and state DOT’s are beginning to assess not only their vulnerability to transportation system failures caused by natural disasters and weather-related events, but also the wider economic consequences of potential future infrastructure system failures.  As such events may increase in frequency with aging facilities and climate change, understanding the economic consequences of these events should be at the core of any resiliency analysis.  To address this issue, two fundamental questions need to be considered: What are the economic consequences of failures in a transportation system caused by weather or other natural disaster events? What cost-effective transportation solutions can best avoid, mitigate, or quickly respond to these potential failures? Quantifying the scale of economic losses due to a disruption in the transportation system highlights how much of the economy is exposed to natural or weather-related disasters.  This assessment can be used as a benchmark to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of various...
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Transformational Change and the Future of Public Transportation

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Emerging Changes. At the January 2019 Annual Conference of the Transportation Research Board (TRB), the role of technology change and the future of public transportation both received significant attention –in both formal sessions and informal attendee discussions. Three facts seem clear: (1) There is much speculation but little clarity concerning how autonomous vehicle technologies will unfold and affect transportation services; (2) There is growing interest in a widening set of transit and broader transportation mobility datasets, covering everything from service schedules to mobility performance measures, and (3) There are many new entrants and new variations on transportation services emerging, from micro-transit to new on-demand ride services that are cutting into everything from car rentals to ambulance calls, car sales, parking and bus services. These three dimensions of transformational change– vehicle technologies, data services and mobility services – are leading to both experimentation and an inevitable shakeout (that is already starting), though...
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ROAD PRICING MAY BE COMING: ECONOMISTS ARE ON BOARD, BUT WILL THE PUBLIC BE CONVINCED?

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Most people seem to agree with a “user-pays” principle for transportation infrastructure, especially for roads and highways. The fuel excise tax on gasoline and diesel has long been the primary source of federal and state transportation revenues. While economists have long advocated for other types of fees, transportation professionals, policymakers, politicians and even the public have just recently become more active in pricing discussions. A number of trends in transportation technology and behavior have launched this discussion, which was strongly evident this year at the TRB Annual Meeting. A lot of work that I shared at TRB this year considers how revenue policies might respond to the following trends and what the impacts of those revenue policies would be on household contribution to transportation funding in urban and rural areas respectively. Trend 1: Fuel Efficiency and Electrification. The most recent CAFE standards will significantly increase the fuel efficiency of the fleet,...
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When Will Blockchain Technology Reach the Transit Industry?

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Blockchain is a new and potentially transformational technology for tracking of transactions between parties in a verifiable and permanent way that also makes tampering virtually impossible. It is already being tested in use for supply chain management by shipping and trucking companies, and freight railroads are also joining in. On the horizon is the potential for blockchain technology for public transportation, especially insofar as it facilitates more integrated transportation services offered by partner organizations. Staff at EDR Group and our affiliate EBP in Switzerland ( www.ebp.ch ) have been assembling information on how blockchain technology can be used by the passenger transportation service providers. We believe that there are plenty of potential uses that could also be beneficial to the transit industry and would be worth exploring further. Below are some of the potential use cases that this technology could provide for the transit industry. Need / use case for BC...
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The Explosion of E-Commerce Deliveries in Cities: Predictive Analytics as a Planning Tool (TRB Recap Series #3)

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How can we manage rapidly growing demand for same-day e-commerce deliveries within dense urban centers? That was one of the key questions addressed at a workshop during the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC on January 13. During the workshop, Dr. Laetitia Dablanc, of the French Institute for Transport Research noted that demand for “instant delivery services that provide on-demand delivery within two hours by connecting shippers, couriers, and consumers via a digital platform” is growing around the world, mainly in cities. In my presentation , I built on Dr. Dablanc’s findings by discussing how e-commerce growth is driving an “explosion” of needs for warehousing and delivery fulfillment space within the “last-mile” of urban centers. On average, every $1 billion in e-commerce sales growth requires an additional 1.25 million square feet of warehouse space. My presentation highlighted some of the innovations firms are using to address these needs:...
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Getting Value from Transit Data (TRB Recap Series #2)

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At the TRB Annual Meeting, I had the opportunity to publicize a project that I’m leading: TCRP J-11 (31) Guidance for Trading, Sharing, and Selling Public Transit Data – Now and in the Future . I have been talking to transit agencies and experts about data sharing and getting value out of the data transit agencies collect. We have discussed challenges, including data quality, standardization, and privacy. Many agencies share General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data openly and appreciate the value that private app developers add to this value by producing trip planning apps that transit customers benefit from. Other agencies provide data to researchers whose analysis guides transit agency decisions. While many transit agencies see benefits, there are concerns as well. What information is presented by external data users? Is it accurate and in the transit agency’s interest? How can transit agencies best leverage the power of the data they...
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Rural Accessibility

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There are more remote regions in the country, but the Appalachian Region with its population of 25 million is unique in the way that it is comparatively populous, within reach of large metropolitan areas of the East and yet is still isolated in many parts. Poverty in Appalachia was ubiquitous when President Johnson signed legislation to make federal funds available to develop the Appalachian Region. The construction of the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) has since been one of the major efforts to overcome economic distress in the region. The relationship between poor access to markets and the lack of economic opportuni-ties has been well known for a long time. With the ADHS nearing its completion and highway accessibility widely improved, economic distress and its consequences remain a prevalent issue in some parts of Appalachia, reinforced by the nation’s evolving economy. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has therefore started a project...
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Defining Geographic Zones for Spatial Analysis

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Spatial data is at the core of transportation analysis. Land use patterns, including the density of jobs and homes, and the locations of transportation infrastructure, such as stops, stations, and intersections, are frequently used to answer transportation planning questions. It is often useful to generate metrics at for a geographic zone. Not only does this allow for mapping and visualization, it often reflects the way that people use a transportation system – while a bus stop or rail station is located at a single point, passengers access it from the surrounding zone. In multi-modal analysis, considering zone-to-zone rather than point-to-point travel allows performance and accessibility assessments to compare or combine different modal options that serve the same areas. Given the importance of zones in transportation analysis, the next question is: which zones should be used? There are many existing zonal schemes including zip codes, census tracts, and transportation analysis zones (often...
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Recap from the APTA Annual Meeting

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In September, I attended the APTA Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. Following the defeat of Nashville’s transit referendum in May, the local transit agency is pressing ahead by investing in its bus fleet and changing its name to “WeGo”—a brand that speaks to transit’s role in building community. A highlight of the conference was a session covering transit ballot measures and how they can succeed. The panelists represented a successful ballot measure (Los Angeles), failed ballot measure (Nashville), and upcoming ballot measure (Las Vegas). The panelist from Nashville shared that many voters were willing to pay for transit but were concerned about how the plan would be implemented after the city experienced an abrupt change in leadership two months before the vote. Organizers from Los Angeles attributed their success in passing Measure M , a 2016 referendum, to several factors. These included a public input process following the release of the...
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AMPO 2018: Planning for an Uncertain Future

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Uncertainty was a common theme at at AMPO’s annual conference , held in September in San Antonio, Texas. It was an opportunity to share strategies for dealing with an uncertain transportation future, ranging from scenario planning to collaboration and data-driven and technical solutions. I presented on cross-agency information sharing in the context of project prioritization, sharing lessons learned from EDR Group’s work with MassDOT on evaluating economic impact. My take home message was that information sharing across agencies makes planning and prioritization more effective and efficient.  In the Boston region, CTPS (the Boston region MPO) and the MBTA (the transit agency) each develop metrics and data products around accessibility that can be used for data-driven evaluation of potential projects. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, agencies can use interactive platforms to consolidate data products and make them usable across agencies. Throughout the conference, I learned about other planning efforts across the United...
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On-Demand Ride Services: A Compelling Case for Research

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Scott Middleton is the newest member of the EDR Group team. Before joining, Scott worked as an analyst and planner at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and completed graduate studies at MIT.  At MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, he completed a master’s thesis that investigated rider behavior and preferences in on-demand ride services (e.g., Uber, Lyft, Waymo). He plans to contribute to EDR Group’s growing body of work in this exciting new discipline.  In July, EDR Group released a new report that measured the economic impact of Uber at national, state, and metropolitan scales. The report generated media attention as the first study to quantify both the economic impacts and benefits of on-demand ride services offered by transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber. This work pioneered new methods for putting numbers to intangible features of this emerging industry, including reliability, access, flexibility, income,...
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Brand New National Travel Behavior Data

On August 8th and 9th, I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 National Household Travel Survey Workshop (NHTS)  in Washington, DC. I presented a poster called  Evaluating Alternative Transportation Revenue Regimes Using the NHTS Transferability Statistics , based on work EDR Group has done for the Western Road User Charge Consortium (RUC West). This NHTS data product from the 2009 survey allows us to estimate the travel behavior of households at a census tract scale across the U.S. To date we’ve examined 10 states to understand how revenue-neutral conversion from a gasoline excise tax to a road usage charge would affect different groups of households.   While I’ve used the NHTS for several different analyses at EDR Group—from comparing modal choices and trip characteristics to constructing time of day and weekly travel distributions—having only 2009 survey results was starting to be limiting. This conference was a great opportunity to discuss innovative uses of the data with other experts in the travel behavior field and learn about what’s new in the 2017 vintage...
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A Summer in Zurich

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Kyle Schroeckenthaler of EDR Group is on assignment to the offices of our parent company, EBP, in Zurich for the summer months.  While in Zurich, Kyle is working closely with the Resources, Energy and Climate division as well as the Transportation group to identify European and global best practices that could be beneficial to our US-based clients.  Kyle’s visit will especially support EDR Group’s ability to provide a range and depth of services to clients on new mobility topics such as vehicle electrification and automated and connected technologies effect on transportation systems.     Last month, I arrived in Zurich, Switzerland to start a two-month long visit, and I am working in the offices of EBP (our parent company) for the summer. I am working a lot with existing US-based projects and clients, but also have many other exciting opportunities to support our Swiss colleagues and build relationships that will be...
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The Evolution of Transportation + Economic Development: Ten Takeaways from I-TED 2018

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The I-TED Conference on Transportation and Economic Development has now concluded. Judging by the reaction of all the participants with whom I’ve spoken, it was a tremendous success.  Here are some personal observations. The field of Transportation and Economic Development has really matured.  I’ve been going to this conference series since they started in 1989, and we’ve come a long way since then.  A dominant focus of presentations at the 1989 conference was showing how transportation investment supports jobs.  At this conference, in contrast, we had speakers talking about how economic development is (or should) factor in transportation decision processes for asset management, right sizing, maintenance and repair, finance, operations and programming, prioritization, long term planning and resilience evaluation. The speakers and poster session offered a substantial set of examples of how various transportation agencies are now carrying out such processes. The conference was also organized in a way that enabled...
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Using New Data to Improve Transit Networks

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The transportation ecosystem is changing rapidly. Individuals have new transportation options, and nationwide trends show transit ridership in decline . New technologies, such as automated vehicles, are expected to continue to reshape mobility in the future. In this environment, transit system owners and operators are seeking to adapt their network design and services. Improved data availability and new processing methods can identify ways to improve transit service. Compared to rail systems, bus networks can be altered at relatively low cost to accommodate changes in demand. Bus network revisions include large-scale overhauls, such as recent redesigns in Houston and Columbus , as well as incremental approaches to bus network change, such as route additions, deletions, and realignments. To make these changes, planners need to understand how the current system is used and where there is potential for improvement. In recent years, contactless smart card-based automatic fare collection (AFC) systems have become increasingly...
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Project Update - Economic Gems: Hidden in Plain Site


A couple of weeks ago, Steve Landau and I visited Columbus to start up a new project with the Columbus Regional Airport Authority. Over the next few months, EDR Group will be investigating, quantifying, and (perhaps most importantly!) describing the myriad ways in which the Columbus airport system contributes to the economy of the city, region, and state. One of the most significant and rewarding parts of these types of studies is uncovering what might be called “economic gems” hidden in plain sight. Most people only ever experience airports from the perspective of commercial passenger aviation. But really there is so much more going on. You have air cargo operations making sure time-sensitive goods get in and out, general aviation allowing local businesses to be more efficient that they otherwise would be, and oftentimes clustering of related businesses that benefit from airport access on nearby real estate—just to name a few....
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New Data and Techniques for Transportation Economists

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Highway link speed data from vehicle GPS probes has become the standard for performance measurement, available free to state DOTs through the National Performance Management Research Data Set (NPMRDS). This data can add value across transportation planning and policy-making. At EDR Group, we think it extends the potential for informed economic analysis. For Missouri DOT, EDR Group conducted benefit-cost and economic impact analysis of an Incident Management System (IMS) on the rural sections of I-70 and I-44. To evaluate the impact of MoDOT’s proposed IMS, we needed to understand the pattern and costs of incidents along the rural highways. To do so, we used vehicle speed data from HERE. We queried 5 years of speed records at 15-minute intervals for every link on rural I-70 and I-44: approximately 143 million rows of data in total. That’s a lot of data!  Figure 1 Schematic of incident identification. Using heuristics and a spatial...
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Planning for Rapid Technological Change in Transportation and Mobility Services

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Hardly a day passes without websites, newspapers, and TV news trumpeting our entry into an era of “self-driving cars” and “smart everything.” More and more, our everyday lives are digitally connected and facilitated, enabling us to shop from our phones, have up-to-the-minute travel information, and instantly share information with anyone, anywhere. As the digitization of our society grows and computing power becomes more portable and affordable, we continue to rush headlong into a future of both technological promise and societal challenges. Within this context of technology-enabled and driven innovations and opportunities, the nation’s transportation needs are similarly rapidly evolving. The advances in information technologies and business processes are enabling new forms of integrated transportation services that span multiple modes providing both passenger and freight services. At the same time, planners and researchers need to recognize that the rapid pace of technological change and digital information systems in transportation is occurring largely...
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A Balanced Examination of HSR and National Transportation Needs

It’s time for a balanced dialog on infrastructure investment needed to support our nation’s economic vitality for the future. We need to get beyond advocacy arguments where someone first decides the answer and then selectively picks facts to bolster it. Let’s learn from the article on high speed rail by columnist Robert Samuelson that was recently published in Newsweek[1]It is useful because it illustrates all three classic elements of erroneous reasoning that many of us learned in school debate and statistics classes:

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