Archive for the ‘Commuting’ Category

San Francisco wants a congestion charge

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

San Francisco announced that it wants to implement a toll on cars entering and leaving the city from the south.  The plan calls for charging $3 for cars entering in the morning rush hours and $3 for cars leaving during the afternoon rush.  Taxis and buses would be exempt.  There are already bridge tolls on cars coming from the north and east.  Revenue would be used to improve transit.

As to be expected, there is opposition.  Commuters do not want to pay more.  Others say they have no alternative to drive and they cannot afford higher costs to come into the city.  The plan will need state approval.

I am not sure there are a lot of places that could support a toll or congestion charge.  My back of et envelope scan would include Manhattan, the West Side of Los Angeles, and Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley).  Perhaps any area that has  local parking garage rates greater than $15 or $20 might sustain a charge as well.  But the plethora of free parking means that most Americans are not willing to pay a premium to enter certain areas.  A problem could emerge if a toll or congestion charge results in pushing development out of an area into the outskirts of a city, that would increase sprawl and automobile dependence.

Congestion charges have been implemented in  a number of places, most famously in London.  The experience in that city seems to indicate they can be successful, raising revenues and reducing congestion without hurting local businesses.  New York City tried to put in a charge but it failed to win approval in the New York State legislature.

This is going to be interesting to follow

Do people know how bad commuting is for their health?

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

There has not been a lot of research on the health effects of commuting, unfortunate given that commuting is a major feature of most adults below retirement age.  Commuting, the day to day travel to and from one’s worksite (and most likely similar to going to and from school), has been shown to cause stress, increase exposure to pollutants, and pose a potential problem of accidents.  Studies by Novacco and others suggest that it is not just the time spent on commuting but also the unpredictability of a commute (when is there going to be an accident or train delay to mess up your schedule?) or the amount of impedance, badly timed signals, traffic congestion, etc.  Most likely it is those with lower paying jobs who suffer the worst effects of commuting because they have the added stress of not being able to control their workplace conditions.  They can lose wages or their jobs if they are late.  Perhaps the only two things worse than commuting are unemployment or working at home – the social isolation is probably bad for one’s health as well.

Commutes are getting longer.  There are growing numbers of extreme commuters, people who spend over an hour traveling each way to and from work.  Why is this happening? One model of health risk behavior used by public health is that of health beliefs.  If people do not know or believe that something is bad for their health, they are more likely to do that behavior.  If people do not know or think that cigarettes are bad for them, they are more likely to smoke.  Thus one way to change behavior is to tell people something is a problem – hence warnings on cigarette packages and tobacco education programs.

So some people may choose to live far from their jobs because they don’t know that a long commute is bad for them.  They may think that the potential benefits of cheaper housing, larger yards, increased access to special amenities more than outweigh the time problem.  But they do not take into account the health implications because they do not know about them.

Thus there should be a public information campaign about the health problems of commuting.  Of course these leaves unresolved the issue of who would pay for a campaign.  It also points to the need for more research on commuting and health.