(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 348: New Mobilities with Todd Litman
This week we’re joined by Todd Litman, Executive Director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. Todd discusses his book New Mobilities: Smart Planning for Emerging Transportation Technologies. We reframe the transportation investments we make, talk about sharing information, and discuss why air taxis might not be the future.
You can find the episode audio at Streetsblog USA. The unedited transcript is below:
Jeff Wood (1m 21s):
Todd Litman, welcome to the talking headways podcast.
Todd Litman (1m 27s):
Well, thank you very much. Jeffrey
Jeff Wood (1m 29s):
We’ve kind of crossed paths before. And we were talking before the show, how we kind of have chatted probably somewhere at a TRB or a conference or something, but never really got to sit down and chat. So it’s nice to finally get to do that. Appreciate you sitting down with me and talking about your book, but before we get started, for those that might not know about who you are and what you do, can You tell us a little bit about your sure
Todd Litman (1m 50s):
I’m executive director of the Victoria transport policy Institute, which is my small independent research organization. That is a platform for me to explore all kinds of emerging planning issues. I love research. I love investigating things where I’m not quite sure how it’s gonna come out, what the results are going to be. So I work on all kinds of different subjects from affordable housing to sustainable transportation. I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years. I’ve been able to support a family as a consultant.
Todd Litman (2m 30s):
I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to have a career that involves interesting and important issues. And most recently I’ve gotten involved exploring some of the emerging transportation technologies and services. I started off looking specifically at autonomous vehicles and developing some predictions of how soon you and I can fire our chauffer and depend on our robot to drive us around. And of course that quickly expanded to include some of the other interesting emerging modes. Things like your taxis.
Todd Litman (3m 11s):
So little flying cars and Hyperloop set is pneumatic to transport. And of course, very some mundane things or some, some less glamorous things. I should say, things like bikes and scooters, what we call micro mobility and telework, the role that telecommunications and delivery services could substitute for physical travel and then some of the important, but often overlooked emerging issues, like how to manage freight transport, more efficiently logistics management, and call it, or how to integrate some of these emerging modes into what we call mobility as a service mass.
Todd Litman (3m 58s):
So that got me interested in looking and comparing these emerging issues. And I’d spent the last year exploring those issues and writing a book about it, mass
Jeff Wood (4m 9s):
Or mass. I honestly don’t know it’s like data or data, right? It’s one of those things, right? Well, let’s go back to VTI and where that started, because I mean, as long as I’ve been doing this almost 20 years or so researching urban issues and doing things related to cities and transportation, you’ve been writing and producing materials for folks to understand through your encyclopedias of information, I’m wondering how that got started and where you kind of got interested in.
Todd Litman (4m 39s):
Sure. Well, that’s a great question. I was a bicycle activist in my younger days.
Jeff Wood (4m 45s):
Todd Litman (4m 47s):
I have continued, but I started off as a bicycle app activist in a small city Olympia, Washington, which happens to be a capital city. So after a few years of working at the local level, just so happened, what was then the league of American Wheelman? The national bicycle association asked me to be the state lobbyist. And that got me interested in sort of the bigger policy questions, how you explain to say a state policy maker or somebody’s eye level person at the department of transportation that bicycling deserved as much respect as other modes.
Todd Litman (5m 30s):
And at the time that was a pretty radical thought. So I got interested in how you frame the question. How do you communicate that issue? So I already had an undergraduate degree, a liberal arts degree, and I went back and got a master’s degree. Technically the degree is in environmental studies, but my real interest was looking at the economics. I am a policy issues related to what we would now, sustainable transportation. So I started off focusing on bicycling, but that quickly expanded looking at the questions related to how do you measure the benefits to users and the community of people driving less and relying more on walking and bicycling and public transit and telework.
Todd Litman (6m 18s):
And so my master’s thesis was developing a comprehensive cost framework for all these various modes under various conditions. So I developed an estimate of the full costs of, for example, somebody driving under urban peak, urban off peak and rural conditions, and what would be the savings including savings to them, infrastructure and road and parking facility, cost-savings safety, benefits, health benefits, environmental benefits, et cetera. If people were to drive less and rely more on what you call the sustainable or green or resource efficient modes.
Todd Litman (7m 4s):
So that was my master’s thesis. And even before I completed it, I was starting to get consulting contracts to apply this framework and to help various professional organizations and government agencies and environmental organizations frame the questions in that way, know, use this, this cost model to calculate costs and benefits. So I hung out a shingle. I established new TPI as a consulting firm, and I’m actually quite passionate about sharing information. I love to take the research that I’ve done and make it available.
Todd Litman (7m 44s):
And this was all early during the history of the internet. I established our website and started posting my master’s thesis, but also a lot of other research work on there. And amazingly, you know, you can call it karma. I would do research on the subject. I would call it unfunded research, something that I’m interested in and then some, and posted on our website or publish articles or papers about it. And sometimes that led to a consulting contract. So it justified me doing all that unfunded research and sharing that information. That’s been my business model and miraculously, it seems to work
Jeff Wood (8m 28s):
Well. I appreciate it. I mean, I love the idea that you can share information and people can pick it up. I mean, you know what I do, I mean, I try to share as much information as possible with folks through the podcast, through the newsletter, et cetera. And then before that a reconnecting America, when I was there, we tried to share as much information on our website as possible and making a Tod database and all that stuff. And I find sometimes it’s frustrating when there are organizations or some that don’t share some of their information, they kind of hide it away or try to keep it for themselves. Do you ever find that that’s frustrating, you’re sharing all of your work and everything that you do and then others are kind of keeping it secret from the world?
Todd Litman (9m 1s):
Oh, absolutely. I mean, it’s really a crime against humanity. If there is useful information that is unavailable to the people who could apply it and make the world a better place. And some of it is some organizations are restricting their release of information, thinking that they can cash in on it, that they can make it profitable. Although my experience is that it’s difficult to do. It’s difficult to charge people for, for example, a report, but sometimes it’s just, you could say laziness or on various organizations part that they have some information.
Todd Litman (9m 43s):
And if you know how to search, you might be able to find it on their website. But I find it often very difficult to access information. So, which is one of the roles that I play is that if I spend an afternoon tracking down bits of information that are available, but hard to access, you know, so for example, just this morning, I was spending time trying to determine the various ways to measure, not automobile mode share that is the portion of trips and the portion of people, portion of travelers who rely on walking bicycle lane, public transit, and ride hail hailing their taxes.
Todd Litman (10m 28s):
So I developed some estimates of those and a range of estimates because I, I look at commute mode chair, which tends to under count active transportation and total trip share. And then I also include estimates of some of the mood share targets. Some jurisdictions have developed. So a number of cities and states basically say, we want to increase in a lot of cases, double the amount of walking and bicycle and public transit that’s occurring to achieve health benefits and reduce traffic congestion and reading submissions.
Todd Litman (11m 10s):
So that’s one of the indicators that I use that I’ve developed, you know, asking how can we determine what is a fair share of public resources to invest in these non-automotive modes? Are we under investing in walking and bicycling and public transit relative to the demand for our targets for those modes? And so anyway, I spent the morning collecting this information, putting together a beautiful graph, and now I’m looking forward to sharing that because it’s this wonderful bit of information that helps frame one of the key questions that’s come up frequently.
Todd Litman (11m 54s):
That is what is the fair share of money or road space that a jurisdiction should invest in walking and bicycling and public transit facilities?
Jeff Wood (12m 8s):
Well, I like, Hey, in the book, you reframe that a little bit. You document that usually around $800 a year or so are spent on roadways through federal spending, federal local spending per capita. And then in there you make some calculations and adjustments and say, well, you know, it might look like a small increase, but on a per capita basis, and you’re spending money this way, you can actually get a big benefit compared to that $800 we’re spending per capita on roadways. And it’s an interesting reframing of we’re spending little bit amount of money on this, and it gets a little bit of return, but it actually, if you look at it per capita, and if you look at it in a certain way, you get a larger return. And so I like the way that you kind of turned that around and made it seem more important, which I think it actually is.
Jeff Wood (12m 52s):
But I think we don’t display that very often or very well for the most Part. Exactly.
Todd Litman (12m 58s):
So this is a very, let’s say fertile area of research for anybody who’s interested in sustainable transportation because for the last hundred years or transportation planning has really been oriented toward accommodating automobile travel. And one of my research studies titled not so fast, I look at the way planning is biased in favor of faster modes, faster and more expensive and resource intensive modes like automobile travel and air travel to the detriment of slower, but more affordable and resource efficient modes like walking and bicycling and public transit as a result we’re favoring sprawl development over compact infill.
Todd Litman (13m 56s):
So I’ve been very interested. You could frame it in terms of, you know, our planning is automobile dependent or automobile oriented leads to automobile dependent transportation system. You can frame it in terms of social equity. So somebody who for any reason cannot or should not or prefers not to drive for a particular trip or not getting their fair share where you can frame it in terms of, like you say, return on investment. It turns out that in most communities, a typical community is spending somewhere around 20, $25 annual per capita on sidewalks.
Todd Litman (14m 39s):
And if it’s a city that’s making major investments in bicycle facilities, that’s typically 20 to $40 a year per capita on bicycle facilities. And a typical community is spending somewhere between hundred and $200 that year to, in total to subsidize public transit. And people in that community are spinning, as you’ve mentioned, well, the households are spending somewhere around $5,000 a year per car to own and operate a car. And they’re spending about a thousand dollars somewhere between 800 and a thousand dollars a year in total on roadway facilities. And probably although it’s highly variable and a little difficult to calculate, but somewhere between two and $4,000 on subsidized off street, parking government mandated off street parking.
Todd Litman (15m 31s):
So you sung that together and you’re talking many thousands of dollars per year per capita to lead an automobile dependent lifestyle. And we know that there’s latent demand that many people would prefer to drive less and rely more on walking and bicycling and public transit if need made more investments. So some of my current research is exploring that night conclusion suggests that there’s a very good positive return on investment. If we were to take a small portion of the money that communities are investing in roads and parking facilities, and that consumers are spending on their cars and reinvest it to improve non-automotive modes that virtually everybody is better off overall.
Todd Litman (16m 27s):
So the analysis that I’m doing and some of which is discussed in my book, the new mobility’s, the analysis that I’m doing, I think does build a pretty strong case that moves north American communities have far more automobile ownership and far more automobile travel than what people would choose. If we were willing to respond to that latent demand. That’s another
Jeff Wood (16m 54s):
Thing in the book. I mean, you had a survey and it says what people are concerned about. And the thing that people are concerned about most is the price of travel out of all of the things they could possibly be concerned of. And so we’re always talking in the media about congestion and, and those types of policies, but people are more concerned with the price of travel. And yet you just, you know, said all of those subsidies and all of the spending that we do on parking on road, building on insurance and et cetera, et cetera, what people have to pay to keep their cars up. And then the minuscule amounts that we pay for, for sidewalks and transit and cycling. And yet people want to save money. And I think most people don’t want to get rid of their money. They hate taxes. They don’t want to pay extra, but it’s like it’s hidden from them or, or they don’t quite understand the amount of money that’s leaving their wallet, maybe every year.
Todd Litman (17m 41s):
Exactly. The big challenge is that the spending on roads and parking facilities is pre-programmed from your perspective as a consumer, you feel like you’re being tapped. You’re being required to spend money on roads and parking, regardless of whether or not you drive. And so from that perspective, if those are fixed sunk costs, you feel like, Hey, I might as well get a car so I can get my money’s worth from that expensive garage or parking space at my house.
Todd Litman (18m 24s):
Some of the interesting experiments are when in a particular location say a job site or a apartment building or something like that, they go from parking being free to parking, being either cashed out or unbundled. So cashed out means that people who don’t drive. So if you get to work by walking or bicycling or car sharing or public transit, that you get the cash equivalent of the parking subsidies that go to your workmates, who drive and parking on bundling means that if you rent an apartment, you’re no longer required to pay for a parking space, that the parking is rented separately.
Todd Litman (19m 13s):
So instead of paying $2,000 a month for an apartment that comes with a parking space, you would pay $800 or $1,800 a month for the apartment, but $200 a month for each parking space you want. So if you’re a car-free household, you’re no longer forced to pay for that parking space, sit empty. And so the experience indicates that when a business, when a employer cashes out the free parking or a apartment, building a unbundled, the parking that you get somewhere between a 10 and 30% reduction in car travel or car or automobile ownership that typically 20% of car traffic is the result of this current practice of providing three parking to employees.
Todd Litman (20m 7s):
And so we’re increasing our traffic congestion and our traffic accidents and our air pollution and consumer costs overall, because we say, yeah, we’ll give you this very valuable subsidies worth, say between a hundred and $200 a month to drive. But if you use the other modes, we give you a method. So those are the kind of experiments where case studies that we have now that demonstrate that you could call it latent demand for not driving. Some people will give up driving for drive less. If they’re given more incentives, more better walking, bicycling, public transit that are financial incentives.
Todd Litman (20m 49s):
And so this guides us to identify the transportation and management strategies, the smart, effective ways to reduce traffic problems simply by correcting some of the existing market distortions that result in economically excessive automobile travel and scrawl. So the book is
Jeff Wood (21m 11s):
New mobilities, smart planning for emerging transportation technologies. How did you decide on the specific mobilities that you were, you were going to talk about in the book?
Todd Litman (21m 20s):
Right. Well, let’s just say I pick them out of the air. There. They’re all, from your perspective, Jeffrey, I’m sure you, you get press releases and emails and inquiries about all these emerging technologies and services all the time, right. And legitimately there’s excitement about them. I mean, most of us grew up with the Jetsons and start track and all these predictions when I was five years old, I went to the 1964. World’s fair, where there was this great exhibition by general electric.
Todd Litman (22m 1s):
It predicted the future as exciting and beautiful. We were all going to have jet packs and fly to the moon. And some of this actually has come true. You know, some of these predicted technologies really do improve our lives in various ways. I mean, the best example is the little flip phone that they had on star Trek, which actually is kind of similar to the first generation of mobile phones. Although, you know, if you watch star Trek, you don’t see them staring, you know, checking their emails and Twitter feeds all the time. They’re not being distracted.
Todd Litman (22m 42s):
They only use that little mobile phone, their communicator for urgent, you know, important business on star Trek. They didn’t display the downside of everybody walking around with way too much connectivity and information in their pocket. That is a constant distraction. You know, they didn’t show that. So which leads me into what this book is about. You know, there’s all these optimistic predictions often by people with a financial interest in the industry that are promoting things like cars and taxis and pneumatic tube, transport, supersonic jets.
Todd Litman (23m 24s):
And they’re predicting this exciting new world, these show architectural renderings or, or, you know, illustrations where everybody in the autonomous car or in the Hyperloop capsule are, are happy and they’re all clean and tidy and shiny. And, you know, it’s kind fun to inquire to explore the question, what’s your really going to be like, what would it really be like to get into the Hyperloop capsule where you’re going to be locked in to this little capsule with a couple of dozen other people you’re strapped to your seat because it accelerates.
Todd Litman (24m 4s):
And then decelerates at a speed with forces that will make some people uncomfortable and nauseous. And you’ll be stuck in there for somewhere between half an hour and an hour, depending on how far you’re going. And if there is a crying baby next to you, or you suddenly need to use a washroom or something like that, there won’t be any services onboard. What’s it really going to be like to get into say an autonomous taxi after, you know, your, let’s say the 10th passenger for the morning and it hasn’t been cleaned. Is it going to have some garbage and stains and suspicious odors? Those are the kinds of questions that I think we should be asking now.
Todd Litman (24m 46s):
So I did a review of all these technologies and services that are merging. And I came up with a dozen that I think are kind of the most likely and the most interesting and worth exploring. You kind of
Jeff Wood (25m 2s):
Put it together like a consumer reports or a CNET for, you know, looking up your next computer. What was the choice of the format and how did that impact kind of how you wrote the book?
Todd Litman (25m 13s):
Sure. Well, that’s what my concept was to say, if you’re purchasing a vehicle, there’s all kinds of reports and websites and services that will help you choose the model or the type that’s going to best suit your needs. If you’re a policymaker or a planner, and you’re trying to choose which of the emerging transportation technologies and services are going to be best for you and your community, then you don’t really have much objective comprehensive information. There are a few reports on some of the individual mobilities, but as far as I have found, nobody has done a comprehensive comparison that explores the full impacts, the impacts on users and impacts on communities of these different emerging transportation modes and technologies or services.
Todd Litman (26m 21s):
And therefore helps answer the question, the questions about the planning questions, to what degree should be encourage or accommodate or regulate or restrict, and maybe even forbid some of these understood circumstances. And when
Jeff Wood (26m 39s):
You started the book, obviously you and I have biases and, you know, ideas of where we think things should go. What were your transportation values when you set out to write the book and after you finished, do you find any changes in how you saw things?
Todd Litman (26m 54s):
Well, I like to think that I am a good planner. And so my mission, my intent was not to apply my own values, but really to provide the information. So decision makers, including policymakers and practitioners, you know, professional planners and engineers and economists, and also the general public can make informed decisions. So my intent is not to tell people what to do or tell policymakers what to do. It’s to provide a basic analysis framework so that the readers, the users of the framework can develop their own or apply their own values and make their own decisions.
Todd Litman (27m 43s):
And I’m doing my best to provide objective comprehensive information. As you’ve probably seen in the book, there are pages and pages of references at the end of, of in notes, I try and provide the information so that if you aren’t interested in any of the specific issues that are presented in the book. So for example, your, you want to find out more about what are the estimated costs of autonomous vehicles, or what will be the safety profile of air taxis and delivery drones, things like that. There has been research looking at those specific questions, and if you’re interested, then you could use the references in the book, but you could say by developing a comprehensive framework, I’m identifying the types of information that decision makers are probably going to want to have when they’re making these assessment of specific new emerging mobilities and how they should be applied in their specific community.
Jeff Wood (28m 52s):
And that’s something you say in the book is that you make very clear that people can attach their values or their scores to any of the kind of scoring systems that you’ve put together and come up with their own ideas. And it’s not necessarily the ones that you share that are the ones that are kind of come out the way that it comes out, maybe in the book. So I appreciate that. I do wonder, however, if a Senator who had just voted for this infrastructure bill in the United States, if they would have sat down and read this, what they maybe would have funded, if they would have actually sat down and looked through the book and kind of came up with a system rather than just kind of funneling money to the places where they wanted to funnel money already.
Todd Litman (29m 30s):
Right? So since you’ve read the book, you have probably seen one of my conclusions is that the affordable, healthy resource efficient modes really deserve the priority over the expensive resource intensive modes. And so a smart community, whether that’s your local city or town or your state government or country, whatever scale of planning, you’re talking about that if they’re smart, they’re going to give priority to the better moment to the ones that are affordable, inclusive, healthy resource efficient and invest less.
Todd Litman (30m 16s):
But for the last hundred years, we’ve had it, we’ve said, speed is our priority. Faster is better reducing traffic congestion delays are our primary goal. And that set into motion, a whole host of planning decisions that I believe are inefficient and not responsive to consumer denounce.
Jeff Wood (30m 43s):
There were so many fantastic predictions about transportation’s in the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, the hoverboards, and all that stuff come to mind back to the future was the movie that I always think of in terms of, you know, what the prognosticators thought maybe would be a, an idea. And I’ve definitely seen also what you were talking about in star Trek. What happened to those modes? What happened to those kind of space, age ideas that sometimes came out in these new mobilities? I mean, pneumatic tubes are something that people have kind of dreamed about, but what happened and why were they kind of either short shrift and in getting investments? Or why did the automobile continue as in inertia? The idea? Well, yes,
Todd Litman (31m 22s):
I’m still reading for my jet pack. I was back when I was young, they predicted that by the 21st century, we would all be traveling on jetpacks, Jeffrey, what century are we in the, the
Jeff Wood (31m 37s):
50th, right? The 21st,
Todd Litman (31m 41s):
21st century, it was calm. It was the future. And it’s calm now to be fair. The transition from say 1900 where transportation, primarily walking with a little bit of bicycling and a little bit of rail transport, but primarily people, you know, on a day to day basis, most people walked primarily. And then the advent of bicycles and bicycles became affordable and then public transit improved. So you’ve got broken trolleys all over the place. And then automobiles, there’s no question. There were, there are very significant benefits to users, but we locked into place policies that privilege automobile travel over the more affordable and resource efficient modes.
Todd Litman (32m 39s):
And that spoils the system. As an example, the second chapter in my book was really a fun one to research. I went back and looked at the economic history of our previous transportation innovations, particularly motorization. And what I found is that from 1900 to the year, 2000, so over the 20th century, our mobility, our travel speed, and therefore the distance that people can travel in their travel time, budget increased by an order of magnitude, we went from the average person traveling about a thousand miles, maybe a little bit more per year to the average person traveling about 10,000 miles a year.
Todd Litman (33m 24s):
And that sounds great. We have expanded our world. Our world got bigger. On the other hand, it also increased the cost to individuals and to communities by an order of magnitude. So in 1900, there’s this great household expenditure survey that I uncovered from 1901 by the U S department of commerce at the time. And they asked working man’s families, how they spent their dollars and it turned out transportation was such a small cost category. It wasn’t even in the survey. It was, it just was included with miscellaneous the average household in 1900, the average working man’s family spent almost nothing on transportation by the year 2000, the working class family devotes about 20% of its household budget to vehicles, including the residential parking for that vehicle.
Todd Litman (34m 29s):
So the cost of your garage or off street parking put them together and you’re spinning 20%, one fifth of your household budget on transportation, which means a fifth of your work day is devoted to paying for your vehicles for an average car owning worker, which means if you measure travel speeds based what we call effective speed. So it’s your travel distance divided by the time you’re spending traveling, plus the time you’re spending earning money for your travel expenses. The average working class motorist is actually not traveling that fast.
Todd Litman (35m 13s):
And especially low-income people are spending more time earning money for their cars, and they are spending driving that car. And for many working class people, they are better off. They are traveling faster by bicycling and public transit than they are taking all that time to earn money so they can afford a car so they can commute to so they can earn more money. The level of automobile ownership in use that we have in north America is what you could call an economic trap. It’s a situation where people are encouraged or forced to consume more and spend more than they really would prefer that they more than they would choose if they had better options.
Todd Litman (36m 2s):
So there are a whole bunch of people I think in north America, especially lower income working class people who would be better off if we had more, much better affordable travel options, or even better to describe it as better accessibility options, which means better walking, bicycling and public transit and better housing options in those walkable transit, rich areas. So any household, particularly those with low incomes could find suitable housing in the affordable transportation neighborhoods. What do you think Jeffrey with the world?
Todd Litman (36m 43s):
Do you think there are a lot of people who would prefer to drive less and rely more on walking and bicycling and public transit provided. Those are excellent quality services.
Jeff Wood (36m 55s):
Oh, absolutely. I mean, we talk about that all the time on the show. How if given the chance people would do that. I mean, you see this all the time when people are given the opportunity to live and maybe a place that’s different from their suburban life. My parents moved from a suburb of Houston to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And we talked about this with Chris and Melissa Bruntlett, who were on the show a couple of weeks ago. And I think it was eye opening for them to a certain extent. You know, my mom grew up in San Francisco and she, you know, lived here originally, but, and they understood Bard and, and taking transit and stuff in the bay area, but they were living in a suburb at the time. And then they, they moved to Rotterdam and they lived in downtown. They didn’t have a car. They were able to get to many parts of the country and even Europe through trains, they were the walk to the stores.
Jeff Wood (37m 39s):
My mom went to the market almost every day. And so I think that changes your perspective on things. You know, if you’re given that opportunity to do that, even when people go traveling, even if it’s not, even if it’s in the United States, they go to a new Yorker or Chicago for a conference or something along those lines, you get that kind of reorientation of, of what things could be like. And so I think if given the opportunity, people would probably reduce their travel through single occupancy vehicles, but in the United States, as you know, and north America, for that matter in Canada and a lot of places that opportunity doesn’t exist. And so people can’t live that lifestyle. So the expenditures that we make are stuck in that inertia of auto ownership. And, you know, you know, this, I know this, I think a lot of the listeners know this, but it’s, it’s good to repeat.
Jeff Wood (38m 21s):
I think, you know, thinking about how our investments change things and which is why, you know, the new bill that just passed is, is frustrating. I think for a lot of folks here in the U S who hoped that maybe we could start to make it, you know, a different investment paradigm than had been making over the last a hundred years. I don’t think people really understand what a trillion dollar is actually does. And, you know, it’s something that maybe if we were able to explain it better, it would have gone a different direction. Or maybe if the senators were, you know, from urban places, they might have understood it better, but this is what we’re getting so far. And hopefully we can make some changes, but, you know, it goes the way it goes, I guess. Right?
Todd Litman (38m 59s):
So that’s very consistent with the research of my whole career is that I think that many people would choose to rely less on automobiles and more on resource efficient and affordable alternatives. If we were investing in them comparable to the spending that we devote towards automobile transportation, by the way, I think for planners the best way to clarify a lot of these things for most comparisons, it’s best to convert things into per capita annual. So you could ask if the trillion dollars is going to be over, say a five-year period, and you, you would ask what does that represent for the average American each year?
Todd Litman (39m 48s):
And then they’re able to compare that in their minds, what that investment, how it compares with, say what they’re spending on their car or what their community is spending on roads and parking facilities. So that’s what I recommend, you know, usually when we’re doing economic analysis, I try and convert. Most of these impacts costs and benefits. See the
Jeff Wood (40m 11s):
Problem is, is that I just tried to calculate it. And my phone calculator only goes to 100 million. I can’t even get to a trillion to do the calculation. Okay.
Todd Litman (40m 22s):
There’s currently about a third of a billion United States, right? 330 million
Jeff Wood (40m 29s):
Or so people that live in there. Exactly.
Todd Litman (40m 32s):
So what you do is you convert a trillion into a thousand billions and then
Jeff Wood (40m 39s):
Todd Litman (40m 43s):
And you’ve got a rough estimate of what it works out to be. But in any case, this is exactly the issue. So these issues are confronting us frequently questions like what parking requirements should be imposed by your local government, or how much should say the state department of transportation spend on active transportation, or how much should local state and federal governments invest in public transportation. Those are very important questions. And then we ask how do the new mobility, these exciting emerging transportation technologies and services change our conclusions.
Todd Litman (41m 31s):
And my main conclusion is they do it too much that the optimistic predictions that say electric autonomous vehicles are going to solve our traffic congestion and parking and air pollution problems, or that air taxis will allow most commuters to avoid traffic congestion. Those are really not realistic. These emerging modes may eventually have some role to play in an efficient inequitable transportation system, but the new technologies do not fundamentally change what you call the geometry of our transportation system, an automobile, whether it’s human driven or autonomous robot driven, whether it’s a big car or a small car takes up an order of magnitude, more space than a bicycle and two orders of magnitude, more space than a passenger in a bus or a train during peak periods.
Todd Litman (42m 33s):
Even autonomous cars will probably need parking spaces off street parking, at least they’ll need a lot of curb space for dropping off and picking up passengers. And you don’t want those autonomous cars to simply be circling the block for hours on end while you’re shopping for at work. So you still need an off street parking space for those autonomous cars. So the basic design factors are not going to change fundamentally with electric or autonomous cars, or I don’t think it’s realistic to expect air taxis flying, little self operated helicopters to significantly reduce traffic congestion.
Todd Litman (43m 15s):
So we ended up with the basic principle that efficiency requires that we give priority to the space efficient modes that is walking bicycle lane, ride sharing and public transit under urban conditions, under congested conditions, and that we charge users for the infrastructure and the external costs that they impose. So we’re discouraging people from using dangerous polluting space, intensive travel options. Those principles are going to apply equally to the new mobilities, to the new technologies as they do to the current technologies.
Todd Litman (44m 1s):
Our big challenge right now is to get those principles applied. Very few jurisdictions, especially in north America are applying any sort of efficient road and parking pricing. And there are a number of other, and we’re underpricing fuel. The taxes on gasoline and diesel are, are much lower than for example, what would be required just to pay for roadway infrastructure. And so our current policies are inefficient and you introduce new transportation technologies. And my conclusion is with current policies, we’re only going to make the problems worse. We’re going to have a worst traffic congestion, and we’re going to have little or no reduction in traffic accidents, and there should per capita, and we’re going to have more sprawl and non-drivers low-income non-drivers are going to be worse off.
Todd Litman (44m 54s):
So, so it’s time to take the lessons that we’ve learned over the last century and start applying them as we plan for new technologies and services.
Jeff Wood (45m 5s):
Well, I don’t want to end on the negative part. So give me some optimism, give me some optimism.
Todd Litman (45m 12s):
Are there, we have the potential of creating better lifestyles for ourselves and far better communities. And the new technologies can play a role. For example, the best exciting innovation right now are e-bikes and east scooters. What we call micro modes in the past, we can reasonably say that somewhere around 10% of urban trips are currently made by walking bicycling 10 to 15%. And we could, you know, set targets to increase that increase the, the amount of travel. You know, we, in the past, we called that a smart growth of new bourbon ism, or location, efficient development, and how we call it the 15 minute city or the 15 minute neighborhood.
Todd Litman (46m 1s):
And we’re emphasizing that and increasing that if we do good planning and increasing portion of our accessibility needs could be met within our neighborhood by walking bicycle line with e-bikes, you can easily double that. So if our target was to increase walking bicycling from say 10% to 20%, which is a perfectly reasonable target with e-bikes and east skirt, as you could raise that to 30%. So it is perfectly reasonable to say that a third of our travel in a typical north American community could be met by walking bicycling.
Todd Litman (46m 43s):
And e-bikes, that is a huge, huge savings to consumers. If a household can go from owning two cars to one car plus two e-bikes or scooters, that household is going to save somewhere around $5,000 a year, that they can stand up all kinds of great local stuff. And the household members are going to be exercising a little bit more. And most of the e-bikes electric assist bikes, they still require some pedaling. You’re requiring far cheaper infrastructure, your road and parking costs plummeted. You know, you cut car ownership in half, and they are really fun.
Todd Litman (47m 26s):
He skaters and e-bikes leave people with smile on their face. I mean, the truth is for truth in advertising, car commercials should always show the passengers in those snazzy new cars, looking bored and overweight and impoverished because the truth is owning a car is not very fun and it’s not very healthy and it is extremely expensive. So if we are smart and we will do everything we can to improve and encourage walking and bicycling and micro modes, similarly, there’s a whole bunch we can do to make public transit more convenient and comfortable, simple things like having an integrated app that allows you to quickly navigate your transportation system and pay, you know, RFID payment systems.
Todd Litman (48m 26s):
So you never have to worry about finding your and recharging your payment card or buying a ticket. The buses could be much nicer with little fold-down work tables, so you can get out your notebook computer and get some work done with onboard wifi service. And why is it? The buses don’t have cup holders. I mean, when people are shopping around for car, the most important thing that’s a car sales people tell us is the first thing they look for is what are the cup holders serving the drivers. And that’s what people really care about. We could have cup holders and full Del work table and other conveniences on your bus.
Todd Litman (49m 8s):
So riding your bus to work is actually one of the high points in your day. That is all very feasible. And cost-effective compared with the full costs of accommodating more people driving to work. These new technologies and services could fill an awful lot of gaps. What do you think Jeffrey, when the autonomous cars are available for sale, are you going to spend tens of thousands of dollars in additional costs for your self-driving car? Or are you going to get a really nice east scooter in a bicycle and spend your time and money walking and bicycling and biking in your neighborhood?
Todd Litman (49m 56s):
What is the better lifestyle for you?
Jeff Wood (49m 59s):
For me personally, I don’t have a car and I have a bike already. I don’t need any extra eBikes or scooters. I don’t need, I don’t need a autonomous vehicle either. I live in a very transit oriented place in San Francisco, and I find that walking and biking and taking the bus gets me most places I want to go. It doesn’t get me to the redwoods necessarily, but it does get me for the most part where I want to go. And that’s easy to get a zip car or rent a car at the airport or something if I really need to. But I think I need actually an e-bike or an east scooter. I do enjoy riding in the scooter I did in DC for, I think it was preferred TRB last time before the pandemic started. That was kind of fun. But, but for me personally, I think I, I don’t know if I’m actually gonna be spending any extra money.
Jeff Wood (50m 42s):
I think I’m good where I am, but I’m an anomaly here. I think,
Todd Litman (50m 47s):
See, I think you’re, you’re normal. It’s just, you’re you are lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where you can express those demands, where you have the feasibility of getting around using each mode for what it does best. So you can walk and bicycle and its nest. And when you grow old and need the systems, use a electric assist bike for local errands, and then you can use public transit when you’re traveling from one neighborhood to the other in your region and you can rent a car. You know, so car sharing and bike sharing are one of the categories in my, you know, recognized in my book and you put them all together and you’ve got the efficient and equitable affordable package.
Todd Litman (51m 37s):
So, you know, our goal should be to ensure that everybody has the opportunities that you and I have of being able to lead a car for you or car light lifestyle. And so it’s a far better lifestyle. And so I hope we can inspire planners and policy makers to put it all together. So everybody has this wonderful opportunity to lead that multimodal lifestyle.
Jeff Wood (52m 8s):
For sure. The book is new mobility, smart planning for emerging transportation technologies, where can folks find it if they want to get a copy?
Todd Litman (52m 16s):
So it is available on island press website. So just go to island, press.com and search for the new mobilities. And if you put Littmann all capitals, L I T man into the discount code and get 20% off you lucky are yours. And if you, you know, if you did want, you could go to your local bookstore and they could order it for you. It’s also from the island press website and can get it in electronic formats, or you could visit my website, Victoria transport policy Institute, the tpi.org.
Todd Litman (53m 1s):
And there’s a link from there to the order inform on the island press website.
Jeff Wood (53m 6s):
Awesome. And how can folks find you online if you wish to be found,
Todd Litman (53m 9s):
Visit vtti.org or send me an email to [email protected] And I enjoy continuing these conversations. You can also see my blogs on planet isn’t website. And in fact, I just posted one, a fun one where I was recently asked what’s my favorite commute song. What do you think? I chose Jeffrey
Jeff Wood (53m 40s):
Riding on the Metro by Berlin, take the train, duke Ellington
Todd Litman (53m 48s):
His, his band signature song, because it’s not about commuting to work. It’s about traveling to Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance to enjoy some of the most spectacular music. It just makes me happy to listen to the beautiful teamwork of a big band performing this spectacular, exciting music. So take the a train is to me the epitome to emphasize it’s all about taking a train. It’s all about the excitement of taking a train and you can hear in the rhythm of duke Ellington’s spectacular music.
Todd Litman (54m 35s):
You can hear the many, many days that duke and his orchestra spent traveling across north America by training the rhythm is right there. It’s really, it’s an experience.
Jeff Wood (54m 49s):
That’s awesome. Well, Todd, thanks for joining us. We really, really appreciate your time.
Todd Litman (54m 53s):
My pleasure, Jeffrey. Thank you.