TIME SPENT IN TRAFFIC JAMS COULD BENEFIT THE ECONOMY

Issue date: 15 January 2004


ISSUE DATE: 15/01/04

Is travel time measured appropriately in an age when we have communication technology that enables us to plug in on the move? When is travel time productive and when is it redundant? How can the transport industry develop to accommodate a workforce perpetually on the move? Is it more productive to sit in a car mentally preparing for your working day or on a train answering e-mails? And how should transport policy makers take this into account when making decisions about how to spend transport budget.

These are some of the questions that will be posed by transport researchers from the University of the West of England's Centre for Transport & Society during a three year EPSRC funded project entitled 'Travel Time Use in the Information Age. In partnership with researchers from the Centre for Mobility's Research (CeMoRe) at the University of Lancaster the project marks the coming together of two new research groups, a transport group with an interest in social science approaches and a sociology group with an interest in transport.

The project seeks to crystallise current understanding of travel time use and to explore what opportunities there are to exploit productive travel time use. The resulting work will be widely promoted to help transport operators, policy makers and researchers with future transport planning initiatives.

Professor Glenn Lyons from the University of the West of England is leading the project, he explains, "We exist in a society within which 'life on the move' is increasingly common and supported by a growing array of mobile information and communication technologies. In the UK and other countries as mobility levels continue to grow, a trend in 'further and faster' is prevailing. This project is addressing an area that has hitherto received little or no attention - namely people's use of time when they are on the move. This is something which is poorly understood and yet has potentially significant implications for transport policy and for the way our transport systems and their use continue to evolve.

"Since the 1960s the basic treatment of travel time within appraisal of new transport schemes has remained the same - travel time is unproductive wasted time and, accordingly, savings in travel time typically constitute the majority of the benefit derived from a scheme. In transport modelling trips and activities are treated as separate entities, with the former merely a means to undertaking the latter.

"Many subscribe to the view that a travel time budget exists across societies - i.e. at the aggregate level the amount of time spent travelling each day is remarkably constant. This research will challenge these conventions with a starting assumption that travel time is (increasingly) being used productively as activity time. The research aims to develop an evidence-based understanding of travel time use and in turn explore ways in which public transport providers can positively exploit this.

"If better use of travel time can be encouraged then the travelling public may benefit. However, there could be further implications from productive travel time use - it may allow people to accommodate longer and longer journeys spending more time being mobile or for people's employers to ensure a longer working day. In this context it seems crucial that an understanding of travel time use is developed to ensure transport and social policy are able to take account of the implications and be potentially reoriented accordingly. The car is often seen as the preferred means of travel because it is quicker and more convenient than public transport.

"This research may reveal that public transport operators do not necessarily need to compete in terms of journey times if they can compete in terms of the 'better' use of people's travel time (whether of students or professionals or business people or the unemployed or the retired and so on). If indeed the project finds that the nature and extent of travel time use is significant and perhaps changing over time then there are likely to be important implications for future travel behaviour research. This research should prove highly relevant to transport operators, those who provide 'meeting places' en route, policymakers and the research community."

More information about this project can be found at http://www.transport.uwe.ac.uk/research/projects/travel-time-use.htm:

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