Assessment of Reduction in Vehicle Miles Travelled in Single Occupancy Vehicles in Portland and Bend, Oregon

Executive Summary

Goals

While transportation planners have several options for addressing work-trip travel, they have few tools for changing non-work related travel behavior. This project sought to give the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) information that could be used to design programs to reduce non-work related travel – in particular, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and single occupancy vehicle (SOV) use. The project’s goals were to:

  • Research the effectiveness of Global Action Plan’s (GAP) Household EcoTeam Program for reducing non-work related travel;
  • Identify complementary services that could enhance the neighborhood-based approach;
  • Document reductions in non-work related VMT and SOV use by participating households; and
  • Based on the findings, identify non-work related VMT/SOV reduction strategies that might have broader applicability for the general population.

Research Methodology

Staff from the Energy Office, Traffic Management, Water Bureau, Environmental Services, and Office of Neighborhood Involvement designed the survey in consultation with Global Action Plan. The objectives of the study were to:

  • Administer the EcoTeam Program to approximately 100 households in Portland and Bend
  • Design and distribute customized program materials to participants, emphasizing non-work VMT and SOV reduction
  • Design and administer pre- and post-program survey tools to all participating households
  • Compile and analyze the data and gather informal feedback from participants

Results

  • Sixty-four percent of participating households reported reductions in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and single occupancy vehicle (SOV) use. Fifty percent of participating households reported reductions in non-work related VMT and SOV.
  • Among households that reported VMT/SOV savings, the average non-work related VMT reduction was 4%.
  • Participating households reduced their non-work related VMT by a total of 38,494 miles per year1 (or an average of 356 miles per household per year).
  • Participating households reduced their non-work related SOV trips by a total of 3,888 trips per year2 (or an average of 36 SOV trips reduced per household per year).3
  • The carpool action was taken by 22% of all participants (35% of households that took action). The average non-work related VMT reduction from the carpool action was 94 miles per household per year. The average non-work related SOV reduction was 9.8 trips per household per year.
  • The trip-chaining action was taken by 26% of all participants (41% of households that took action). The average non-work related VMT reduction from the trip-chaining action was 184 miles per household per year. The average non-work related SOV reduction from the trip-chaining action was 12.4 trips per household per year.

1) It is assumed that participants continue their behavior change after the program is over. Annual savings are calculated by multiplying reported weekly savings by 48 weeks per year.

2) See footnote 1.

3) Because a number of participating households – primarily in Portland – did not submit the transportation tracker forms from which the SOV trip reductions were calculated, the SOV trip reductions reported are substantially underestimated. See footnote 10 for an explanation of the method used for calculating SOV trip reductions.

Recommendations

  • Pilot neighborhood-based carpool programs in Portland and Bend, organized around participants’ shared non-work related activities, such as sports leagues, shopping, entertainment, and health and fitness activities. Evaluate former EcoTeam participants’ ability to sustain their behavior changes in non-work related travel, using a post-program survey administered to former participants.
  • Develop ideas for a possible trip-chaining pilot project.
  • Based on the results, develop strategic plan for non-work related travel reduction throughout Oregon.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Overview

4

Major Findings

4

Study Design

4

    Definitions of SOV and VMT Reduction

5

Analysis of Research Results

5

    Pre- and Post-Program Survey Instruments (Tasks 1 and 2)

5

    Recruitment and Administration of EcoTeam Program to 100 Households
    (Tasks 3 and 4)

6

    Analysis of VMT and SOV Results (Task 5)

6

    Possible Complementary Service

11

Recommendations for Further Action

 

    Pilot a Neighborhood TMD Action: Carpool

11

    Evaluate Former Participants’ Ability to Sustain Behavior Change

11

    Develop Approaches for a Trip-Chaining Pilot Program

12

    Refine Program Materials

12

    Consider Wider Implementation Throughout Oregon

12

Appendix A (VMT/SOV Reduction Project: Recruitment and Administration)

13

Overview:

Statement of Problems and Research Objectives

Between 60 and 70 percent of single occupant vehicle travel (SOV) and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) are for non work-related purposes. Although there are a number of proven tools for changing work-related travel, few such tools exist for changing non work-related travel behavior, whether at peak or off-peak periods. Little research has been done on how to change non work-related travel behavior or on programs and services that are effective in changing that behavior.

The objectives of this research project were to:

  • Research the effectiveness of the neighborhood-based Household EcoTeam Program for reducing non work-related VMT/SOV
  • Identify opportunities for complementary services that can enhance the neighborhood-based approach
  • Through this approach, reduce non work-related VMT/SOV by participating households
  • Based on the research findings of this project, develop a long-term implementation strategy to reduce non-work related travel.

Major Findings

    1. With the aid of a neighborhood-based voluntary behavior change program, participating households reduced non-work related VMT by an average of at least 4% (among households that take VMT/SOV actions).
    2. The project achieved carpool and trip-chaining participation rates of 20%-25%. With a customized program that focused exclusively on one action, this participation rate might be increased.
    3. The data from this project seems to support the view that the neighborhood-based model is a transferable tool.

Study Design

An action research model was chosen to study non-work related VMT/SOV reduction. The research has been conducted in the context of on-going Sustainable Lifestyle Campaigns that GAP operates in Portland and Bend. This approach has several benefits:

  • It permits evaluation of existing VMT/SOV-reduction programs in two Oregon cities.
  • It gives researchers direct access to households that have shown an interest in taking actions that will reduce their environmental impact.
  • It offers an interactive feedback process with program participants to study the factors that can enhance or inhibit change in household travel behavior.

Because the Sustainable Lifestyle Campaign is based on a behavior change methodology, this approach is particularly useful for identifying factors that enhance or inhibit household behavior change.

Definitions: SOV and VMT Reduction

Single occupancy vehicle (SOV) trip is a trip taken by only one person in an automotive vehicle. An SOV trip reduction occurs when a trip that would otherwise have been made as an SOV trip is made using an alternative mode of transportation (e.g. carpool, trip-chain, bicycle, etc.).

Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) are the number of miles traveled in an automotive vehicle. VMT reduction occurs when a household reduces the number of miles traveled in an automotive vehicle over a particular period of time.

The following VMT- and SOV-reduction actions were included in this program:

  • Carpool – travel with two or more individuals sharing an automotive vehicle
  • Public Transit – travel by means of bus, train, light rail, or other government-sponsored means of transit
  • Walk, Bike, Jog, Skate – travel by means of walking, biking, jogging or skating, without an automotive vehicle
  • Trip chaining ("combining trips") – travel that combines in one trip two or more activities that otherwise would have been taken as separate trips
  • Telecommute – eliminating travel by performing an activity without leaving the home
  • Alternative Work Schedule – a work schedule that either reduces the number of days on which an individual travels to work (e.g. 4 days, 10 hrs/day) or reduces the number of trips taken during peak travel periods (e.g. 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. workday)

Analysis of Research Results

Pre- and Post-Program Survey Instruments (Tasks 1 and 2)

A total of 108 households (58 in Portland and 50 in Bend) participated in the study. All participating households received all program materials, including the Lifestyle Assessments (pre-program survey), the Result Forms (post-program survey), the Transportation Tracker, and local SOV/VMT reduction handouts distributed by the transportation topic leader or team coach. Copies of the pre- and post-program surveys and the transportation trackers are attached as Appendix B.

Ninety-five percent (55 HH) of households in Portland and 96% (48 HH) of households in Bend provided sufficient data to be included in the study. This provided ample resource savings data for the analysis.

Based on the actual use of the forms by participants, the pre- and post-program survey instruments appear to be well designed for calculating the extent of participants’ work-related and non-work related transportation actions. Based on how the majority of participants used the Transportation Trackers, these forms appear to be useful primarily as a motivational and awareness tool. Although some participants successfully used the trackers to calculate their SOV/VMT reduction, most participants appeared to use them primarily as motivators to encourage the next level of SOV/VMT reduction.

Recruitment and Administration of EcoTeam Program
to 100 Households (Tasks 3 & 4)

GAP recruited and administered the EcoTeam program to 58 households in Portland and 50 households in Bend. A description of the major activities involved in administering GAP’s Sustainable Lifestyle Program is attached as Appendix A. For the VMT/SOV reduction project, GAP made the following refinements to the basic program format:

  • Volunteers (coaches, team captains, topic leaders) receive specific training in methods to support participants in their VMT/SOV reduction activities, including tracking and calculating their resource savings.
  • Field staff, in consultation with GAP’s transportation partners, developed a wide assortment of VMT/SOV reduction informational materials (information on local programs, leisure activities that can be accessed by public transportation, safety advice about alternative transportation, etc.).
  • Greater emphasis was placed on distribution of VMT/SOV materials. Transportation topic leaders were encouraged to distribute these materials to all EcoTeam participants.

Analysis of VMT/SOV Results (Task 5)

Participation in VMT/SOV Actions

PORTLAND BEND AVERAGE
Sample size 58 HH* 50 HH 54 HH
% of households eligible for analysis7 95%
(55 HH)
96%
(48 HH)
95%
% of households that reported measurable VMT/SOV savings 69%
(40 HH)
58%
(29 HH)
64%
(69 HH)

* HH refers to households

7) Excluded from the analysis were participants who did not provide sufficient information to permit calculation of VMT/SOV reduction.

Total Non-Work Related VMT Reductions


PORTLAND BEND TOTAL
Total number of miles of non-work related VMT reduced, all participants 17,926 miles9 20,568 miles 38,494 miles
Average non-work VMT reduction per household, based on all participants 309 miles 411 miles 356 miles

Total Non-Work Related SOV Trip Reduction10

PORTLAND BEND TOTAL
Total number of non-work related SOV trips reduced, all participants 960 trips 2,928 trips
3,888 trips
Average number of non-work related SOV trips reduced per household, based on all participants 9 trips 27 trips 36 trips

Average Percentage Reductions in Non-Work Related VMT11
(among households that took VMT/SOV actions)

PORTLAND BEND TOTAL
4.6% (28 HH) 3.4% (26 HH)
4.0 (54 HH)

8) Although not directly relevant to this study, total VMT reductions (both work related and non-work related) were 48,686 miles in Portland and 37,704 miles in Bend, for a total of 86,390 miles saved on an annualized basis. This represents an average total VMT reduction of 800 miles per household per year, based on all participants.

9) VMT reductions are calculated on an annualized basis.

10) SOV trip reductions are calculated on an annualized basis. SOV trip reductions in this study were underestimated for a number of reasons. Because not all participants completed transportation trackers, we were unable to calculate SOV trip reduction for all households that reported taking SOV-reduction actions. In addition, we made conservative assumptions in calculating the number of SOV trips reduced. For each additional day per (typical) week that a household reported taking a particular action, we assumed that this represented one round-trip SOV reduction, even though there may have been a greater reduction. For example, for the trip-chaining action, we assumed that each additional day per week that trip-chaining action was taken represented an SOV reduction of one trip, even though the household might well have combined several activities that otherwise would have been taken as SOV trips.
11) The following chart shows the breakdown of total VMT savings, among households that took VMT/SOV action:

PERCENTAGE VMT REDUCTIONS PORTLAND BEND TOTAL
Average percentage reduction
in non-work related VMT
4.6%
(28 HH)
3.4%
(26 HH)
4.0%
(54 HH)
Average work-related VMT reduction 9.1%
(23 HH)
8.3%
(10 HH)
8.9%
(33 HH)
Average total VMT reduction
(work and non-work)
8.7%
(40 HH)
6.0%
(29 HH)
7.5%
(69 HH)

Awareness of City Sponsorship:

Respondents were asked if they could identify any of the local organizations that provided funding for the EcoTeam program. Approximately half (54%) correctly identified the City of Portland, and nearly one third (31%) named Tri-Met which provides free bus passes to participants. Also mentioned were Portland General Electric (19%) and Metro (13%), who do not provide funding.

Program Ratings:

Participants were asked to rate the EcoTeam program on a scale of one to five where five is excellent and one is poor. They were then asked to rate specific aspects of the program. The ratings revealed that most participants have positive feelings about the program, and they greatly value the experience with their neighbors.

Eighty-four percent of respondents gave the overall program a rating of four or five. When we add respondents who gave the program a median rating of three it brings the total up to 96.9%. When asked to suggest improvements, the answers were divided. Most people did not have a response (84.4%). The strongest response was the suggestion to reduce the amount of paperwork (6.2%). Each of the other four responses were given by a single person. These were to:

  • reach out to a broader audience
  • have more direction from staff
  • have less direction from staff, and
  • were concerned about "high cost of program; unsure the program works"

The program received average ratings of 4.0 or higher in each of the following areas: Usefulness of the EcoTeam Workbook, usefulness of the Topic Leader Guides (outlines for meetings) and, support from the EcoTeam coach. These are areas that are each unique to the program itself and reflect well on the design of EcoTeams.

Respondents gave an overwhelmingly high rating (an average of 4.7) to their "experience with other team members". The EcoTeam program provides a structure of support that seems to strongly support community-building at a neighborhood level. And, as is shown in later survey questions, can lead to increased participation in volunteer activities in the community once the program is complete.

When asked about the process of team recruitment, the average of the responses was 3.6, the lowest score in this section. The EcoTeam has made some notable improvements in this area (see section below).

Suggestions for improvement:

There were many excellent suggestions that were made by respondents for ways to improve the program. Many of these are already being incorporated in subsequent rounds of EcoTeams in Portland. To summarize some highlights:

"Reduce amount of paperwork": The EcoTeam home office is currently modifying its assessment tools to be both more user-friendly and compact. This will significantly reduce the need for paper. Participants are also encouraged to send their Topic Leader Guides (outlines for meetings) back to the office for re-use.

"Coach should play a bigger role": It is interesting to note that coaches have begun to express this same desire. As more and more coaches are actually coaching in their own neighborhoods, they they want to spend more time with their teams and deepen those relationships. The EcoTeam staff are encouraging coaches to drop in on their teams for a few minutes at every other meeting, so they are better able to support their teams and build strong connections with their neighbors.

"More support from the staff or their team in the replication process": This part of the program is getting some very focused attention. The Portland campaign is in the midst of developing a new level of volunteer leadership that will specifically be trained to support teams in their inviting process by actually going out on the walks with them. These volunteers will also be the focalizing point in their neighborhoods for all advanced EcoTeam activity that happens once a team finishes the basic program. They will also integrate efforts between EcoTeams in their neighborhood for efforts that require cooperation from larger groups.

It is interesting to note that in the section that has to do with connecting with your neighbors (which got the highest average rating of 4.7) not a single suggestion was offered for how to improve that part of the program!

Local information:

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) said they wanted more information on local environmental issues to help them take the actions in the EcoTeam workbook. Recycling was the most common type of local information requested, but many respondents could not identify other specific types of information that would also have been useful.

Since the time that the survey participants went through the program, the staff in Portland, with assistance from the Partners, have made some significant improvements to the system for providing local resources to EcoTeam members. They have compiled an impressive collection of over 100 brochures, booklets and kits, provided by the partners, to support EcoTeam participants in living more resource-efficient lifestyles. These materials are available for free, at the EcoTeam office and arranged, by topic, in a 96 slot mail-sorter. Participants are encouraged to come and select the materials they'd like to share with team members. This way people can customize their message to their neighborhood's concerns and it minimizes wastage of unwanted brochures and information. Also partners and other local agencies have more direct and pertinent ways to reach the public.

Missed meetings:

A majority of respondents missed no meetings (59.4%); and no one reported missing more than one meeting.

Interaction with neighbors:

Almost everyone interviewed (93.8%) said they now have more interaction with their neighbors . This includes general on-street interactions such as chatting (28.1%) but people also report deeper connections such as picnics/potlucks (9.4%), sharing items / materials (18.8%), sharing ideas (12.5%) and carpooling (6.3%). This speaks well for the community-building aspects of the program as most participants (62%) reported they knew none or only one of the team members well prior to joining the team.

Interest in Continued EcoTeam Involvement:

Since the conclusion of the program, nearly one-third of the teams have gotten together again for parties, dinners, or discussions. Participants were asked whether they would be interested in attending occasional team meetings on a number of specific topics. All participants expressed interest in at least one topic, and most had several interests. The most popular meeting topic was natural gardening.

Percentage who are interested in EcoTeam meeting on this topic:

Natural gardening

75%

Neighborhood traffic

72%

Bike lanes in your neighborhood

69%

Planning for sustainable neighborhoods

69%

Global warming

63%

Reducing crime

59%

Regional solutions for housing and
transportation problems

59%

Endangered salmon and steelhead

44%

Sharing rides with people in your neighborhood

31%

Other

31%

During this portion of the interview, some participants expressed a concern that they might be pressured to set up additional meetings and wanted to know what format the new meetings would take. Many emphasized the importance of working with existing programs and nonprofit groups that deal with the specific topic areas, rather than creating something new. These considerations should be incorporated in any future program designs.

Perceived Impacts of the Program:

Respondents were asked whether the EcoTeam program has had an "ongoing impact on your daily actions and decisions that affect the environment"; the majority (84%) said it had. They most commonly identified energy and water conservation as the most important changes they had made. The table below lists responses mentioned by at least two people (6% of the respondents).

Percentage specifying area of most important change:

Conserving water

38%

Conserving electricity

38%

Recycling more

25%

Avoiding excess packaging

22%

Composting

19%

Using Tri-Met

13%

Weatherizing/insulating

13%

Reducing garbage

9%

Reducing junk mail

9%

More aware of transit issues

9%

Reducing car trips

6%

Down to single car household

6%

Other

13%

Approximately three quarters of respondents (78%) said they had shared what they learned in the program with friends, neighbors, or co-workers who were not on their EcoTeam. Approximately one quarter of respondents (28%) felt they had increased their volunteer activities as a result of their EcoTeam participation, primarily referring to their volunteer work as EcoTeam coaches.

Involvement Prior to EcoTeam Participation:

Many EcoTeam participants were involved in environmental and neighborhood affairs prior to participating in the program. One quarter were not involved with these networks.
Percentages

Not involved with any environmental organizations
as a contributor, member or volunteer

34%

Never attended a neighborhood association meeting

53%

Involved with neither environmental organizations
nor environmental groups

25%

In a future survey it would be useful to distinguish the percentage of participants who were not involved as volunteers with environmental organizations prior to being on a team. When volunteers are included in the same category as people who contribute financially or as a member, it is impossible to track the specific rise in civic activity that being on an EcoTeam inspires.

Conclusion:

The objectives of this survey were clearly met. The questions asked in this survey provide a comprehensive look at the ways the EcoTeam program is perceived by its participants. The questions about volunteerism give a more detailed look into the population that is attracted to and participating. The questions about the impact of the program show that even six months after people have completed the program, they are still retaining, and in some cases furthering their actions to use resources more efficiently and are deepening relationships with their neighbors.

And as Linda Dobson, Assistant to the Director of Environmental Services said in her summary comments: "The report notes that the experience of working together as a neighborhood team was a very positive one. The respondents gave the program (content) itself, a similarly high approval rating, where 84% graded the program good to excellent. Although there is always room for improvement, the rating indicates a high level of satisfaction."