The 2016 Texas Transportation Poll (TTP) contains a wealth of information about Texans’ attitudes about transportation, and for the first time we can begin to see how those attitudes and behaviors are changing. The 2016 findings offer both consistencies and contrasts to the inaugural poll, which was fielded in 2014. The data from both polls are available for further analysis at http://policy.tti.tamu.edu/texas-transportation-poll/.
In preparation for a panel on “The Future of Urban Mobility” at the Texas Tribune Transportation Symposium, I asked Chris Simek, the principal investigator for the TTP, to drill down into the data that are specific to our state’s five largest cities: Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and Fort Worth. These five cities are the economic engine for the state, holding 68% of Texas jobs representing 73% of the state’s income.[i]
For the 2016 transportation poll, the personal automobile continues to be the primary mode for 91% of those surveyed from our largest cities, which is two percentage points higher than our last survey two years ago. We attribute this increase to the decline in fuel prices. Texans find their personal cars to be the best option for trip-making despite 83% experiencing congestion while traveling in their metropolitan region.
The high level of personal auto use becomes problematic when you consider that the Texas State demographer projects the state’s population will double by 2050[ii], with much of this population growth happening in the five major cities. That growth will not be solely concentrated in urban centers: a significant amount will emanate from outlying suburban counties surrounding these large urban counties. When you couple the demographer’s projection with the reliance on personal automobiles that will be likely under this suburban growth scenario, it’s hard to envision a future in which we can add enough roadway lanes to support reasonable trip time.
Although the TTP tells us Texans may not be interested in abandoning their cars, we do see that city residents are taking action to combat congestion — flexible work hours/telecommuting is up since 2014, from 27% to 34%, and the percentage of people who say they made a residential choice to avoid congestion rose from 21% to 31% in our largest cities over the two-year period. The poll also showed that city residents are using their smart phones to make informed travel decisions: the percent of city travelers accessing technology-enabled information on their phones rose from 54% to 75% in the last two years.
It’s clear that the growth trajectory we are on poses challenges for the economic vitality of the state as well as the quality of life for Texans. Nevertheless, the challenges foreshadowed by this trajectory could very well spur creativity and ingenuity in the ways we address congestion. We are already beginning to see innovative ideas and demonstrations forming around new transportation service business models in Texas cities, multi-modal options, emerging partnerships and collaborations, and rapidly developing transportation-enabling technologies. Given the preferences of its residents, perhaps we will see a future set of congestion solutions that is unique to Texas.
Next up: what does the TTP tell us about rural travel? Our next post will dive into the data on traveler perceptions from Texas’ small urban and rural communities.
Ginger Goodin, P.E. is a Senior Research Engineer and the Director of TTI’s Transportation Policy Research Center.
[i] Gilmer, Robert W. and Redus, Samuel. Texas Triangle: Economic Engine of the Southwest. Publication 2091. Real Estate Center, Texas A&M University. February 2015. https://assets.recenter.tamu.edu/documents/articles/2091.pdf Accessed November 7, 2016. [ii] Potter, Lloyd. Texas Population Projections 2010 to 2050. Office of State Demographer. November 2014. http://demographics.texas.gov/Resources/Publications/2014/2014-11_ProjectionBrief.pdf Accessed November 7, 2016.