Why Do Commuters Choose Cars?

Driving Through Traffic: The Car Effect

Everyone that I know hates driving in traffic. Most people claim that they wish that there were ways to avoid traffic, but everyday we get into our cars and drive the same familiar clogged routes to and from work. It may seem that this is the only option, but in many cases this is not true. A study has recently uncovered the "car effect" which shows that people tend to take cars over public transit even when it is less efficient and more expensive to do so. 

This chart may at first seem difficult to understand, but it is the result of a car vs. metro decision study. The graph oh the left shows the percentage of commuters who chose a car each day. The two lines through the graph represent different levels of traffic. Traffic becomes "annoying" at the lower line and "unbearable" at the upper dotted line, depending on how many people are in their cars. The chart on the left shows the cost each day of taking the car vs. taking the metro. In general, cars were more expensive due to traffic gas costs.

Applying this to Boston

I am not familiar with the public transportation options available in all cities across the country, but I can speak to Boston. If you ever need to get into the city at rush hour, you will notice that no matter what highway you are on, I-90, I-93, I-95 or I-495, you will be stuck in traffic unless you leave your house before 6 A.M. Here is a map so you can visualize the structure of the highways in and around the city. As you can see, only I-90 and I-93 even head directly into the city, but all four of the routes that I mentioned are extremely congested.

The second map that I have added is a map of current traffic in the city; by now rush hour is over and you will see that there is still extreme congestion. Without traffic it would take me 45 minutes to get downtown, but if I were to leave at 7:30 it would take me until 9:00.

So why do Boston commuters put up with this rush every day? They don't need to. The reason that I wanted to focus on Boston is that the city has an impressive network of subway stops and commuter rail stations. This following map shows the entire commuter rail and subway network together; you will see that the stops listed stretch even beyond I-495 all the way to Worcester and Providence, typically accepted as the furthest typical daily commute locations.

Coming to and from Boston, commuters in almost any town have the option of taking the train to and from work. A recent study on Boston indicated that a 1% decrease in road traffic would lead to an 18% decrease in traffic congestion time in the city. This is huge, if there were just a 1% increase in train traffic, commutes for those who did choose to drive would become much more manageable. Not to mention that when you choose to take a train, you will usually save money; no need to worry about tolls, gas or parking costs in the city. Some people even can start their day early and work on the train. To me, this seems like the perfect solution.