Drivers Buffeted By Recession, IBM “Commuter Pain” Survey Shows

The second annual IBM Commuter Pain survey released today indicates that the recession is taking its toll on urban motorists, who have become significantly more sensitive to gas prices and are looking for ways to spend more time with family and friends.

The survey results portray the American commuter as re-evaluating the time spent getting to and from work. Frustration levels are rising — 45% identify start-stop traffic as the most frustrating part of the commute (up from 37% last year), and 32% identify aggressive/rude drivers (up from 24% last year).


If commuting time could be reduced, 52% would spend it with family/friends – nine points higher than 2008; 37% (6 points higher than 2008) would exercise more.

And drivers are more sensitive to the price of gas. This year, 20% said that $3.50/gallon gas would lead them to seriously consider alternatives to driving alone, in 2008, it was 9% at that price level.

“Conducted at a time of great change in the United States, the Commuter Pain survey clearly demonstrates the vast impact that commuting and traffic congestion have on our economy,” said Anne Altman, general manager of IBM’s global public sector. “The time has come for cities and states to embrace real, long-term solutions that unclog our nation’s roadways.”

IBM Commuter Pain Survey – Key Findings

  • Analysis of the survey results indicated a number of key findings related to how traffic impacts commuters:
    55% say they are unlikely or very unlikely to make a driving trip of more than 50 miles from home over Labor Day Weekend.
  • 34% report that they have decided not to make a driving trip in the last month due to anticipated traffic – the same percentage as last year.  These decisions have a major economic impact, as the reported destinations of these cancelled driving trips are:  25% recreation, 25% shopping, 16% entertainment, 9% eating out, 8% work, and 6% vacation.
  • More than one-fifth (21%) of daily commuters say the recession has made them change the way they get to work, with 17% of drivers in this category carpooling more frequently, 30% increasing the number of days they work from home, and 26% taking public transportation more often.
  • At the same time, lower gas prices this year have caused 23% of respondents to alter their commuting habits in a different way, with 19% of this group carpooling less now, 19% taking public transportation less often, and 17% working less often from home.
  • 27% think accurate and timely road condition information would help reduce travel stress – four points higher than last year.
  • 86% say they have been stuck in roadway traffic in the last three years. The average delay is one hour. The reported trouble spots for traffic congestion remain very similar to last year, for example, I-95 in both Miami and Washington, DC, as well as the Beltway/495 in DC.
  • Only 3% of the survey respondents think roadway traffic has improved substantially, and no city in the study is significantly above that score.

IBM Commuter Pain Index

IBM has compiled the results of the survey into an Index that ranks the emotional and economic toll of commuting in each city on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most onerous. Here’s how the cities stack up:

The Commuter Pain Survey was conducted by IBM to better understand consumer thinking toward traffic congestion as the issue reaches crisis proportions nationwide and higher levels of auto emissions stir environmental concerns. These events are impacting communities in the U.S. and abroad, where governments, citizens and private sector organizations are looking beyond traditional remedies like additional roads and greater access to public transportation to reverse the negative impacts of increased road congestion.

IBM is actively working in the area of ‘Smarter Transportation’ using a team of 150 scientists and a group of IT services professionals to research, test and deploy new traffic information management capabilities in cities such as Brisbane, London, Singapore and Stockholm. Findings from the Commuter Pain Survey will be used to assess citizen concerns about traffic and commuter issues; expand solutions like automated tolling, real-time traffic prediction, congestion charging, and intelligent route planning; and serve as a basis for pioneering innovative new approaches to traffic mitigation.

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