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Stressed commuters turning to public transit, tech

IBM commuter survey finds unhappy commuters are showing more interest in public transit and tech tools to reduce traffic congestion.


If you're getting stressed-out by your commute, you're not alone, according to an IBM survey which found more people amenable to using public transit and technology to improve their daily transportation.

IBM today published the results from its annual commuter sentiment study which found the transportation infrastructure is improving but "commuter pain" is increasing.

Why the paradox? IBM's Vinodh Swaminathan, director of business development at IBM's Intelligent Transportation Systems, says that even if there are incremental improvements to the transportation system, a lousy commute is still a lousy commute.

"If you cut someone's commute from two hours and ten minutes to two hours, it's still frustrating," he said. "We are seeing many more people attributing the pain of a daily commute to health--not just smoke and smog, but also mental health."

Commuter unhappiness is one reason IBM attributes to consumers turning to public transportation. Forty one percent of people surveyed in 20 cities around the world believed that public transportation would reduce traffic congestion. Of the 35 percent of people who changed their commuting mode last year, 45 percent are going for public transportation.

Cities can justify spending on improving transportation for both economic and environmental benefits. Reducing congestion by 10 percent typically leads to a three percent in productivity and a two percent increase in economic output, according to Swaminathan. A program to reduce car congestion in Stockholm lowered carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent.

For drivers, IBM is experimenting with applications that allow commuters to better chose their commute. In a test in northern California, drivers volunteer to have their driving patterns tracked for a few weeks. A software application looks at daily traffic patterns and contacts a driver by email or text in the morning what problems they are likely to face and suggest alternative routes.

IBM's interest in transportation is designing technology systems for clients, notably municipalities and public transit authorities. For the most part, the transportation infrastructure of roadways and rail systems is sufficiently instrumented to gather information. The challenge is to analyze and make sense of the data for both transportation officials and commuters Swaminathan.

"There's a lot more that can be done beyond what's already in play. And it's critical to improve the transportation infrastructure--the number of cars is increasing and lot more needs to be done about traffic situations," he said.