S1E3: MORE Through TDM Act

May 5, 2021

Andy Keeton

VP Global Strategy

Between the Lines S1E3: MORE Through TDM Act

with Rob Henry


Why will the MORE Through TDM Act save the planet?

Join us for this week's episode of Between the Lines, as we speak with Rob Henry, Founder, CEO, & President of The 82 Alliance and Chair of ACT's Public Policy Committee, about the first-of-its-kind pending federal legislation that would have a huge impact on the TDM space.

And check out Rob's favorite commuting songs on our exclusive commuter playlists on Spotify.

  • Immigrant Song - Led Zeppelin

  • Gloria (Live) - U2

  • Movie Star - Cracker

  • Highway Tune - Greta Van Fleet

  • Come & Go - Juice WRLD & Marshmello

  • Can't Hold Us - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

  • Rearviewmirror - Pearl Jam


Episode Transcript:

-(Voiceover) Commutifi presents between the lines with Andy Keeton. Each week we explore the challenging issues, transportation demand, management professional's face on their journey to transition commuters from driving alone to more sustainable, shared and active commuting habits. Be sure to subscribe to hear next week's episode and check out our exclusive commuter playlist on Spotify. This is Between the Lines with Andy Keeton.

-(Andy Keeton) Everyone, thanks for being on board with us today. This episode we're talking with Rob Henry. Rob is the public policy chair for the Association for Commuter Transportation, which is the premier TDM organization in the United States. Rob's also the founder, CEO and president of the 82 Alliance, a not-for-profit mobility think tank that focuses on reimagining how we move our cities, towns and people. And he's the CEO of Communities in Motion, the executive director of GVFTMA and the immediate past president of ACT. Rob's an expert in Transportation Demand Management or TDM, and he has presented on TDM projects throughout the United States. I mean, I think it goes without question here. We're really excited to have Rob on today to talk a bit about TDM and more specifically, why the MORE Through TDM Act is going to save the planet? Rob, thanks for being on.

-(Rob Henry) Thanks, Andy. Thanks for having me.

-(Andy Keeton) Of course so, I'm just going to start off here. I think some listeners probably have heard of the more through TDM ACT. Maybe some haven't. Can you just kind of high-level talk to me a bit about what the more through TDM ACT is, maybe even generally TDM in generally? Why is all of this important to us?

-(Rob Henry) Sure. So I think during the pandemic, you got to see how everybody used TDM. You know, work in chrome, riding their bike, walking, essential workers got to transit. So it was a great, not a great example, but an example. You can help wrongs are not a horrible time. But you got to see what it can do when we have a normal kind of time. So the more through TDM ACT, basically what we found out from talking to colleagues in Washington was, you know, where there's all these wonderful TDM programs across the US. But they don't have a formal definition for it. So it kind of gets siloed in all different places and misunderstood. So we worked with them and they said, "If we come up with a formal definition that will help big time." So that's what we did. So we come up with a mission. We just introduced the Act, it's got a lot of money attached to it. There's research that was part of it, which is kind of how USDOT makes decisions sometimes as they need data and research to back that up here, there's committees that will be formed inside of it.

-(Andy Keeton) Interesting. OK, so, yeah. There's a lot here, actually, and that was a really good overview of this. And let's start with the first thing you talked about. So, you know, for all our listeners here, I'm on the public policy committee here that Rob is the chair. I've so been involved with kind of reading through the legislation and talking with members of Congress myself. I think it's really interesting. I'm really excited about it. And one of those things, the first thing you talked about is defining TDM. And so this is really finally legitimizing TDM on the federal level. It's kind of giving us an understanding of what it actually is so that then programs can be formed, funding can be pushed to the right things. So what is the importance of defining terms like TDM? What a TDM strategy looks like or even what a TMA looks like? What is the importance of doing that?

-(Rob Henry) So without, so there's the federal code where they define all the transportation terms so, not being in their means that it's up to, however, it's interpreted. So each state, each person decides what their definition is. And so while State A can say, "Hey, this is great, we're doing TDM, we fund this." State B says, "No, that's not TDM under our interpretation." This kind of chaotic, fragmented process across the country. So when we would approach USDOT about certain ideas or concepts, I'd say that's great, we support it, but we can't fund it because it doesn't fit into our process. So we need that definition. So this would create a formal definition for TDM that would then our hope is then open up additional funding and kind of streamline how to do that across the US. And it makes it easier for people that are trying to do projects so that there's kind of an apples-to-apples comparison when you're going in and you don't have to recreate it every single time. So that's a big, that's a game changer. If we get the definition into that federal code, that opens up TDM to all kinds of possibilities.

-(Andy Keeton) And this is the funny thing for people not in kind of the public policy space and in that particular area and kind of the private space. You don't even touch this stuff on a normal basis. You don't necessarily think, there's not a definition. Why just defining? It's important, but I think you put it perfectly Rob. It is going to help all of us in this field, whether we're new to TDM and trying to figure out what it is. We have a definition now or if we've been doing it forever. We're in a city. We're in a state that's been doing it. Well, finally now, we can make sure that we're doing the same thing that everyone else is doing, that the federal government understands what we're doing. And then the nice thing here, I think this is what everyone's going to be excited about, funneling more money into these programs and making sure they actually go to the TDM programs that we all care about. So let's just jump to that. Can you tell me a bit more about what is the funding? What does that look like? What kind of funding are we looking for?

-(Rob Henry) In our history, at least with ACT and TDM, we've never really asked for any money for our programs. And so we've done a lot of this kind of bottom-up approach where we go to cities and towns and MPOS and DOTs and ask and then we hit all kinds of walls and barriers. So what we've decided with ACT is to ask for a five-year grant program through USDOT. So you would have to follow the definition, but it be 1.25 billion dollars. So we'll go from zero dedicated money at the federal level to all of a sudden 1.25 billion. And we feel that will be enough time to say, look at all these great projects that are able to be achieved through this funding. And that should hopefully lead to additional funding, new funding, new creative funding over time.

-(Andy Keeton) Yeah, that's huge! I mean, 1.25 billion dollars. I mean, that's a big jump up from zero. And I know I mean, I know from my own work as well that it's hard right now to get the funding for the TDM programs that you want. Like you said, it doesn't fit quite into the right kind of funding sources that currently exist. So being able to push new money into this particular space is huge. And it's going to, I think it's going to benefit us a lot. Can you talk to me a bit about what? I mean, I think at the beginning, you kind of talked about TDM, but for people who may be TDM's a little bit new to them or just try to figure out exactly if their programs fit in this. What's an example of a program that maybe wouldn't have been funded before, that could now be funded? What kind of program that is really targeted for this funding?

-(Rob Henry) But basically, an example would be, you want to do a behavior change project. And you go in and the MPO says that's not an eligible funding strategy because we can't figure out how to fund that. Federal Highway says no. Well, if no one knows what the alternatives are, how do you expect them to be aware of what options are out there? So it's like kind of chicken and egg. Sometimes so, by and that provides equity too because there are...It's that not one-size-fits-all approach. So there are communities that have great public transit and there's communities that don't have great public transit. So maybe bikes work or trails work or carpool or van pool. It's trying to figure out what works so that people have an option versus just driving a car alone, and not knowing. And that's one of the things we all often find in here. I have no idea how to go about this process. How do I find this information? It's too overwhelming. A transit map is too confusing for me. I don't understand how to pay for any bike. I don't understand. There's two different apps and so it's just working through. And that's kind of be that behavior change science, which isn't a hard, fast physical infrastructure project, is what we think. That will be something that would be eligible and much easier to do under this legislation.

-(Andy Keeton) Sure, so yeah. Our listeners have been listening since the first week here. We talked with Joey Sherlock about behavioral TDM and this exact idea about how we can use behavioral science, behavioral economics, human-centered design and create programs and projects that can actually get people out of their cars. And so if you're thinking, well, that sounds great, but how am I actually going to do that? Well, here's your answer to the more through TDM ACT. Hopefully, there actually be some money that can actually push you or provide that option for you to use it. So we're talking education for commuters. We're talking information and just actually putting in place those programs that create that behavior change, which is really important. Obviously, I think we all know that it's really an important network. That's the whole goal here, trying to get people out of their cars. And I think the more through TDM ACT is a good, huge step in that direction to do that. So, is this funding for, you know, cities? Is it for TMAs? Who can leverage this funding? How is that kind of getting into the weeds a bit here? But I think it might be useful. Who which of our listeners are actually going to be able to take advantage of this?

-(Rob Henry) So that's kind of the process. So in order to have, I guess, the federal government understands how to process it, we had to mirror something. So there's the current grant program called Congestion Mitigation Air Quality, which is CMAQ, which a lot of TDM projects are funded, but sometimes very challenging under that. But not every area of the country is eligible for CMAQ money. So it basically would be a process where they would create a committee at USDOT that would figure out how to tell the states that they're going to spend this money. And then the states have to create a committee to then tell their local MPOS and RPOS how to spend this money. And then they'll be able to put out the applications. And then as long as you are, I imagine what they would do is like a call for the programs that people would submit ideas and concepts and it will be a little different. And that's what we're trying to formalize of that process. So it's consistent across the US and not State A does the state B does this and kind of create Wild West and we don't know what's getting funded.

-(Andy Keeton) Yeah, and that's... I think that's the theme throughout this whole entire thing is just creating that consistency. TDM is this new field. I mean relatively new particularly in transportation and trying to get it off the ground. Nationwide requires us to define what it means, requires us to have a standard set of procedures in place to get this funding. No matter which state you're in, it's the same thing. So I think that's obviously very useful. The other thing that really stuck out to me when I was looking through this. I think sounds really interesting, is the idea of putting into place some new programs, not just funding, but this is putting together. You talked about kind of this national advisory committee, but also state advisory committees and a new university transportation center for research. What is the benefit there? We don't have to talk about the specifics of how that actually gets put together unless you want to. But I mean, I think it's more. What is the benefit there? Why is it important to us that these things are not going to be put in place?

-(Rob Henry) So right now, we don't have any...There's research done, but it's kind of a little fragmented. It's university and may do some universities. So we don't have that clearly defined. We're going to say this is great TDM. This is great research. We're going to study those programs to make sure that they were effective in the dollars were actually, there was a return on that investment. So and that's a lot of times what we'll find. So you submit a grant, either it's a DOT or an MPO and they'll say, well, where's the data to back this up that's validated by you?

-(Andy Keeton) Yeah.

-(Rob Henry) And we're in that constant Push-Pull, of like, well, we don't, there's not any real. We can't pull any research. We can tell you and show you examples, but it's not, say certified by USDOT. There is some, so the goal would be to broaden that and open that up and really further enhance that research opportunity. And then those state kind of agencies and the federal agency would kind of be the arbitrary bodies to make sure that this is going on, that they're saying, hey, this has to happen in order to get the funding, you need to make sure you're checking these boxes. Because what we also want to do with this is there's a lot of bad examples of TDM across the United States. For example, well, I had a community that I was working with and they thought TDM was throughput. So how many cars can we get through intersections was deep? And we're like, that's not TDM. They're still in their car. We want them out of their car, pushing more throughput through it. That doesn't really accomplish anything for us. Maybe your lower emissions a little bit but really, you're not changing any habits or anything else. So it's that's where we have to get that standard and we need the research to show. This is bad, this is the things we should not be doing. And here are the great things that we can be doing and kind of do that. But we need the seed money. So it's kind of chicken and egg. We need the seed money in order to fund programs. We need the research to complement it, and then they all kinds of work together.

-(Andy Keeton) Yeah, and that's maybe the beauty, the real beauty behind this is more through TDM actors that it does all of it. You got the money. You got the University Research Center and you've got the system and infrastructure in place to make sure people are doing the right programs. So we're not using our funding on throughput, but obviously maybe still an important thing, but not in the TDM space. We can find, we can make sure that the funding is going the right way. So once again, getting back to that consistency, making sure that we're really pushing the right TDM programs, who are using this funding to do programs that, you know, cause this is beneficial behavior change, get people out of cars and back it up with research so that we can keep doing it and keep doing it. And hopefully, you know, as we move forward TDM continues to grow. And this is just the start of that. So, you know, we like to keep this podcast short, and there's a lot here to more through TDM and obviously TDM in general. But I think this is a really good overview of what this act would do. Now, this act hasn't been passed. It's been introduced. Is that right, it's been introduced in the House?

-(Rob Henry) Yes.

-(Andy Keeton) And so what does it mean? I'm a listener here. I want to figure out how can I actually help make this actually exist? What can I do to help kind of push through the act and actually make it a law?

-(Rob Henry) Sure. So we're doing a couple of things. In order to help, you can contact your local representative. So you're a member of Congress, whoever that may be, and basically, explain to them and tell your story about why your commute matters, what you do, why does it matter? Why does it matter? You know, from the environment, from an equity standpoint to you, we were able to get TDM in the House, select Climate Report. So, that was a big accomplishment last year. So building on that and so share what you're doing, contact that representative. And some people work for companies and they're like, well, I'm not allowed to advocate. So, OK, so what we're asking to do is we have a TDM, we share that story. What are you doing? How do you measure your programs if you're doing programs? If you're just a person that works at a company and rides a bike every day, you contact your local representative and say, "Hey, this ACT would help further my commute and the way I like to commute and further enhance the planet and everything else that goes with it.

-(Andy Keeton) And so, you know, for our listeners here, people watching us on our video. By the time you see this, it's going to be next week, is TDM Week, and you can find more information about that. We'll put the links and information in our post on our site, but we'll also find more information at the ACT website. I'm assuming actwebs.org and I think that's a good idea. It really just kind of get your story out there. I reached out and contacted a couple of members of Congress to my personal representative. And then I also worked with my boss to help send something out to his representative and just saying, you know, this is why TDM is important to us. And this is the kind of stuff we're working on and the benefit we see and why we think this particular act, more through TDM is going to cause a lot of, you know, give a lot of benefits to back to the state and obviously to the country as well. But if you can't do that, you don't feel comfortable doing that. That's where TDM week is for. You just post on social media. You can kind of just get the word out there, that TDM is important. And then the more people see that the more. Our representatives are going to want to jump on board of this ACT. Well, I mean, I think I'm really excited. I think the more through TDM ACT has a lot of potential here. Obviously, TDM is what we talk about on this show. TDM is a key solution moving forward to helping save the environment, save our planet. But also, as we've talked about with other guests and we'll keep talking about throughout the show. It helps save money. It helps save people time needs. It's better health. There's so many benefits here and the more through TDM is finally something here that can help us follow money into these programs, help us better standardize these programs. I'm really excited about it. That's in my words. I want to throw it over to you. You've been working on this with folks in Washington who just summarize this for everyone. Why is the more through TDM ACT going to save the planet? Why is it so important?

-(Rob Henry) One of the interesting aspects of the pandemic is that everybody's behavior was changed. So we have that once in a century, once in a generation opportunity to do a reset. We know things haven't been working with the planet. We know things have been working with sustainability and climate. So this is our chance to take a piece of legislation and it offers everyone a choice. So whether you live in a rural community or an urban community or a suburban community, it doesn't matter. All it is saying, hey, you know, you've got to see if you couldn't walk to your grocery store during this time or you wanted to take the trails, but you didn't have a connection. Or you wanted to use the latest technology, but it wasn't synced or your transit agency you didn't have the coolest tech. There's all these things, so it's about choices, it's about equity. And we really feel that. By doing that and encouraging people to do all these alternative modes, you're going to save this planet because commuting is the number one source of mission. So we can lower that. It's a massive game-changer and we can really have the plan that we want and enjoy it for many generations to come.

-(Andy Keeton) Yeah, that's well said. This is why we have you on. Expert in TDM, I like, I always like talking with you. And I think, you know, if you're listening to this, it takes some time to think about why TDM is important to you. And next week, during TDM week, make a post, talk to a member of Congress, just start getting the word out, because I think you put it really well Rob. So that's it for the main part of our episode, Like we always do every week, we end off with a little bit of fun, just in case you haven't quite made it to work and you want to listen to some music. We've got a nice playlist on Spotify, a lot of favorite songs from our guests. So, Rob, we'd love to have you add a song or more to our playlist. What are you listening to? What do you want to add on there?

-(Rob Henry) I would add two, the immigrant song by Led Zeppelin, Love Wakes Me Up, gets me going and then same thing, Rearviewmirror from Pearl Jam. I think about just going and that can be a bike mirror, a transit mirror, any type of mirror. It doesn't have to be a car. Yeah, I just like songs that just start the day and just go jump into it and be ready.

-(Andy Keeton) Perfect. I like to have both those songs are great and yeah, to get you pumped up for the day. I think that's good. All right, well, Rob, thanks for being on today with us. As always, everyone check out our website betweenthelines.io to learn more, to subscribe, and share this with everyone. I like getting the word out there about TDM and particularly this episode, MORE Through TDM. Share with all your friends to learn more about this important act. Rob, thanks for being on today.

-(Rob Henry) Thanks, Andy.

-(Andy Keeton) Alright, bye everyone! Thanks for joining us on this week's episode of Between the Lines with Andy Keeton. Be sure to subscribe to hear next week's episode and check out our exclusive commuter playlist on Spotify.

Better commuting starts here.

Better commuting starts here.

Better commuting starts here.