Are We Individuals or Sheeple? The Carrot and the Stick Theory


Are We Individuals or Sheeple? The Carrot and the Stick Theory

I had a nice chat the other day with David Straus, Executive Director of ACT, the Association for Commuter Transportation. According to its website it’s an organization that works with the government to make commuter transportation less focused on single occupancy vehicles through Transportation Demand Management. Fair enough.

Reading through its website I was struck by the focus on statistics, organization, lobbying, and in the end, making the world a “greener” place. Here is a quote from the Federal Highway Administration, which seems to be their definition of Transportation Demand Management:

 “a set of strategies aimed at reducing the demand for roadway travel, particularly in single occupancy vehicles. These strategies address a wide range of externalities associated with driving, including congestion, poor air quality, less livable communities, reduced public health, dependence on oil, reduced environmental health, and climate change and GHG emissions. Some TDM strategies are designed to reduce total travel demand, while others are designed to reduce peak period demand, which may disproportionately contribute to these externalities.”

I want to go on record that I have no problem with all this, but I wonder at the way we as a country are attempting to install TDM. We seem to be mandating ways to “reduce, change, and alter” personal activity to reach laudable goals.


Now there is a recall under way, people are fighting,
and my guess is that soon
the street will be returned
to its original state. 


In my experience, personal activity is changed when individuals can see that THEY are positively affected by the change. Unfortunately, most of us are self-serving (not a bad thing) and even when we wrap ourselves in wonderful goals, we end up looking inward.

Take my neighbor down the street – he and his family own a Tesla and a Mercedes Hybrid. They collect rainwater, have xeriscaped their garden, have a solar array on their roof, and live I’m sure, a green life. However, they also own the biggest, gas guzzling GMC Monster SUV known to man. What about my friends on another block who own a Tesla and a Porsche Panamera? They told me that they wanted to be sure they could get around if the electric grid went down. I think both families are reasonable. And not the slightest bit hypocritical. But they are self-serving. I will sacrifice to save the planet, but only so far.

What if we approached TDM not from a “stick” approach but from a “carrot” direction? How does riding a bus or carpooling or taking the train or walking make my life easier and better as an individual? Are we focusing on better service, better and cleaner buses and trains, on the camaraderie we might have if we rode to work each day with a friend? Or are we focusing on forcing people into a one size fits all result?

When in its infinite wisdom, the city of LA changed Venice Boulevard outside my home from three lanes to two and installed protected bike lanes and half a dozen additional traffic lights in a three-block area over the objection of residents and merchants, chaos ensued. Traffic is slowed at peak hours, the people who want to park on street and visit the merchants go elsewhere, the few bicyclists are happy, but they are in the minority. Traffic has been forced off the main thoroughfare into surrounding neighborhoods rendering them congested and unsafe. The list goes on.

If the city had begun the project from a consumer point of view, providing a better experience for all in the area rather than focusing on the goal of removing cars from the streets, is it just possible that the merchants and residents would have participated and been happy and maybe, just maybe, the long-term goals would have been in sight? Now there is a recall under way, people are fighting, and my guess is that soon the street will be returned to its original state. Money spent, no result.

People are individuals, not sheep. They will bend so far but still want their individual comfort and what they consider personal benefits. Change needs to come from the bottom up, not the top down.

To be successful, I think, TDM needs to begin to meet the needs of individual commuters, make their world a better place, find out what they need and then fulfill it. Remember Westfield Century City and their parking program? They understood that one size doesn’t fit all and set up a parking program to fit the needs of every parker. Pull a ticket, fine, get an app, fine, use LPR, fine, want valet, fine, reserve a space, fine. It’s all available.

What will most likely happen is all those pull a ticket folks will see just how much better it is signing up for LPR and many will do so. Our industry is an example of how the use of technology, apps, and good management can make life better for our customers AND help us do a better job.

I wonder what would happen if the city spent some of the $1.25 billion a mile it’s wasting on an underground (that fewer and fewer are riding) on a carpooling app and advertising campaign to help people to find new friends to ride with to work. Show them how much better it is to ride together than alone. If only 10 or 20 percent did it there would be no traffic, freeways would be running at max speeds and TDM goals would be closer and closer.

The carrot typically works better than the stick.

John Van Horn is Editor of Parking Today. He can be reached at


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