What Is Time Worth?

It’s 9.06 am. You’re standing on Platform 4 awaiting your train, due in just a few minutes. Will it matter if it’s running late? How much will it cost you – or your employer – if your journey is delayed? What if you get on and have no seat? Does overcrowding have a cost too?

For more than a decade, researchers at the Institute for Transport Studies (ITS) have been trying to answer abstract questions such as these. Collaborating with government and business clients, our economists, statisticians and mathematical modelling experts analyse data to come up with monetary values for ‘non-market goods’. These goods include time, comfort and punctuality – aspects of travel that benefit people, but which they cannot buy or sell in the market place.

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What difference does it make to know how much a minute is worth?
Although our valuations of time, punctuality and crowding might appear abstract, they have a huge impact on UK public policy. These numbers – the output from years of rigorous data collection and analysis – make an important contribution to transport policy decisions and large public infrastructure investments in road and rail.

Economic assessments are critical to all public transport development schemes. The Department for Transport (DfT) has developed a standard set of appraisal procedures for transport projects, known as WebTAG. The time valuations from Transport Systems Hub researchers are integral to this appraisal process. Cross Rail, HS2, the M6 toll around Birmingham – all these large-scale investments followed the WebTAG protocols and used our numbers to calculate the economic value of journey time savings.

Of course, investment decisions do not rest solely on economic assessments. However, monetary calculations provide significant input into the decision process. Indirectly, our research has helped to release huge sums of public investment into the economy. Moreover, improved infrastructure and faster journeys subsequently deliver additional economic gains, opening new markets, creating jobs, and benefiting citizens and businesses with greater connectivity.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has worked with us to link forecasts of passenger demand and revenues with time valuations. Our modelling and valuation work in this context has helped to inform ‘Schedule 8’ calculations that set compensation rates, known as transfer payments, for late-running trains. In 2013-14, Schedule 8 accounted for £85 million in compensation.

Entering new times
Our researchers continue to support the work of DfT investment appraisal schemes. In 2013, the DfT published several reports undertaken by the Institute for Transport Studies (ITS). The two main reports examined the latest evidence on the value of travel time savings for business and commuting  and leisure journeys.

Crucially, the researchers found that circumstances had changed dramatically since the previous time valuations were first used as a standard in WebTAG. ‘Since our first time valuations nearly 10 years ago, society has changed a lot’, explains Richard Batley, Professor of Transport Demand and Valuation at ITS. ‘Back then, people saw travel time as wasted time, because they could not work and generate wealth on the move. Now, with mobile technology and WiFi on buses and trains, this is no longer the case. It is high time that we revisited this question.’

The 2013 reports recommended that the DfT update its values to account for the many social, economic and demographic changes over the past decade. The study also suggested a range of additional research projects that could improve models of the combined employer/employee value of travel time savings.

The reports also highlighted some important gaps in valuations of commuting and leisure travel time savings. ‘Here we found that valuations needed to account for the effect of more reliable transport systems’, Professor Batley remarks. ‘We compared several valuation exercises conducted in other countries, such as the Netherlands and Sweden. We concluded that the UK needed a comprehensive nationwide study using similar modern statistical modelling methods.

Responding to these recommendations, in 2014 the DfT commissioned ITS, working with Arup and market research company Accent, to re-estimate national average values of travel time savings. The new study will investigate the factors that cause variation and uncertainty in these values. The research team will also provide values for the benefits derived from improved reliability or reduced overcrowding.

www.its.leeds.ac.uk/research/themes/reliability www.its.leeds.ac.uk/research/themes/rail www.its.leeds.ac.uk/research/themes/pricing www.its.leeds.ac.uk/research/themes/economicappraisal

(This article is re-posted from the University of Leeds’ Transport Systems Hub:  http://tsh.leeds.ac.uk )


Man Cited for Eating a Cheeseburger While Driving

This article in Time magazine (also in New York Times) cites ITS research on driver distraction resulting from eating whilst driving:


Drive-thru enthusiasts, let this be a warning. A man got a ticket in an Atlanta suburb last week, after a police officer observed him driving for two miles while eating a cheeseburger — specifically, a double quarter pounder with cheese.

“[The officer] said specifically three times, you can’t just go down the road eating a hamburger,” Madison Tuner told WSB-TV. “Maybe I was enjoying the burger too much I needed to tone it down. I was certainly willing to do so but I didn’t expect to be fined or punished.”

Turner, from Alabama, was cited by Cobb County authorities for violating Georgia distracted driving laws, and will have his day in court on Feb. 3. The amount that Turner will have to pay was unclear.

A 2012 study from out of the University of Leeds found that drivers have a 44% slower reaction time than usual. That’s more significant…

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UTSG 2015: Day 3

By Dave Milne

And so to the final day. My main choice of papers related to trends in the retail sector and their associated impacts for travel. A key angle of most of the work is the role of internet activity in altering shopping behaviour, be it through full internet shopping, click and collect, or simply checking out the alternatives available in advance of a more traditional shopping trip. It is also probably fair to say that much of this research is at a fairly early stage of thinking and development. But there are some interesting ideas being explored using both quantitative and qualitative approaches. The main understanding I gained involved a better appreciation of the amount of variability within current retail trends, as companies tailor the details of what they offer to their particular market segments. This leads me to think that there may be much scope for work on socio-cultural and generational differences. It is also striking how information about internet-related retail activity is missing from most mobility surveys and seems to be generally lacking from other information sources. This supports a more general view I’ve been developing that we should be doing more about time use (a popular area for social science in the past) as part of improving our understanding of travel in the context of people’s daily activities.

The closing address was given by Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport (see photo below).


He outlined what he sees as the four major challenges faced by the transport sector in a very concise and well structured presentation. In summary, the challenges he identified are:

(1) Expectation of increasing demand for road, rail and air travel that needs to be accommodated if economic potential is not to be constrained;

(2) Reconciling the expected increasing demand for travel with a need to reduce negative externalities;

(3) Addressing the spatial and institutional dimensions of transport at all levels to achieve, for example, improved regional balance; and

(4) Facilitating and responding to technological change, both in transport itself and in other relevant areas (eg information technology).

He also discussed the implications of failure, though a plot suggesting very substantial  economic gains from airport expansion in London and the south east made me wonder about a possible conflict with attempting to improve regional balance.

Finally, before signing off, I should offer congratulations to Marianna Imprialou from Loughborough University who was awarded the Smeed Prize for her presentation about modelling the relationship between road accidents and speed.


Overall, it was a well organised and enjoyable conference. But now the UTSG baton has been passed to the Universities of Bristol and the West of England, who will share hosting duties in January 2016.

UTSG 2015: Day 2

By Dave Milne

The second day of the conference is always the longest and this year there were timetabled activities from 9am until 6pm, with then only a 45 minute turnaround to get back to the hotel & change before we headed off to the conference dinner at 6:45!

During the day I spent much of my time listening to presentations about the relationship between transport and location, land use and urban form. In particular, one student paper used NTS data and structural equation modelling to explore how land use characteristics affect the volume of travel. It appeared to show quite convincingly that development density, albeit quite simply defined at a coarse level, is well correlated with the amount of travel in ways that might be expected (ie decreasing density leads to more travel). While clearly not surprising it could potentially provide a useful starting point for further survey-based research on more detailed definitions of development types and on causal factors.

The final session of the day was a plenary from ITS’ own Bryan Matthews (see photo below), who gave a unique insight into the issues surrounding the use of technology to improve the mobility of visually impaired people. What was most striking to me was the fact that I suspect awareness of the technological approaches and associated user issues Bryan described is quite poor within the transport community, despite the fact that many academics are already thinking about issues that reduce mobility for other groups in society. We really need to engage with this area more and increase the volume of ongoing research.



Finally, I must mention the boat trip. Taking a ride down the river at night over dinner was an excellent experience and a good way to appreciate the scale of the city. Definitely an inspired decision by the conference organiser. But my personal highlight was being able to use my contactless debit card in a seamless fashion to use the tube. The one thing I forgot to pick up early on Monday morning was my Oyster card and I was interested to hear Peter Hendy talking about the initiative to allow normal payment cards to be used instead on the grounds that he didn’t think TfL should be “running a bank” in the long term. To then find out that the system is already working & that a whole conference of academics can use it without an obvious problem occurring was impressive. West Yorkshire definitely has some catching up to do!


UTSG 2015: Day 1

By Dave Milne

The first day of the conference began with a keynote address from Sir Peter Hendy of Transport for London, who spoke about ongoing and potential future transport developments in the capital. Without the distraction of slides he provided a knowledgeable stream of consciousness that touched on many important issues. His starting point was to consider the importance of mobility in the current growth of London, which also happened to be the headline story in the day’s Evening Standard.


He contrasted the current strong economic performance of London and the south east with weakness across the rest of the UK.

Perhaps his most powerful statement was that all the best cities he has visited over time have a strong strategic plan, with a directly linked transport plan. He went on to argue that lack of planning is a bigger challenge facing UK urban transport professionals outside London than many other issues that receive attention, including the organisation of public transport. A thought provoking opening to the event.

I also enjoyed a couple of papers that explored the observed phenomenon of young people in developed countries being less likely to drive than previous generations. One conclusion appears to be that driving seems more likely to be delayed to a later life stage than to be ruled out altogether. However, an interesting related development is that younger people seem quite positive about car sharing and pooling schemes as an alternative to ownership, which suggests there may be potential to reduce levels of car dependence.

The day was rounded off with a meal at Le Mercury in Islington, a small French restaurant that is definitely worth a visit!

UTSG 2015

By Dave Milne

This week I’m attending the 47th Universities’ Transport Studies Group (UTSG) annual conference at City University in London. The focus is very much on research students and academics talking about their current interests, rather than on completed projects. In my experience it’s the friendliest conference in the transport field and a great way to begin a new year with some fresh ideas. I’ll be providing an update on what’s going on and some reflections on the presentations that have inspired me at the end of each day. So watch this space!

I’m also achieving a couple of personal firsts. This is the first time I’ve authored a blog (I’ve always claimed to be too busy to blog in the past) and it’s my first experience with an iPad (although I’d be lost without my iPod and iPhone, so I’m guessing it won’t be beyond my capabilities). I’m also trying to forget the fact that my first UTSG conference was the 25th. Have I really been thinking about transport for that long…?

More soon…