As global traffic jams mount, cities try new ways to ease congestion: study

09 March 2020 - 18:07 By Reuters
Traffic congestion is on the increase in major cities around the wolrd.
Traffic congestion is on the increase in major cities around the wolrd.
Image: 123rf

Car traffic is worsening in the US and in many cities around the world, a study has found, but congestion charges and novel policies in some cities have proved effective to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads.

Many cities are working to reduce car travel as they try to cut carbon dioxide emissions and shorten commuting times.

Still, drivers in 2019 overall spent more time stuck in traffic than in previous years, according to a Monday study by transportation analytics firm INRIX Inc, ranking congestion in more than 900 cities worldwide.

In the US, drivers on average lost 99 hours last year due to congestion, the report calculated, two hours more than in 2017. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington led the ranking as the most severely congested US cities.

Overall, time lost in traffic cost the US economy an estimated $88-billion (roughly R1,402,293,200,000) last year, INRIX calculated using labour market and wage statistics.

On a global scale, the five most congested cities are Bogota in Colombia, Brazil's Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Turkey's Istanbul and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Overall, the most congested cities are either older or rapidly growing, the report showed.

INRIX collected and analysed anonymous, aggregated location data from car makers, mobile apps and freight fleets.

Trevor Reed, INRIX transportation analyst and author of the report, said congestion fees in London, Sweden's Stockholm and Singapore have significantly reduced car traffic.

New York will be the first US city to implement congestion pricing in 2021. Chicago and Los Angeles have commissioned studies on such charges.

Novel initiatives in New York and San Francisco to ban cars from main streets have also boosted bus ridership and reduced commuting times without causing gridlock on neighbouring streets, data showed.

Critics of the INRIX report said focusing solely on car traffic speed is an insufficient measure to improve commuting times for everyone.

Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, a policy organisation that includes US cities and transit authorities, said studies should also measure the impact of public transit and other transportation modes, including cycling and walking.

The group on Thursday published a report finding that costly expansions of US highways over the past 30 years failed to decrease congestion.

"All too often, improving a driver's commute comes at the expense of everyone else paying for the road," Osborne said.