The Burgeoning Cost Of Traffic Congestion

Traffic congestions are bound to be a drag on the economy as they result in loss of valuable man hours, time delays, inefficiencies, and inflated transport costs

Road accidents will cause a dent in your car but traffic congestions will cause a dent in the economy. With a population of more than 1.2 billion, most Indian roads are infamous for chock-a-block traffic which is a nightmare for all drivers. Apart from the various health hazards, traffic congestions can have a direct impact on the country’s economy and gross domestic product (GDP).

A higher member of cars on the road means the economy is doing well as people are spending on buying more cars and businesses are spending on transport. In fact, car sales is sometimes used as a metric by economists to measure the economic recovery of a nation. Inadequate infrastructure, a lead cause of traffic congestion, is another indicator of low economic growth.

Traffic congestions are bound to be a drag on the economy as they result in loss of valuable man hours, time delays, inefficiencies, and inflated transport costs which thereby push up the prices of goods.

A 2014-15 joint report by Transport Corporation of India (TCI) and IIM-Calcutta has estimated that the cost of delay to the economy was $6.6 billion per year and the cost of additional fuel consumption due to the delay was $14.7 billion per year.

Even globally, India ranks significantly high in the traffic index. For instance, according to a 2016 report by online database Numbeo, India ranked 11th in terms of the overall Traffic Index at 195.43 compared to Egypt which ranked 1st with an index of 247.12. The Traffic Index refers to a composite index of time consumed in traffic due to job commute, estimation of time consumption, dissatisfaction, carbon dioxide consumption, and overall inefficiencies in the traffic system. Within India, Kolkata recorded the highest traffic index at 351.46 followed by Mumbai, Delhi, Gurgaon, and Bengaluru.

India ranked 9th in terms of the average Time Index at 45.07 minutes which refers to the average one-way time needed to transport. Egypt again ranked 1st with a Time Index of 51.02 minutes. India’s CO2 Emission Index which is an estimation of carbon dioxide consumption due to traffic time stood at 5793.58 grams compared with South Africa’s 9687.00 grams which stood 1st.

REMEDY FOR THE TRAGEDY

Solving the tragedy of congestion is not easy. Building more roads or widening the existing ones can only be temporary solutions as they will also encourage more cars on to the roads. The cardinal rule always holds true in this case where improvements in infrastructure will always lag the increase in traffic. While use of electric cars will help bring down carbon emissions, the problem of congestion remains unsolved. Some experts in fact say that reduction of carbon emissions through electric cars is a myth as an equal amount of emission is being used in the generation of electricity from coal-fired power plants.

So, what are the main causes of traffic congestion? “For most part, it’s the cars…Cars are inefficient users of road space. A car passenger occupies 30 times more space than a bus passenger. And buses, that serve four times as many trips as cars, are also stuck for no fault of theirs,” says Shreya Gadepalli, South Asia regional director at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

Availability of parking space is another factor impacting the traffic as it acts like a magnet and attracts more cars. “If we reduce parking supply and charge demand-sensitive prices, there will be fewer cars on the road,” Gadepalli says.

But restricting usage of cars and parking is not enough. There must be effective alternatives. For instance, Gadepalli points out that Bengaluru has woefully inadequate public transport and the city must have 250-300 km of mass rapid transit (MRT). And what is the quickest and cheapest way to achieve this? “Bus rapid transit (BRT) is the way out. It’s an MRT option that combines the quality of metro service with the flexibility of a bus. Commuters get not only high-quality rapid service but also easy access and direct connections at a low fare. Infrastructure costs less than a tenth of a metro and can be built in under half the time,” she says.

India can also follow global examples where cities such as Singapore and London have introduced congestion-charging schemes to reduce traffic. For instance, in London, drivers are charged a fee for entering the Central London zone. The idea is to ensure that those using the road infrastructure make a financial contribution towards it, discourage vehicle owners from making unnecessary journeys, and encourage the use of public transport systems. As per available information, the current congestion charge is roughly £11.50 daily charge for driving a vehicle within the charging zone between 07:00 and 18:00, Monday to Friday.

Gadepalli highlights the need to shift from car-oriented urban planning to inclusive transit-oriented development (iTOD). People Near Rapid Transit (PNT) is a metric that measures the number of residents in a city who live within walking distance of high-quality rapid transit. “While European cities like Paris, Barcelona, and London have a PNT of 90-100 percent, Indian cities score very low. A dense, compact, mixed-use, and inclusive city with great transit saves lives, time, money, improves health, and boosts the economy,” she says, citing research done by ITDP.

The use of car pooling and smart technologies such as driverless cars; vehicles fitted with sensors that let them automatically maintain speed and distance and follow lane discipline; and sensors that can readily recognise an available parking space – are some of the other means to build efficiencies.

Cycling as a means of urban transportation (rather than recreation) can also help reduce energy use and carbon emissions. The findings of an ITDP report show that a world with a dramatic increase in cycling could save the society $24 trillion cumulatively between 2015 and 2050, and cut carbon emissions from urban passenger transport by nearly 11 percent in 2050 compared to a scenario without a strong cycling emphasis.

In conclusion, it’s fair to say that the cost of traffic congestion is burgeoning by the day and it can leave a huge dent on the economy. It’s high time the citizens and concerned authorities work together towards solving the menace of traffic which is not just slowing the roads but slowing the economy of the country. We need to kill the demon before it kills us!


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