Managing traffic congestion: It costs a lot

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By Masud Khabeki

 

During the last five years the imports of Pakistan have increased at an annualized rate of 5.1%, from $43.3B in 2012 to $55.6B in 2017 ruthlessly burdening the economy and growth rate. The most recent imports are led by Refined Petroleum which represent 12.6% of the total imports of Pakistan, followed by Crude Petroleum, which account for 5.17%. Pakistan’s crude oil imports was 353.839 barrel/day in 2006 that rose to an alarmingly height of 588.616 barrel/day in 2017. It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan’s oil import bill rose nearly 30.43 per cent year-on-year to $12.928 billion in July-May 2017-18 owing to an increase in global prices of crude oil and rising demand of petroleum products in the country. The amount of the oil import bills is around one-third of the total import bill for the period.

This catastrophic burden on the national resources is diminishing any hope of economic recovery. This challenging situation must be taken as a serious threat to national security. Instead, we are contributing to enhance the burden rather putting things in order to reduce this burden. There is a huge list of problems we have created ourselves to damage our growth. The most obvious and neglected is the traffic management by the authorities and horrible attitude of road users. The traffic managers have been failed to revamp the roads by improving the centuries old infrastructures as the roads were designed to cater the slow-moving vehicles. The speed and traffic flow are many times high comparing to average road speed of vehicles when the roads were built.

Road network in the large cities of Pakistan is getting busier day by day due to increase in the vehicles coupled with other problems including old style infrastructure, incompatible architectural designs of road, lack of trained traffic managers and definitely an outdated traffic management system. Average traffic speed has fallen on these roads because of the increase in journey and waiting time for public transport such as buses and personal cars. Unfortunately, till date we are without any figures that could reveal the types of vehicle plying on the roads, number of vehicles exist in the cities, how many vehicle are entering in the cities and our management is without any clue about the average speed for the commuters on our roads. Until and unless we have reliable data about flow of traffic we cannot predict any change by bringing new strategies, every effort would be in vain. For instance, traffic in London is moving far more slowly than it once was. Traffic congestion is damaging a lot not to the national exchequer but to the household as well.

The countries around the world are seriously pursuing the problem and trying to find remedies to ease the situation. The first and the foremost is to judge the problem. In UK the studies revealed that the average speed on London’s roads was 19.33 miles per hour in 2012 dropping to 8.98 miles per hour in 2016. We are still without such type of informative data our traffic managers have to work closely with universities to conduct research on these issues to accumulate data for future planning and strategies to save money and ease the traffic on our busy roads.

The high levels of traffic congestion aggravated a number of serious problems for the large cities across the country. Longer and more unreliable journey times affect business productivity, harming country’s economy. Air pollution from congested roads has a detrimental impact on citizens’ health and quality of life. Road safety has also reduced on congested roads specially the vulnerable users such as cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists. The causes of these trends are complex. Certainly, there are now more vehicles on the city roads. The scenario portrays a clear picture that the life has completely changed in the large cities across the mega cities as the traffic congestion has changed the amount of time, type and/or location of congestion, hence, altering the city’s economy and its environment. This increase in vehicles plying on the roads has worsened the flow of traffic and resultantly the travelling time, between home and work place has put extra burden on the economies and authorities are rigorously finding ways to deal this worsening issue.

Furthermore, traffic congestion has taking a heavy toll not the on the economies of the developed countries, but underdeveloped countries are more effected than ever. Congestion isn’t just an inconvenience, it can cause health-damaging air pollution, high stress and even higher crime. For example, the total cumulative cost of congestion in the UK is expected to be £307 billion from 2013 to 2030, out of which, total direct costs are £191 billion, and indirect costs equal £115 billion. By 2030, it is estimated that the total cost of congestion per household will be £2,057. While in United States, the traffic on major San Francisco-area freeways has increased by 80% just since 2010. Minnesota is experiencing similar statistics. Road ways are expected to be jammed for 30% of the time in the next 10 years. The sudden growth of population in these cities, however, has turned the “traffic headache” into the “traffic migraine.” Research from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that travel delays due to traffic congestion cause drivers to waste more than 3 billion gallons of fuel and sit stuck in their cars for 7 billion extra hours –that’s 42 hours per rush-hour commuter. The total nationwide price tag was estimated at $160 billion, or $960 per commuter only in USA. It’s not only the money wasted but in reality, the resources are also being wasted and emerged as a burning issue to deal with.

Similarly, India is presenting a worse picture as the anticipated average journey speed on the main highways of major cities in India are expected to reduce from about 12kmph presently to less than 6kmph by 2030. The traffic trends in Pakistan are similar to that of neighboring country and it could be assumed that the congestion problem would be same in the years to come. The extra time spent or idling on the road is costing a great deal to every household. This need to be addressed as early as possible as the burden is mounting with the passage of time. The following table will help to understand the continuously rising cost to per household in the four developed countries of the world.

Congestion is, in principle, a mostly solvable problem, even if no fast-growing city has fully solved it. The first step in mitigating traffic congestion is to estimate the amount of traffic at any given point of time by use a very common method that is to place sensors on the road and count the number of times they are actuated by the passing wheels of a vehicle. Once, the actual number of vehicles are measured the most common-sense solution to reduce traffic congestions are to improve capacity and connectivity of the existing infrastructure. Capacity can be expanded by adding lanes to existing roads, and sometimes problem is not the width of the road but where it goes. So, by reducing the indirectness of the network through selected connections can reduce traffic congestion. The next most obvious solution is to have a better control on the existing infrastructure in effective manner. Coordinating traffic lights on a city road grid can make sure more vehicles hit green lights. Furthermore, it is estimated that half of all delay is due to non-recurring congestion, most notable crashes. This could be managed by better designed roads. Accidents can also be reduced with better-trained drivers and making license more difficult for them to acquire. Crashes have to be cleared quickly by improving emergency response and it could reduce the amount of subsequent delay.

Maintaining roads is important but closing entire road for construction is not the strategy. Doing all work at night or weekends is another strategy. The point is, the cost of the delay vs. the cost of construction need to be properly weighed. The same should be followed on the check points meant for security reasons, where most of the time lines are closed and managed by very few officials causing back up and congestion on the roads.

 

Redefining of the gauge of road lanes could be another possible option and it could double the capacity on the existing roads. We are also wasting surface by storing parked cars. A lane or turn-lane or bike lane or a bus-lane could be added in the space to increase the throughput. The adjacent property owners are often under the mistaken impression that their customers have a right to park for free on the public street in front of their business/house. Where there is no congestion this is not a problem but on the roads with traffic congestion this artificial right is costly for the other member of the society.

 

Furthermore, we can avoid traffic congestion if people skip their intentions to travel at the same time. We could stagger work hours, so not everyone arrived at work/schools/colleges/universities at the same time. Car-sharing and carpooling has been around since the dawn of cars. It is easiest when there are two people going from the same place to the same destination at the same time. All this sameness though requires coordination to arrange, or sophisticated matching to discover. High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) lanes or restrictions in some cities encourage people to pick-up strangers to fill up the extra seats to save time. This policy could easily be adopted in school pick and drop services. No vehicle with less than four passengers be allowed to reduce traffic burden in front of schools.

I believe that in approaching the future, the goal of policymakers should not to eliminate traffic congestion but rather try to strike a new balance between growth, congestion, and the political acceptability of the measures by which we can eliminate the traffic congestion.

 

Masud Khabeki is adjunct faculty Criminology at University of Arid Agriculture, Rawalpindi