IBM (yes, the IBM) recently released a global study of traffic, surveying over 8,000 adult drivers in 20 major cities. Perhaps the results are not that surprising - traffic is perceived by drivers as getting worse in the last three years. Thirty percent of those surveyed felt increased stress while 27% reported increased anger. Twenty nine percent reported that traffic harmed their performance in work or school, and 38% reported having cancelled a planned trip due to anticipated traffic. So the two key questions are, why can't we get a grip on traffic, and why does IBM care about commuter pain and traffic patterns?
Well, the answer to the first question is we haven't signficantly slowed our global patterns of purchasing cars and driving them. There are now around 750 million cars registered in the world, inching up toward one billion, and once people buy them, they drive them. IBM's study found that in L.A. and New York, 90% of surveyed drivers drove to work - the survey also showed that gas prices would have to rise 20% to 30% or more for these drivers to reconsider. (Only 32% of those surveyed in Paris drove to work, 34% in Amsterdam and Buenos Aires did, and 37% in Milan did.)
Note: In the UK, cars on the road fell this year for the first time since WWII.
But it seems all the extra driving is bringing us pain - IBM even calls the survey the Commuter Pain Index. The study found that the worst cities (of the 20 cities surveyed) to drive in are Beijing, Mexico City, Johannesburg, and Moscow. And the best? Stockholm was number one, followed by Houston, Melbourne, and New York.
So why does IBM do these studies? Naveen Lambda, IBM's global lead in intelligent transporation systems, says IBM knows traffic capacity cannot increase fast enough to keep up with demand.IBM also think that there are technological solutions.
The company played a role in all the congestion charging systems currently running - they manage the congestion charging in Stockholm and London, and its IBM equipment in Singapore's system. So IBM definitely has a vested interest in appealing to road and urban planners with some salient statistics.
Solutions IBM (or the report writers recommend) are fuel efficient cars, more public transportation, more ridesharing, more telecommuting, combined with the use of technology - congestion charging, but an integrated "multi modal" management system that would be able to generate predictions for operators on what traffic was going to do in the very near future, as well as end user information sent via phones and smart phones, to help those in traffic make alternate solutions.
Some of the most interesting data gathered by the researchers of the Commuter Pain Index was regarding commutes. The typical one-way length of commuting in the 20 cities surveyed was 13 miles, or 32 minutes of driving (the average driving speed was 24.4 miles per hour). The variation among average distances was no more than 4 miles for these cities, but the times ranged from a low of 27 minutes in New York, Los Angeles, and Melbourne, to a high of 40-42 minutes in Mexico City, New Delhi, Beijing, and Moscow.
IBM certainly doesn't mention it, but 13 miles is a completely doable bicycle commute. In addition, at least in Sao Paolo), bicycling has been demonstrated to be faster than car commuting.
So while commuters pain and global traffic is definitely worth study, perhaps researchers should turn their focus to ways that promoting biking and building bike infrastructure compares before implementing other solutions - new roads, new lanes, or even a high tech congestion management system.