The average commute length in the UK is 25 minutes but one in ten commuters travels more than an hour to and from the place of work. Cars are by far the most popular form of commuter transport with 64% using this mode of transport compared to just 9% of workers that are close enough to their place of work to be able to cycle or walk.
The daily commute in some of the world’s most economically important international cities is longer and more grueling than before imagined, reflecting the failure of transportation infrastructure to keep pace with economic activity, according to IBM’s (NYSE: IBM) first global Commuter Pain stud.
IBM surveyed 8,192 motorists in 20 cities on six continents, the majority of whom say that traffic has gotten worse in the past three years. The congestion in many of today’s developing cities is a relatively recent phenomenon, having paralleled the rapid economic growth of those cities during the past decade or two. By contrast, the traffic in places like New York, Los Angeles or London has developed gradually over many decades, giving officials more time and resources to address the problem.
For example, the middle class in China is growing rapidly, with the number of new cars registered in Beijing in the first four months of 2010 rising 23.8% to 248,000, according to the Beijing municipal taxation office. Beijing’s total investments in its subway system are projected to be more than 331.2 billion yuan by 2015 as the city expands the system to more than double its current size, according to Beijing Infrastructure Investment Co., Ltd. The city plans to invest 80 billion yuan in 2010 in building its transportation infrastructure.
The study did offer a number of bright spots. Forty eight percent of drivers surveyed in Beijing reported that traffic has improved in the past three years – the high for the survey – reflecting substantial initiatives to improve the transportation network in that city. In addition, the commute for drivers in Stockholm, Sweden seems to be, if not pleasant, then largely pain-free. Only 14% of Stockholm drivers surveyed said that roadway traffic negatively affected work or school performance.
Overall, though, the study paints a picture of metropolitan-area commuters in many cities struggling to get to and from work each day. For example, 57% of all respondents say that roadway traffic has negatively affected their health, but that percentage is 96% in New Delhi and 95% in Beijing.
Similarly, 29% overall say that roadway traffic has negatively affected work or school performance, but that percentage rises to 84% in Beijing, 62% in New Delhi, and 56% in Mexico City.
Moscow was notable for the duration of its traffic jams. Drivers there reported an average delay of two-and-a-half hours when asked to report the length of the worst traffic jam they experienced in the past three years.
IBM Commuter Pain Index
IBM compiled the results of the survey into an Index that ranks the emotional and economic toll of commuting in each city on a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the most onerous. The Index reveals a tremendous disparity in the pain of the daily commute from city to city. Stockholm had the least painful commute of the cities studied, followed by Melbourne and Houston (which tied) and New York City.
“Traditional solutions — building more roads — will not be enough to overcome the growth of traffic in these rapidly developing cities, so multiple solutions need to be deployed simultaneously to avoid a failure of the transportation networks,” said Naveen Lamba, IBM’s global industry lead for intelligent transportation. “New techniques are required that empower transportation officials to better understand and proactively manage the flow of traffic.”
IBM Global Commuter Pain Survey – Major Findings
Analysis of the survey results indicated a number of key findings related to how traffic impacts commuters:
- 49% of drivers in the 20 cities think that roadway traffic has gotten worse in the last three years, and 18% think it has gotten a lot worse. Five percent say traffic has improved substantially, with only Beijing (16%) and New Delhi (17%) reaching double digit scores. There are seven trouble spots based on the bottom two box scores (ranking traffic as “somewhat” or “a lot worse”): Johannesburg (80%), Moscow (64%), Toronto (64%), Mexico City (62%), Sao Paulo (61%), Milan (59%) and Buenos Aires (57%).
- 87% of the respondents have been stuck in roadway traffic in the last three years. The average delay is one hour. The “best” cities are Melbourne, Stockholm and Buenos Aires, where 25% or more say they have never been stuck in traffic. On the other end of the spectrum, the average reported delay in Moscow is 2.5 hours, where more than 40% say they have been stuck in traffic for more than three hours.
- 31% of respondents said that during the past three years traffic has been so bad that they turned around and went home. The percentage in Beijing, however, is 69%, the high for the survey; and only 15% in Berlin, representing the low.
- If commuting time could be reduced, 16% of respondents worldwide would choose to work more. In New Delhi, 40% said they would work more, the high for the survey; while 5% in Madrid would work more, representing the low.
The Commuter Pain Survey was conducted by IBM to better understand consumer thinking toward traffic congestion as the issue reaches crisis proportions nationwide and higher levels of auto emissions stir environmental concerns. These events are impacting communities around the world, where governments, citizens and private sector organizations are looking beyond traditional remedies like additional roads and greater access to public transportation to reverse the negative impacts of increased road congestion.
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