Traffic jams, congestion, cognitive dissonance…

Traffic agency Inrix analysed traffic and congestion in 1,064 cities across 38 countries worldwide, including Cardiff. It worked out that the average cost to Cardiff’s drivers of being sat in their own congestion was £939 per year.

You can read Cardiff’s scorecard here, but it says that 9% of a driver’s time is spent in queues, or 22.5 hours for 2016.

Traffic jams still cost Wales’ 1.5 million car owners around £1.5 billion in 2016. Newport topped the table of Welsh urban areas, with congestion costing drivers £722 per annum (25% less than the national average). But Cardiff had the highest average cost per driver at £939, just slightly under the national average (£968).

Source: These are Wales’ traffic jam hotspots and how much it costs drivers every year – Wales Online

The first question that came to mind was just how Inrix arrived at this cost. Whether that cost was simply the wasted fuel, or the other costs that are often conveniently forgotten, such as the cost to society of increased pollution and the impact it has on health care as a result; the cost of continually repairing the roads; policing and clean-up operations after crashes. We found this in the press release.

An economic analysis was performed to estimate the total cost to the average driver in a city, and a total cost to the city population. This considered both the direct costs (those borne by the driver directly through wasted time and fuel) and the indirect costs (those borne indirectly through the increased costs to businesses which are passed on to households through higher prices). Worst corridors are limited to those that have the highest traffic volume and are ranked by the average hours of delay per driver in 2016.

So, it’s a bit of the former, but the latter appears to have been ignored. The press release also mentions this:

Business suffers the most from traffic in Cardiff with congestion between the morning and evening peak periods, both in and out and within the city, occurring for 15% of the time on average.

When you consider that “business” is the likely culprit of much of this traffic, whether that be from employees driving to and from work, or for work, it’s a wonder that businesses haven’t realised that they are costing themselves money by even accommodating the notion that people should drive anywhere. Why do they provide or subsidise parking? Do they offer to subsidise or provide salary advances for bus and train tickets? Do they offer a cycle to work scheme?

When words fail us…

It is no doubt true that congestion in Cardiff at peak times is pretty bad, but it is likely to get worse as Cardiff grows. We’ve spoken before about getting around by bus in Cardiff at peak times. It’s slow going, but mostly because of the sheer number of cars on the road.

You probably can’t hear it right now, but we’re currently playing a sad, sad song on the world’s smallest violin. It’s hard to feel sorry for the poor, beleaguered motorist sat in traffic, wasting fuel; or the business employing that person, sat in a queue and not being productive.

At some point motorists (that does occasionally include us, by the way) are going to have to realise that the problem is them. There are simply too many of them; they’re using a finite amount of space inefficiently; they are the reason that they are sat in a queue of traffic; they are the reason the pollution levels are high for much of the year; they are the reason people are too scared to cycle on the road; they are the reason the cost of treating avoidable health conditions is spiralling; they are the reason that money is disappearing from their pockets and their businesses into a black hole.

Unfortunately it is up to motorists to fix this, not the council. The council can help by removing parking spaces and increasing the costs of the spaces that remain (maybe even introducing a congestion charge), but it is up to the motorist to decide to leave the car at home. Businesses can play a part too by allowing mobile working, video conferencing and by leveraging the tools available on the internet; or by deterring employees from driving to and from work.

Many of the trips we make at peak times are under 5 miles, which is easily commutable on a bike. There’s capacity on the buses and eventually, we hope there will be capacity on the trains too. If people don’t want to fritter their lives away in traffic jams, they’re going to have to choose not to.

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