Why is traffic congestion a problem?

Problems associated with the predicted levels of future traffic congestion and their proposed solutions have been extensively debated.

Political parties at State and Local levels, be they in government or in opposition, have laid out their ‘fix it’ proposals. So too have other interested groups such as the motorist associations.

Most transport professionals can agree on what is needed. We need to achieve long-term outcomes in terms of economically efficient and safe transport networks, which will provide access and mobility, equitably and which will cause minimum damage to the environment.

Growing population; increases in car ownership rates; increases in average distances travelled to work and other activities due to urban sprawl; hence increases in travel distances; and low levels of public transport use, all mean that congestion on our roads will increase under a business as usual scenario.

The full costs of congestion are well documented. The additional costs in terms of delays, crashes and vehicle emissions which we impose on the community when we decide to travel at congested times are not covered by the various fuel and other taxes and levies imposed on car drivers. This gap will widen in future as areas under congestion spread and as congested times of the day also increase.

The less direct costs of congestion can also be seen in the effect it has on freight transport – a vitally important economic function requiring the most efficient possible level of service. Low freight costs not only in dollar terms but also in terms of reliability of arrival times are what industry needs to compete locally and globally.

The freight transport task is growing at rates that are higher than the rates of economic activity. The increasing use of e-commerce and e-business is leading to higher levels of demand for goods.

This is because of wider choices available and increased customer expectations. We are seeing a need for greater flexibility and greater levels of reliability in the delivery of goods. E-business and e-commerce mean less predictable demand for transport and smaller orders placed more frequently. Increased total truck vehicle kilometres for local home deliveries will increase congestion, unless deliveries are made off peak.

So yes congestion is a growing problem in major urban areas!

guest post from Prof Luis Ferreira

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