Halloween’s nothing compared to the Nightmare of Traffic and Congestion

by | Spedsta Stories

Going to a doctor’s appointment for a check-up should be a pretty ordinary affair. Unfortunately on the morning of my appointment, I had an unexpected call which delayed me and I arrived 20 minutes late to the doctors office.  Within a couple of minutes of my arrival, both the reception and nurse asked the question “Did traffic slow you down this morning?”.  Fortunately traffic was actually fairly light for me but what was interesting was that traffic congestion is top-of-mind for most people and their first assumptions.

This should be no surprise to most people that this is the case.  Current estimates are that 3.5 million Americans spend more than 3 hours each day travelling to/from work and nearly 20% commute more than 45 minutes each way.  A recent Spedsta member in Florida commented that he spends 30 hours in a van pool per month, which was definitely not a way he wants to spend his time.  But this problem is not restricted to the USA and it is part of a global gridlock problem.  The average commute in Beijing, China  is 2 hours. A recent story in Bali, where driving 4 miles to the airport took 2 hours.  A Spedsta member in Chicago going 40 miles to a Chicago Bears Football game took over 2.5 hours to make the commute.  A nurse who attended to me at my doctors appointment said her commute is 30 minutes on average, but when a baseball game is on in her neighborhood it can take 1.5 hours. The lost productivity (where someone can be doing something else rather than mindlessly driving or stuck in traffic) in the USA can total in the hundreds of millions of hours.

Globally, there are over 800 million cars on the road and with rising growth in China and other developing countries car volume is only predicted to increase.  Some suggest building more roads can help relieve the congestion..but in fact this has been proved to be incorrect. In the 19th century, an economist William Jevon noted that more fuel efficient steam engines didn’t lead to less coal consumption…it actually increased coal consumption because it was cheaper.  This is called “Jevons paradox” which describes any situation in which efficiency improvements lead to more, not less consumption.  As applied to roads, this concept is called “induced travel”…where since there are more roads, people are inclined to use them more and traffic congestion does not decrease.

Traffic and congestion has also been attributed to plain and simple human behavior. By a person braking and accelerating in a congested road environment, it can essentially start a chain reaction of all the drivers behind them reacting…all these small reactions lead to stoppages and the “accordion” like behavior of traffic stoppages on the road. It has been suggested that if you remove the human element from driving and have fully autonomous vehicles (ie..the car is driving and the human is doing nothing) that there would be no traffic…everything would be perfectly in sync and movement would be consistent.

But as shown by stories above, there will always be situations such as concerts, large sporting events etc where there will always be a large number of people converging on a central location. Until we get to a point where everyone has autonomous vehicles in the world, we will still face challenges of traffic and congestion. RideSharing is a solution out of this mess, one car at a time.

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