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cities > factfile > traffic congestion

Traffic congestion

Posted: 31 Jan 2007

In 1998, a consultation paper by the UK government on fighting traffic congestion and pollution through road user and parking charges estimated that 1.6 billion hours were lost by drivers and passengers on Great Britain's roads due to congestion in 1996: 80 per cent in urban areas. London, in fact, has been forced to ask motorists entering the city centre to pay a congestion tax of �8 (US$15).

Crisis of mobility

  • In Los Angeles, USA, a study by the Texas Transportation Institute says that hours lost by a peak-time traveler per year on road has increased from 47 in 1982 to 136 in 2000. The city also loses US$ 14,635 million per year due to traffic congestion.

Across the world, the desire to travel more and faster has grown with the surge in economies. While it has reached a plateau in developed nations, developing countries today account for more than 95 per cent of this growth, says Mobility 2001: World Mobility at the End of the Twentieth Century and its Sustainability, a report by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. According to the World Bank, motor vehicle ownership and use in developing countries is growing even faster than populations.
  • According to Mobility 2001, between 1950 and 1997, the global automobile fleet increased from 50 to 580 million vehicles. Developing countries, with about 85 per cent of the world's population, had only about 25 per cent of those vehicles (see table: Rich nations have too many cars). But with rapid economic growth, these countries are now adding vehicles to their existing fleets at rates as high as 10-30 per cent per year, compared to below 5 per cent for developed countries.

Traffic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Credit: FAO
Traffic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Credit: FAO

Rich nations have too many cars
Developing nations want the same


Numbers of cars (in thousands)

Per capita GDP(2)(in US dollars PPP)

Number of vehicles per 1,000

US         132,432(1) 35,600 740
Japan 62,438(1) 26,100 640
Germany  42,840(1) 25,900 570
Italy    32,453(1) 25,100  N A
France 28,060(1) 24,400 520
UK 25,029(1) 24,500 410
Spain    17,449(1) 20,100 NA
Canada  14,952(3) 27,700 NA
Brazil      13,827(3) 7,400 190
Russia    13,639(3) 8,300 NA
Australia  9,981(4) 24,000 610
Korea     7,908(3) 4,000  32
China     5,106(3) 4,300 21
India       4,565(3) 2,500 30
Sources: 1. Transport Statistics of Great Britain, 2002; 2. CIA
World Factbook, 2002; 3. Automotive Industry 2001 and beyond, 2001; 4. Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, 2003; 5. E A Vasconcellos, Urban Transport, Environment and Equity the Case for Developing Countries, Earthscan Publications Ltd, London, 2001

  • Cities bear the brunt of the mobility crisis. In India, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore account for about 5 per cent of the nation's population, but 14 per cent of its total registered vehicles. About 50 per cent of automobiles in Iran, Kenya, Mexico and Chile chug in their capital cities.

    Weekday traffic speeds reportedly average 9 kilometres per hour (km/hr) or less in Seoul and Shanghai, 10 km/hr or less in Bangkok and Manila, and 17 km/hr or less in Kuala Lumpur and S�o Paolo.

  • The economic costs are formidable: Bangkok loses up to 6 per cent of its economic production - in terms of money - to congestion; in Brazil, congestion increases public transport operating costs by 10 per cent in Rio de Janeiro and by 16 per cent in S�o Paulo.

    This state of affairs exists despite motorisation being still at a relatively early stage in most developing and transitional economies. Most developing countries have less than 100 cars per 1,000 people compared with 400 or more in the more industrialised nations. But they also face the danger of being transported into an extremely congested future.

The above information was extracted from The Anatomy of Congestion, published in Down to Earth (Vol 11, No 24).

Mobility 2001, a report by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

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