Congestion in the UK cost £37bn in 2017. These costs are calculated from the lost time and fuel as well as the adverse effect on pollution.1
The government have again been criticised this week by the High court for failing to protect its citizens from air pollution in many cities.
The advent of the motor car can also be shown to contribute to the cost of our nation’s health due to inactivity.
I would like to test out the many solutions to congestion proposed, and see which seem to solve the congestion, pollution, and lifestyle, whilst being affordable.
Which solutions works best?
1/ Shared cars/rides. The cost to the individual is reduced and the number of parking spaces consumed by cars is less. This could free up some space on the streets to improve congestion. The cost reduction could have a side effect of increased usage of car over other more sustainable choice. The advent of Uber increased car usage in London.
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2/ Public transport. It is apparent that most public transport needs subsidising. TfL expects to lose £1bn this year, despite having prices that are twice those typical of Germany. The capital costs are impressive. Cross rail’s final bill will be £15bn. They clearly reduce congestion and Pollution.
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3/ More roads especially pinch point improvements. Costs are significant and the affect is to promote car usage which then increases pollution and has adverse effects on lifestyle and personal health.
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4/ Road pricing. There are some congestion taxes, notably the London charge (£11.50). There is now an additional T charge to discourage older, more polluting vehicles. Electric cars including hybrids are given free access. This was initially effective in improving congestion in central London, but traffic levels have returned to pre-charge levels; it is a flat rate daily charge which doesn’t discourage high usage once paid, and hybrids now make up 50% of the traffic.
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5/Bikes. In China congestion savings of $2.5bn have been reported and total societal savings off $32Bn with the advent of bike sharing. This technology clearly contributes to reduced congestion and pollution whilst also tackling chronic inactivity. There are safety issues in some cities. In the UK cyclists are 16 times more likely to die than car drivers. This figure falls to 8 times in Bike friendly countries such as the Netherlands. Bikes are also limited in range and speed, although electric bikes significantly improve both these attributes.
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The significant cost of road and public transport schemes with unclear paybacks makes it increasingly difficult to justify them. The road schemes increase pollution.
Shared car schemes may contribute to lower car ownership, but may well reduce car costs which encourages usage.
There are only 2 clear policies that should be advocated in polluted city centres. These are road pricing and cycle promotion. For city centres and at peak hours it is logical to increase the price to ration the precious resource of road space. As exampled in London, the congestion charge has resulted in a boom in cycling. Now it is the dominant street mode at rush hour.
The direction is clear and the London Plan advocates these things. It is fortunate that the costs are not significant, but still the cultural change required to extract people from their cars is not to be underestimated. Bike share schemes are a good way for people to test out this mode without a large financial investment. The arrival of electrically assisted bikes makes the transition much easier as the effort is less and the speeds are increased.
1 Inrix Global Traffic Scorecard Feb 2018