Most US cities stuck behind Asia, Latin America for worst daily commute

The next time you’re stuck on the BQE in New York, Interstate 5 in Los Angeles or Interstate 45 in Houston, tell yourself “at least it’s not as bad as Beijing.” According to a new Commuter Pain Index, Beijing, Mexico City and eleven other international cities have increasingly worse daily commutes than drivers in US cities.

The report, compiled by IBM, says that some of the world’s most economically important cities are mired in terrible congestion, indicating a failure of transportation infrastructure to keep pace with economic growth. Indeed this stagnation on the highways are costing major dollars. According to a 2000 study conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute, the 75 largest metropolitan areas experienced $67.5 billion in lost productivity and that the annual cost of congestion for each driver was about $1,000 in the larger cities.

The IBM study surveyed over 8,000 motorists in 20 cities over six continents to gauge the physical and emotional toll that everyday traffic has on people around the world. It found that most international cities have experienced a fast-growing rash of congestion. “The congestion in many of today’s developing cities is a relatively recent phenomenon, having paralleled the rapid economic growth of those cities during the past decade or two,” the report noted. But places like New York, Los Angeles or London developed gradually over many decades, giving officials more time and resources to address the problem, it went on to say.

Naveen Lamba, IBM’s global industry lead for intelligent transportation, says that building more roads in many of the international cities surveyed is simply not an option. “New techniques are required that empower transportation officials to better understand and proactively manage the flow of traffic,” he said.

Some of the survey highlights include:

  • 87% of the respondents have been stuck in roadway traffic in the last three years.
  • The average reported delay in Moscow is 2.5 hours, where more than 40% say they have been stuck in traffic for more than three hours.
  • 31% of respondents said that during the past three years traffic has been so bad that they turned around and went home.
  • If commuting time could be reduced, 16% of respondents worldwide would choose to work more.

CivSource spoke to Mr. Lamba earlier this year when the company announced a partnership with the City of Stockholm (which ranked lowest on the Commuter Pain Index) and the KTH Royal Institute. IBM and Stockholm extended a previous partnership in April 2010 to leverage new analytics capabilities by implementing InfoSphere Streams software. According to Mr. Lamba InfoSphere Streams will help city officials manage traffic congestion, decrease air pollution and make operational improvements within their transportation infrastructure. But perhaps more important, he said, was that IBM could give Stockholm traffic officials a window into a future based on real-time data. The Streams software will tie together information from over a thousand taxicabs GPS devices with data from delivery trucks, traffic sensors, transit systems, pollution monitors and weather information to provide real-time analysis on traffic flow, travel times and best commuting options, company officials said in an interview with CivSource.

“The strength of InfoSphere Streams is that it can handle very large volumes of data and do real-time analysis as it happens,” Lamba said in the April interview.

So, fear not, weary travelers of the world. Even though your pain is high, (and getting higher according to 49 percent of drivers surveyed), IBM is working to develop smarter transportation solutions and perhaps someday soon the rush hour commute will only take one hour.

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