The True Cost of Congestion

Article by Neville Zammit

 

 WHAT IS TRAFFIC?


DEFINITION

“Traffic is congested if there are so many vehicles that each one travels slower than it would do if the other vehicles weren’t there.”


THE MALTESE CASE

The daily rush hours that causes one to be late for work or class. Short-cuts are useless and (once you arrive) parking is impossible.


HOW IT HAPPENS

Since all commercial activity starts and ends roughly at the same time, roads are overwhelmed beyond their capacity at rush hour and relaxed at other hours. Some roads can handle the added load, but still end up leading to one particular roundabout that can only handle X amount of cars per minute.As a result, a journey that takes about 10 minutes during off-peak hours often takes 30 minutes or longer during rush hour

WHY IS IT GETTING WORSE?


POPULATION

Forget the increasing number of licensed cars on the road: cars don’t drive themselves (yet). Population has been on the rise for at least three decades (see link ). The same can be said for life expectancy. While our elderly continue to be active (and drive) in their later years, they may also need frequent trips to the hospitals.

The immigration of expert staff by the successful gaming and financial sector as well as immigration of unskilled labour for work not supplied by the newly affluent Maltese is a recent reality. These all acquire cars once established.


More people = more cars


AFFLUENCE

GDP has also been on a steady increase for the last two decades. This can be translated into many things that affect traffic:


• More women have joined the workforce making the purchase and use of another car both affordable and worthwhile. Think about the congestion on the first day of school.


• More specialised workers whose skills are not demanded within their town but in specific business hubs.


• More affluent households affording a car per family member.


• Tourist numbers have risen progressively over the years and in all months of the year. These all require ferrying while staff needs to travel from all over the country to serve them in the touristy hubs.


INFRASTRUCTURE 

While the Maltese population and its car use intensified the road infrastructure did not expand in proportion. 

 

WHAT ARE THE REPERCUSSIONS? 


The following are some costs incurred during or because of congestion:


TIME

Waste of time in traffic can be translated into money terms had the person been at work. One undergraduate thesis estimated this at €700 per person per year (Zammit, 2012)


FUEL

Waste of fuel idling in traffic – the car’s combustion engine is most efficient at high speeds.


Health

Emission of harmful carbon gases intensify the more time a car spends on the road. These gases have repercussions among others; on human health, climate change, and infrastructural deterioration.


BUSINESS

 It costs money to businesses as schedules can be missed and planning of time-frames made difficult.


QUALITY OF LIFE 

The quality of life of the affected population is worsened as more people feel helpless and get nervous wasting time in traffic or if they suffer from visual or noise pollution.

DOES IT ONLY HAPPEN IN MALTA?

Indeed it is a trademark illness of major cities all over the world. It is the only method by which road demand can be rationed fairly when the infrastructure is overwhelmed. However nearly all cities have better developed coping mechanisms such as: light and heavy rail, bike sharing schemes, road charging, number plate bans, car free zones etc.

WILL IT CONTINUE?

Hopefully GDP, life expectancy and population will follow their steady upward trend, so there is no reason to expect that traffic congestion is going away any time soon. Only fundamental improvements in infrastructure can alleviate the current intensification of the traffic problem.