Traffic congestion is more than a simple inconvenience. It carries a significant cost in time and money, drains the local economy, and has a profound impact on quality of life. The average western citizen spends 50 hours sitting in traffic delays every year.
In 2011 alone, traffic congestion cost the population more than 2.9 billion gallons of fuel. In addition to the fuel costs, the costs of the resulting pollution, traffic accidents and time spent in congested traffic can add up to more than 10 percent of GDP.
When faced with the challenges of traffic congestion, we’re also inclined to think of the problem as one that is almost impossible to solve. After all, traffic is an essential component of any urban environment, and we can’t expect people to stop commuting to work, nor can we expect cargo traffic to reduce, when it’s been growing every year for decades. However, dealing with congestion isn’t a linear challenge. Simply reducing the traffic by 10 percent during peak hours would almost eliminate all congestion, delivering an increase of up to 2% in regional GDP.
Cities which invest in smarter transportation see a clear and direct return on their investment. Reduced traffic congestion lowers transport network and infrastructure costs and pollution, as well as improves economic growth and quality of life. Cities which face congested transport networks have a strong incentive to develop and optimize public transportation. Additional public transportation routes, dynamic scheduling of buses to support routes where additional capacity is needed, and campaigns to raise awareness of time and cost savings offered to commuters by public transportation can make significant contributions to the reduction of peak time congestion.
The number of vehicles on city roads is increasing every year, and small towns in the west are already shrinking, with more and more of their citizens moving to larger urban metropolises. More vehicles means more infrastructure, but the speed with which cities can develop new roads can’t possibly keep up with the rate at which new cars are added. The current transportation networks will face increasing difficulties managing this growth, and many cities will have to find alternative solutions to simply building more roads, more lanes, and more parking spots.
As most complex organizations, cities can harness data and predictive analytics to detect problems and optimize their existing systems. As more and more cities are leaning on sensors, the Internet of Things and smart city platforms to tie the collected data into actionable intelligence, we’re likely to see such measures applied to city transportation as well. Only data can answer the difficult challenges of public transportation and congestion management at any moment and with minimal cost.
How can cities improve commuter experiences and quality of life by taking proactive action to reduce traffic congestion? What will cities look for when evaluating their next renovation of their transportation system?
Digital – a smart and reactive transportation system is equipped with sensors, which track traffic from source to destination, monitor conditions in real time, and instantly identify stalls or inefficiencies.
Interconnected – Smart transportation systems support integration of all sensor information and offer professionals and users easy access to live information, route choices and shipment options.
Intelligent – Smart transportation management systems use analytics to process and present real-time data and automatically respond to changes and critical needs of the system. This capability helps cities dynamically adjust conditions, align congestion toll pricing with demand, initiate security measures, and make decisions based on environmental impact.