Here are a few good reads on traffic congestion and its measurement or quantification:
- How Not To Measure Traffic Congestion—Hold the Hyperbole, Please! which appears on Planetizen today, October 15, 2014.
- Rethinking the economics of traffic congestion which appeared on June 1, 2012.
Reading these articles will probably make you think that traffic is good or that congestion is good. While congestion is indeed indicative of economic vibrance as movement of people and goods are a good measure for economic activity, excessive congestion results in many other problems that need to be addressed and which can also be quantified in economic terms. Note, too, that one author mentions “peak traffic” that is now becoming common in developed countries as motorization has plateaued and transport systems have become developed to provide people and goods with a variety of modes to choose from including walking and cycling. In our case, traffic has not yet “peaked” in the sense that motorization continues for many of our cities including Metro Manila. There is also a lag in the provision of transport infrastructure including mass transit systems that should have been constructed decades if not years ago. Perhaps we need to be clear about the context by which congestion costs are estimated and presented.
The somewhat dramatic presentations like the manner shown in the first article above reminds us of similar estimates of congestion costs in the Philippines, particularly for Metro Manila. The latest of these come from a JICA project that had as an objective the drafting of a roadmap for transport in the expanded region that is dubbed as Mega Manila (Region 3, National Capital Region and Region 4A). The end product has been billed as a “Dream Plan for Mega Manila” and draws on congestion cost estimates that would definitely be regarded as exaggerated if seen in the context of the two articles we mentioned above. Perhaps it is the important message (i.e., we need to build transport infrastructure) of such exaggerated presentations that we should focus on an not really the specific numbers being quoted by news organizations and circulated in social media.
We have to caution the reader that congestion is here to stay and cannot be totally eliminated, especially with economically vibrant or growing cities. What we probably would like to address, however, is excessive congestion. Yes, there is such a thing as excessive congestion. I would like to describe this as something that is “unreasonable” along the lines of say instead of your regular 1 hour commute, it took you 2 hours or more. For some, this can be due to horrendous traffic jams due to flooded streets. Or perhaps someone who takes public transport waiting for hours just to get a ride. And so people are forced to cope and in a way, their minds have been conditioned to tolerate (accept?) the levels of congestion they experience on a daily basis. Congestion is good but it does not have to be hellish.