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The global As(h)tray
Traffic jams across the globe need innovative solutions

When it comes to owning superlative terms, China seems to be on the forefront. It has always attempted to build the biggest, tallest, longest or mightiest records across categories. But the recent inclusion of having the worst traffic jam is surely the most unwanted entry in the record books. And the honour for this goes to the traffic jam that occurred recently on the Beijing-Zhangjiakou Highway, which would comfortably put any similar traffic congestion in history to shame.

In all fairness, traffic congestions are not confined to over populated countries like China or India but can be traced across the world. The problem is not just about infrastructural or traffic management failure, but goes beyond. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that more than 33 per cent of the US roadways are in “substandard condition” and are most of the time incapable of handling traffic. This traffic gridlock dents the economy and affects the productivity of the nation. Going by the rate at which vehicle ownership is increasing, the number of cars and light trucks worldwide is set to double over the next 20 years, which today is more than 900 million. And mind you, the concentration of vehicles is much intense in cities than in rural or sub-urban areas. A new report from the Texas Transportation Institute reveals that congestion cost the economy $87 billion and eats away 4 billion hours of time. Congestion in Los Angeles averages at 72 hours a year while a driver has to face 62 hours average congestion in Washington DC annually. Traffic congestion in Dhaka eats up Tk 19,555 crore a year and about 3.2 million business hours are lost every day, which is about one hour per working person. A World Bank study revealed that the health impacts and costs attributed to air pollution due to traffic congestion in the Philippines were estimated at US$392 million for 2001 while the World Health Organization reveals that in developing countries as many as 300 million people are dying due to vehicle emissions.

Increasing roads, flyover and expressways is not the only solution, studies show that traffic congestion is more because of driver’s behaviour while driving. A few experts have suggested the introduction of adaptive cruise control (ACC) that would automatically keep a car at a set distance from the one in front through combinations of navigators, satellites and radars. Furthering this thought, a study by Technische Universität Dresden, Germany found that a 1 per cent increase in the number of ACC-using vehicles would free up 0.3 per cent of road capacity.

Other policy measures that can be put to use are parking restrictions, road pricing (charging money to access roads), certificate of entitlement (exorbitant purchase prices for the licenses) scheme, congestion entry tax (as is there in London), road space rationing (restricting certain types of vehicles in certain areas), number plate restrictions (based on days of the week, as was used in Korea during Olympics, 1988) and many other discretely practiced methods can come as a rescue too. Of course, public transport is the general solution that exists too. Still, the time is not too far when we'll have gridlocks that last for days, if not weeks. That's the danger for now.

By:- Sray Agarwal


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