How much time do you spend stuck in traffic each day? Is it minutes? Hours? Maybe you’re lucky enough to live within walking distance of your place of work or your children’s school or crèche. Perhaps your town or city has good cycling infrastructure or public transport. Many Europeans, however, waste valuable hours sitting in traffic.
Drivers in the UK apparently spend the most time stuck in gridlock according to the European Commission, racking up an average of 45 hours stuck in traffic in 2016. Belgians, Italians, Greeks, and Luxembourgers also spend upwards of 35 hours in road congestion. On the opposite end of the scale are the Finns, who spend only 17 hours on average sitting in traffic jams. The Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia also have relatively stress-free commutes, having only modest traffic congestion compared to other EU Member States.
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Edita, who is very confident that “lessening traffic and encouraging other modes of transport is entirely possible”. However, she doesn’t actually provide any concrete solutions to make it happen. So, what can we do? How can we all be less like London and more like Helsinki?
To get a response, we spoke to Chiara Garau, Assistant Professor in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Cagliari, Italy. What would be here suggestions?
It is certainly possible to reduce traffic congestion in cities by increasing limited traffic areas, by encouraging car sharing services and also by encouraging the use of public transportation.
Intrigued by the suggestion of “car sharing services”, we spoke to the founder of one: Frédéric Mazzella, founder and President of BlaBlaCar and one of our sister think tank Friends of Europe’s European Young Leaders. What would he say?
You’re asking that to the founder of BlaBlaCar, so I guess you know the answer. Jokes aside, for sure, carpooling is a great solution to reduce traffic because it is not a surprise that it’s better to place two people in a car than to have two cars per people. So that’s what we do. We reduce the number of cars on the road by improving their occupancy rate.
So what we do for long-distance carpooling on BlaBlaCar is we allow drivers who have empty seats to match with passengers going the same way, so we don’t create additional cars, but we use the existing cars for passengers who want to go to their destination. Sometimes it’s also for drivers who decide to not take their own car, but take the car of someone else. We have an occupancy rate of 2.8 people per car in the BlaBlaCar network versus 1.6 on average in city travels. 1.6 means 1 driver and .6 passengers and 2.8 is obviously 1 driver and 1.8 passengers which is a lot better. So this is one way to reduce costs, congestion and the number of cars.
Other solutions which are very light, like all the bicycle fleets or the scooters. Those solutions are also very good and light. My only concern regarding those two – the fleet of bicycles and scooters – is safety and security because obviously it’s a bit dangerous to use them in cities because you can hit cars. But they are very convenient and very light, so they reduce congestion if people use them instead of cars. Then public transit is a good thing, but it costs a lot. So our approach with BlaBlaCar is to use what already exists and not add any additional infrastructures. We have everything we need: we have the roads, we have the cars, we have the people who drive the empty cars. So we have everything to create a network that can optimise congestion.
Finally, we spoke to another young entrepreneur who is seeking to crack the traffic congestion conundrum: Richard Cartwright, founder of FlowX, a tech start-up that works with city authorities to extract traffic data from CCTV cameras. How did he think this data might be used to make traffic jams a thing of the past?
The golden question! I split this into two main methods: increasing the efficiency of existing capacity, and changing travel mode.
The first, increasing the efficiency of existing capacity, is of immediate concern. This requires more granular understanding of traffic within a city, and then designing traffic to smoothly flow across the city. This means optimised traffic light timings and improved road design. It is critical here to understand how different travel modes interact (for example, vehicles-cars-pedestrians) and making sure the network is resilient to shocks.
The second, changing model of travel, is the most influential factor in the medium term. We know that improving public transport in tandem with the rise of micro transport has impressive effects: citizens leave their car at home and instead hop on a shared hire bike from home to metro station, get the metro into the city centre, then walk from station to office. We are beginning to see more radical vehicle restrictions in global cities, but this itself brings its own problems: how do goods delivery trucks reach high street stores if vehicles are banned?
Radical policy is required to change mode of travel, and policymakers must be brave in standing up to incumbent interests.
How would you cut traffic congestion in your city? What suggestions do you have for beating gridlock? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!