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Reducing road congestion: a reality check


  • Stopher, Peter R.


For some little while now, transport policy seems to be focused on massive relative increases in public transport ridership and reduction of car use, resulting in a hoped-for reduction in road congestion. Starting with concerns with vehicle emissions as far back as the mid-1980s, and moving now into more of a focus on greenhouse gases and congestion, current transport policies are aimed at reducing two perceived externalities of increasing car use--vehicular emissions and congestion. This paper seeks to check the reality of these policy directions and question whether these are desirable, let alone achievable end states. The paper starts by looking at congestion and questions whether or not it is intrinsically bad. The negative and positive aspects of congestion are explored. The concepts of accessibility and mobility are discussed, particularly in relation to congestion and capacity increases, with the idea of trying to understand better what capacity increases or increasing congestion do to these two measures. The expectation must be that congestion levels are likely to continue to increase into the future, both as a result of increasing population and also increasing real wealth and changes in preferences. This section of the paper concludes that it is within the power of the market place to offset some of the negatives of congestion. In the next section of the paper, the potentials to increase public transport ridership are examined. An illustration is provided of the likely impacts of achieving a doubling in public transport ridership in a hypothetical city. It is found that the effects of such an achievement would be relatively small on the overall congestion of the road system, and that these effects would also be likely to be fairly short-lived. At the same time, the investments that would be necessary in the public transport system are enormous, and there is relatively little likelihood that one could achieve such an increase in ridership within current development patterns. The paper also addresses the potential of congestion pricing or road user charges to impact congestion. It is concluded that charging motorists a politically acceptable amount will probably still not make significant impact on overall system congestion, while the potential for serious impacts on the economy become large if the charges are made sufficiently high or the area covered is made sufficiently large. In the final section of the paper, a number of policy directions are put forward as suggestions for how to deal with the issue of congestion, capacity, and the declining share of market of public transport. These policy directions are not generally the ones that are being pursued today. The issue of congestion pricing is revisited, and a case is made for a kilometrage charge on road users to replace most current licensing schemes.

Suggested Citation

  • Stopher, Peter R., 2004. "Reducing road congestion: a reality check," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 11(2), pages 117-131, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:trapol:v:11:y:2004:i:2:p:117-131

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bamberg, Sebastian & Fujii, Satoshi & Friman, Margareta & Gärling, Tommy, 2011. "Behaviour theory and soft transport policy measures," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 228-235, January.
    2. Oliveira, Eduardo Leal de & Portugal, Licínio da Silva & Porto Junior, Walter, 2016. "Indicators of reliability and vulnerability: Similarities and differences in ranking links of a complex road system," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 195-208.
    3. Takama, Takeshi & Preston, John, 2008. "Forecasting the effects of road user charge by stochastic agent-based modelling," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 42(4), pages 738-749, May.
    4. Catherine Althaus & Lindsay M. Tedds & Allen McAvoy, 2011. "The Feasibility of Implementing a Congestion Charge on the Halifax Peninsula: Filling the "Missing Link" of Implementation," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 37(4), pages 541-561, December.
    5. Sangho Choo & Patricia Mokhtarian, 2008. "How do people respond to congestion mitigation policies? A multivariate probit model of the individual consideration of three travel-related strategy bundles," Transportation, Springer, vol. 35(2), pages 145-163, March.
    6. David T. Ory & Patricia L. Mokhtarian & Lothlorien S. Redmond & Ilan Salomon & Gustavo O. Collantes & Sangho Choo, 2004. "When is Commuting Desirable to the Individual?," Growth and Change, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 35(3), pages 334-359.
    7. Zhang, Yun & Stopher, Peter & Halling, Belinda, 2013. "Evaluation of south-Australia's TravelSmart project: Changes in community's attitudes to travel," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 26(C), pages 15-22.
    8. Sebastian Bamberg & Guido Möser, 2007. "Why are work travel plans effective? Comparing conclusions from narrative and meta-analytical research synthesis," Transportation, Springer, vol. 34(6), pages 647-666, November.
    9. Michael L. Anderson, 2014. "Subways, Strikes, and Slowdowns: The Impacts of Public Transit on Traffic Congestion," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(9), pages 2763-2796, September.
    10. Wooliscroft, Ben & Ganglmair-Wooliscroft, Alexandra, 2014. "Improving conditions for potential New Zealand cyclists: An application of conjoint analysis," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 11-19.
    11. Frei, Fernando, 2006. "Sampling mobility index: Case study in Assis--Brazil," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 40(9), pages 792-799, November.
    12. Taylor, Brian D., 2004. "The politics of congestion mitigation," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 299-302, July.
    13. Margareta Friman & Lina Larhult & Tommy Gärling, 2013. "An analysis of soft transport policy measures implemented in Sweden to reduce private car use," Transportation, Springer, vol. 40(1), pages 109-129, January.
    14. Beaudoin, Justin & Farzin, Y. Hossein & Lin Lawell, C.-Y. Cynthia, 2015. "Public transit investment and sustainable transportation: A review of studies of transit's impact on traffic congestion and air quality," Research in Transportation Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 15-22.
    15. Dong Zhang & Jan-Dirk Schmöcker & Satoshi Fujii & Xiaoguang Yang, 2016. "Social norms and public transport usage: empirical study from Shanghai," Transportation, Springer, vol. 43(5), pages 869-888, September.
    16. Creemers, Lieve & Tormans, Hans & Bellemans, Tom & Janssens, Davy & Wets, Geert & Cools, Mario, 2015. "Knowledge of the concept Light Rail Transit: Exploring its relevance and identification of the determinants of various knowledge levels," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 31-43.
    17. Ben-Elia, Eran & Ettema, Dick, 2009. "Carrots versus sticks: Rewarding commuters for avoiding the rush-hour--a study of willingness to participate," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 68-76, March.
    18. Irene Casas & Mei-Po Kwan, 2007. "The Impact of Real-Time Information on Choices During the Commute Trip: Evidence from a Travel Simulator," Growth and Change, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(4), pages 523-543.
    19. Jan-Dirk Schmöcker & Tsuyoshi Hatori & David Watling, 2014. "Dynamic process model of mass effects on travel demand," Transportation, Springer, vol. 41(2), pages 279-304, March.
    20. Natalia Presman & Arie Arnon, "undated". "Commuting Patterns in Israel," Regional and Urban Modeling 283600076, EcoMod.
    21. Schmöcker, Jan-Dirk & Fonzone, Achille & Quddus, Mohammed & Bell, Michael G.H., 2006. "Changes in the frequency of shopping trips in response to a congestion charge," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 217-228, May.
    22. Muthukrishnan, Subhashini, 2010. "Vehicle ownership and usage charges," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 17(6), pages 398-408, November.
    23. Aydin, Nezir & Celik, Erkan & Gumus, Alev Taskin, 2015. "A hierarchical customer satisfaction framework for evaluating rail transit systems of Istanbul," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 61-81.
    24. repec:eee:trapol:v:59:y:2017:i:c:p:54-63 is not listed on IDEAS
    25. Chowdhury, Subeh & Ceder, Avishai (Avi), 2016. "Users’ willingness to ride an integrated public-transport service: A literature review," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 183-195.

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