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A sticky situation

London Dr. Graham Cookson, Chief Economist at INRIX, a global leader for connected car technology and transportation analytics, talks to SCW about the impact of congestion on our city streets.

Congestion in London is increasing
Congestion in London is increasing

Congestion in London is increasing, with journey times in Central London growing by 12 per cent annually

London economy and population are growing resulting in an increase in traffic

The growth rate is twice as large amongst LGV (delivery vans), which is matched by continued, significant growth in e-commerce

SCW: Road works seem to be a major cause of congestion in London. In what ways do you see this could this be contained?


Dr. Cookson: Transport for London (TfL) is making significant efforts to future-proof the city, such as its £4 billion road modernisation plan, which will benefit both road users and the London economy by creating a greener, safer and more attractive London. INRIX’s traffic data analysis has found that TfL’s roads modernisation programme could reduce congestion by more than 20 per cent - supporting people and goods to move freely and reinforcing London’s status as one of the world’s leading smart cities.


TfL has a programme to coordinate roadworks with utility companies to minimise disruption (TfL Lane Rental Scheme) as well as a coordination tool with London Boroughs (LondonWorks). However, much of the increased roadworks are due to public transport infrastructure projects like Crossrail and Cycle Superhighways. Whilst these cause short-term frustration for travellers, they are essential in creating a more seamless travel experience across London. It’s short-term pain for long-term gain.


More generally, congestion in London is increasing, with journey times in Central London growing by 12 per cent annually, according to a study we produced earlier this year. This is consistent with data that shows that the London economy and population are growing, which normally results in an increase in traffic. Before you can start planning for a smarter city, it’s important to understand what is happening on your road networks today.


Driven by the need for transparency and accountability, public agencies everywhere are increasing their focus on real-time and historical traffic data to manage their roadways, as well as quality performance measurement to demonstrate the effectiveness of their efforts. The arc of the task today revolves around driving actionable insight from the data – and lots of it. INRIX recently announced a new Roadway Analytics tool to help transport authorities do just that.


SCW: Is the main reason for congestion outside London due to the volume of cars on the road?


Dr. Cookson: Driven by rising population, a growing economy, cheaper fuel and rising public transport costs, total miles driven across all vehicle classes has risen in 2016. However, the growth rate is twice as large amongst LGV (delivery vans), which is matched by continued, significant growth in e-commerce.


Outside of London, according to the INRIX Traffic Scorecard the worst affected metropolitan areas are Greater Manchester, Belfast and Merseyside. Our findings are confirmed by the Department for Transport (DfT) 2015 – 2016 traffic statistics report (released this week), which has seen an increase of 1.5 per cent in traffic and a decrease of 2.5 per cent in the average speed in the UK from the previous year. The figures from the DfT highlight the growing issue in the UK. The significant task road authorities face in tackling the problem of increasing congestion cannot be underestimated. There needs to be a concerted effort to improve infrastructure in order to handle this overwhelming demand for road travel.


SCW: What is the most congested city in the world?


Dr. Cookson: As urbanisation continues to drive increased congestion in many major cities worldwide, we are seeing more drivers on the road and more time wasted in traffic.


According to the INRIX 2015 Traffic Scorecard which analysed traffic congestion in 100 major metropolitan areas in Europe and the US, the report revealed the cities most impacted by worsened traffic conditions are those that experienced the most economic improvement during the past year.


The report found that London topped the list of gridlock-plagued cities, with 101 hours of delay, followed by Los Angeles (81 hours), Washington D.C. (75), San Francisco (75), Houston (74), New York (73), Stuttgart (73), Antwerp (71), Cologne (71) and Brussels (70).


The results provided governments and cities in Europe and the US with a quantifiable benchmark to measure the progress in improving urban mobility and track the impact of spending on smart city initiatives.


As the INRIX Traffic Scorecard focused on Europe and the US, it is likely that cities in less developed regions have significantly worse congestion.


SCW: What is the importance of investing in smart technologies to ease traffic congestion worldwide?


Dr. Cookson: There is a need and value for smarter cities to address the individual, economic and environmental challenges of urbanisation worldwide. Already, we’ve seen how cities are taking great strides in investing in these technological solutions. A great example of this was the announcement earlier this year that London will be joining forces with European cities to trail smart technology in a €25 million project in order to demonstrate how innovative uses of technology can improve lives of their residents.


With IDC forecasting worldwide Big Data technology and services market growing to $48.6 billion in 2019, the connected car holds the key to providing insight that makes navigation easier for drivers and helps our cities make our transportation networks work smarter.


Today, congestion places an enormous burden on our economy and environment and it’s only expected to get worse. Innovations such as the connected car can help us turn this around. It’s clear that technology empowered by big data is not only transforming how we use navigation everyday but is setting the foundation for transportation systems that result in smarter, more sustainable cities.


At INRIX we’re doing our part to make this happen, through providing system-wide information that analyses data from traditional road sensor networks with up-to-the-minute data from consumer and fleet vehicles, mobile devices and incidents.


One major cause of traffic congestion is weather-related accidents. With over 7,000 US and 8,000 European weather-related auto accident fatalities each year it’s an important area that can benefit from smarter technologies. INRIX Road Weather is just one tool that gives drivers advance warning of dangerous weather-related road conditions ahead, keeping them safer on their route. This will help reduce the number of traffic accidents related to weather, saving lives, easing congestion and reducing insurance costs for drivers.


SCW: Has the time of one car, one owner had its day?


Dr. Cookson: Peak car theory would predict this, but statistics such as these and the INRIX Traffic Scorecard highlight that private car use is still large and in many areas growing. The real answer is more nuanced and very much depends on who you are and where you live.


A younger generation of connected commuters and citizens who are already accustomed to both the sharing economy and on-demand services are unlikely to embrace car ownership in the same way as previous generations have.


Similarly city and urban dwellers are already reducing their reliance on car use, and this will continue. When you combine the fact that as the population continues to increase we’re also becoming more urban dwelling, we must see a decline in car ownership. That said, there are still a lot of people who are poorly served by public transport who rely heavily on private vehicles. And as driverless vehicles develop this could, in theory at least, see a renaissance for the car.


SCW: What do you think the traffic model in London will look like in 10 years?


Dr Cookson: Much the same as it does today but with a greater focus on (i) mobility as a service, and (ii) intermodal routing and ticketing. We are still a long way off autonomous vehicles on our streets but within the next 10 years I think we will see significant market share among ride sharing services and shared ownership (e.g. car clubs).


Connected cars will be prevalent in unlocking true intermodal solutions such as the one INRIX developed for the BMW i3 and significant improvements in road and parking efficiency.


Using parking as an example, this is a predominant growing issue for congestion in cities. Drivers often spend an average of 20 minutes in pursuit of a parking spot.


We are actually addressing this problem for millions of frustrated drivers with a service that helps them quickly locate and navigate to available on-street and off-street parking. In providing more parking solutions, transportation operators and planners are able to gain insights to help improve urban congestion and optimise parking inventory utilization. Modernising the way drivers find parking will significantly improve urban congestion and movement throughout cities globally.

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