The Urban Mobility Scorecard Annual Return could be the best way forward for the logistics industry to reduce traffic congestion

Having lasted many years the international recession has at long last come to an end and urban areas of various sizes are facing traffic congestion challenges not seen since the early 2000s. It comes as no great surprise as a result of the growth in the world economy and indeed the world population. Transport is inextricably linked to both phenomena.

The Urban Mobility Scorecard Annual Return recently issued by INRIX (The Driving Intelligence Specialists) takes account of the state of traffic congestion in major towns and cities across the world. In general the levels of congestion align themselves directly with that country’s particular economic profile.

The correlation between economic growth and increasing traffic congestion

Countries that have been experiencing high unemployment and low economic growth over the last year recorded lower levels of traffic congestion as a result. On the other hand countries with good economic growth last year (countries including the United States, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Switzerland) all reported increasing traffic jams on their road networks.

The major traffic thoroughfares in towns and cities all across the world can gridlock at any point in time, either during the week or on the weekend. The result is that travelers and shippers experience longer travelling times and incur greater costs from uneconomical fuel use, lost productivity, and increasing vulnerability to local weather conditions, road-works, faulty traffic lights, road traffic accidents and local shows which can all lead to serious traffic jams. The logistics industry servicing supply chains across the globe experiences very real problems as a result.

New investment needed in worldwide traffic infrastructures

The Urban Mobility Scorecard Annual Report reports a global economy that has bounced back from recession and is leaning towards prosperity. However the increased amount of traffic and the ensuing congestion is a serious wake-up call, reminding us that the world as a whole needs to invest more in transport infrastructure and technology in order to minimize the number of traffic jams and gridlock’s and the attendant economic price penalties to both businesses and individuals alike.

In the USA the economy has now re-filled the 9 million job vacancies that came about as a result of the worldwide recession. The result is that the new congestion problem is even bigger than it was before the recession began. As the economy has grown the flow of traffic and traffic congestion increased month by month over the last year, with un-forecast delays and longer transit times being incurred by the logistic arms of supply chains all over America.

The increasing cost of traffic congestion to US supply chains

The 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard created by INRIX in conjunction with and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute reports on national traffic congestion difficulties across 471 urban areas. It shows the size of the dilemma which is not only impacting on businesses and local economies, but on the driver shortage situation too.  The impact on the logistics arm of US supply chains is steadily mounting. Take a quick look at the comparison figures shown below which indicates the cost of this congestion over the past 32 years

  • In 1982 it was estimated at $42 billion
  • In 2000 it was estimated at $114 billion
  • In 2014 it was estimated at $160 billion

What increased congestion means to the individual and the logistics industry

This cost of traffic congestion in 2014 can also be expressed in time and fuel wasted as well as cost. It amounts to:

  • An additional 6.9 billion extra hours
  • 1 billion wasted gallons of fuel

It is estimated that American citizens planning important trips had to allow for 2.5 times more travel time in these times of congestion, than when traffic was much lighter. The fact of the matter is that drivers on the USs 10 most notorious roads spent an average of 84 hours or 3.5 days per year in complete gridlock conditions. Of these 10 roads, 6 were in Los Angeles, 2 in New York and the other 2 were in Chicago.

The time for action is now, before the situation becomes much worse and supply chain themselves become gridlocked. At the current rate of expansion, by the time we get to 2020 congestion is expected to:

  • Increase costs from $160 billion-$192 billion
  • Result in delays of up to 8.3 billion hours
  • Result in fuel wastage of 3.8 billion gallons
  • Add $1100 to the average US commuters cost of congestion
  • Waste an additional 47 hours of the average commuter’s life
  • Waste an additional 21 gallons of a consumers petrol consumption

But the real cost will be to supply chains which will of course also impact on the consumer.

The report highlights the need for the US to substantially increase its investment in the transport infrastructure. Any solutions devised must include a mixture of strategies including new construction projects, better traffic management through new smart technology and better public transport options, in addition to making flexible work schedules available in order to spread the congestion load more widely throughout the day and night.

The picture in Europe

In Europe the report analyses data from the various European countries, comparing the 2014 figures to the 2007 figures when the publication was first produced. The INRIX Traffic Scorecard is now used largely by city planners, drivers, economists, and the media as the benchmark towards understanding and getting to grips with traffic congestion.

The results of the analysis for Europe are similar to those of the USA but for different reasons. Unemployment in the recession rose to 6.8 million. By the second quarter of 2014, 1.8 million had been reemployed. In addition to this return to positive growth, the amount of disposable income per household rose for the first time in 4 years, boosting consumer confidence and fuelling increased spending.

Europe could be gridlocked by 2020

With the increase in consumer demand, and if employment reaches the target set for it by the European Commission, the forecast transport-wise is that the main transport thoroughfares and hubs throughout Europe will become gridlocked by 2020.

A study carried out by INRIX and the Centre for Economics and Business Research shows that the total cost of congestion from 2013 to 2030 for the UK alone could amount to an enormous £307 billion. This relates to an annual increase of £21.4 billion. It is mostly driven by rising population numbers and an improved GDP per capita.

The status across Europe varies from country to country, but significantly, of the 13 countries surveyed, only 5 were forecasting diminishing congestion figures. For a clearer view on a country by country basis follow this link to a summary of the INRIX report.

New innovative solutions required

What is apparent, whether we are talking about THE USA or Europe, that governments must be prepared to invest significant sums of money in order to fund congestion reduction. Without doing so the result is inevitable; more congestion, more delays, and added costs to the logistics arms of supply chains on a worldwide basis.

But solutions must be innovative. Simply adding more lane miles, regularizing the changing of traffic lights, improving public transport and opening additional toll express-ways will all help, whereas providing more lane miles in cities and improving the quality of our pavement or walkways, will have little and limited effect. It doesn’t address the real kernel of the problem which is ensuring that supply chains don’t become bogged down and that the costs of logistics don’t keep on escalating.

Real time traffic data

What is needed are smart solutions that use real-time traffic data collected from connected devices linked up to the Internet of Things via The Cloud. ABI Research have conducted research that indicated that by 2017 80% of cars in the US and Western Europe will be connected and able to act as sources of data. As to the balance of 20%, other mobile enabled devices such as smartphones and tablets can be used to bridge the gap. The combination of GPS data and data from other sources will provide hitherto unparalleled, real-time traffic data.

To date Denmark is the only country to rely on GPS data supplied by INRIX to help them to manage their traffic flow problems. It puts them far ahead of other counties in being able to access and use such data to rapidly warn road users of congestion and slow downs.

Vehicle manufacturers must play their part

Car manufacturers too, like BMW and Lexus are building this traffic information into their in-car navigation systems. If lorry manufacturers do the same, it will empower the logistics industry and therefore the various supply chains to be kept current, and where necessary take avoiding action to divert away from congested areas, planning alternative routes to speed journey times.

This signals a new era of transportation management and control, both on a personal and a business level. It could be just the medicine that the logistics industry needs.

If you work in the logistics industry would you be prepared to relay on INRIX data and put pressure on your transport vehicle suppliers to incorporate GPS data into their in-vehicle navigation systems and if so what benefits would you expect to realise?

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