Congestion - is It Really Such a Big Problem?
BEURET K, Social Research Associates, UK
The comments which follow are based on cumulative evidence from a number of studies carried out by Social Research Associates over recent years la " lg The distinguishing feature of these studies is an emphasis on public perceptions of transport issues. P
The comments which follow are based on cumulative evidence from a number of studies carried out by Social Research Associates over recent years la " lg The distinguishing feature of these studies is an emphasis on public perceptions of transport issues. Perceptions are the way people mentally make sense of what they see, hear, touch, feel or smell. These in turn are converted to attitudes about many subjects including transport issues. Finally some of these attitudes may be converted into behaviour. In understanding or predicting the resulting behaviour the original perceptions are often a better guide than any objective 'facts' such as noise levels, traffic flows or accidents. Thus, for example, it is visible dirt and exhaust which people use to judge pollution rather than measures of air quality Ie. This does not mean that such perceptions are fixed and cannot be changed. However, but we need to know about them in order to inform and gain acceptance for policy decisions.
Thus the argument of this Paper is not that congestion does not matter - rather that there is a case for new approaches to the problem as well as reconsidering the priority given to solving it. Clearly congestion is a huge problem - cars in jams cause three times the pollution they do when they are flowing freely 2. The economic costs of congestion are also high - estimates vary, in the UK from £19bn3 to £7bn4. However many such estimates are based on assumptions about the value Of time which are themselves based on normative value.judgements. For example, it is common for pedestrian travel to be excluded and travel for business is valued more highly than travel for other purposes - such as informal caring. If such studies are then used to justify engineering measures which reduce road congestion, other travellers, especially pedestrians and cyclists may actually experience greater difflenlties in moving around. The inconvenience of subways and barriers is well documented and many computerised traffic management systems can only respond to vehicle rather than pedestrian delay. Furthermore, given that 92% of congestion costs are incurred in urban areas4 where walking and cycling is most common, congestion reduction policies may have even greater adverse effects on non motorised travel. After all, even motorists become pedestrians when they arrive in urban areas. Thus the costs of congestion are less certain ~ specific, figures suggest andthis may explain why public opinion often gives solving congestion relatively low priority. The suggestion of this Paper therefore is that there is a case for re-assessing the priority given to solving congestion, especially where it might conflict with road safety, accessibility and public preferences.
Association for European Transport