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We’re jamming… and not in a good way – the cost of congestion on the UK’s roads is £30 billion

The UK is the third most congested country in Europe and we spend an average of 32 hours each year stuck in peak hour traffic. According to the latest report from Inrix the combined cost of congestion on the UK’s roads added up to an eyewatering £30 billion in 2016, an average of £968 per driver. Unsurprisingly congestion is worst in our cities, with the ten most congested cities listed below.

Table 1: INRIX 2016 Traffic Scorecard – UK’s 10 Most Congested Cities / Large Urban Areas

Inrix Chart

Figures from the Department of Transport (DfT) show that motor vehicle traffic was at a record high in the year ending June 2017. The provisional figure of 1 billion vehicle miles travelled on Great Britain’s roads in the year ending June 2017, was 1.4% higher than the previous year. Rolling annual motor vehicle traffic has now increased each quarter in succession for over four years.  

Road traffic trends are affected by a wide range of factors, including roadworks, population levels, personal travel choices, and the demand for goods and services. The increase in traffic over the last four years is likely to reflect the growth both in the UK economy and population over the same period, and the decline in average fuel prices from mid-2013 until February 2016.  

Will building more roads help?

Building more roads may seem the obvious solution, but some would view road building as encouraging developments that rely on people having cars. With more cars, the extra road capacity is filled up. This creates more traffic, which in turn leads to more roads being built, so building roads to reduce congestion actually builds traffic up.  

A report from Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) reveals that road-building is failing to provide the congestion relief and economic boost promised. It directly challenges government claims that ‘the economic gains from road investment are beyond doubt’; that road-building will lead to ‘mile a minute’ journeys; and that the impact on the environment will be limited ‘as far as possible’.  

So, what can we do to tackle this issue?

Whether you’re a traffic manager, road maintenance contractor or even a road user, we all want to be able to predict problems on the road more accurately, influence behaviour and manage congestion to keep everyone on the move. Making better decisions and informed judgements on the road network is something that Clearview can help with. Our traffic flow monitoring technology gathers accurate, real-time intelligence about traffic volume, type, speed, directional flow, and driver behaviour patterns.

To help drivers plan accordingly and reduce congestion, it’s important to understand when and where congestion is most likely to occur. Road operators must increasingly look to provide accurate information such as predicted journey times and traffic information so road users can take alternative routes, therefore reducing overall congestion on certain routes.

One of the suggestions put forward to discourage unnecessary travel is the idea of road charging. Dr Stephen Ladyman, ex Minister for Transport and Clearview Ambassador, is a big believer of this and comments “By shifting from tax on fuel to a charge for using the road which varies according to how busy the road is, we could have incentivised travel outside rush hours. Instead people who have no choice but to travel at a particular time have to sit in increasingly long traffic jams alongside people who could have left the office an hour earlier or later but have not been given an incentive to do so.”

The recent introduction of smart motorway schemes has also been viewed as a success in reducing congestion. Stoneacre Motor Group found that when tested on London’s M25 it has reduced traffic jams by 52% and delays by 13% and it’s likely these will be rolled out across the UK’s road network.

MIDAS is increasingly being used to reduce congestion on the motorway network. Clearview Intelligence supplied the vehicle detection equipment for the first use of MIDAS in the UK on the M25 ten years ago. Motorway Incident Detection and Automated Signalling (MIDAS) systems keep highways managers aware of traffic flow with constant monitoring across these vital routes, and road users are updated automatically via variable message signs. MIDAS spots early warning signs of traffic build-up and intervenes early to reduce the risk of serious congestion. In a MIDAS system, this data drives speed message signs downstream of the detected incident, so the signs reflect the situation on the road ahead and allow drivers to respond. For smart motorways, the same data is used to inform variable speed limits and open and shut hard shoulder running lanes.

On trunk roads and local, urban environments Clearview’s M100 Wireless Detection System could be  another alternative to help with congestion by enabling adaptive traffic light control through systems such as SCOOT and MOVA.

Cars are such an integral part of our personal and professional lives and are here to stay, but to be able to enjoy the time we spend behind the wheel and to make significant savings such as lower petrol costs we need to work on changing the way we use our roads, reducing unnecessary travel and congestion.

If you would like to explore how to keep traffic flowing and reduce congestion across your network, contact us.

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