Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Cost of Congestion in Dhaka Traffic

From the Financial Express, August 4th, 2011

Much has been written about the mega city's horrendous traffic problem and many seminars have also been taking place, analyzing the causes, solutions and effects of congestion. Many initiatives have already been taken while many projects are ongoing as well. However, to be honest, people have got little respite from the problem. Rather the situation is worsening day by day. While addressing congestion, we forget to consider the economic and other losses that result from the main problem.

According to a 2010 study, conducted jointly by Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) and Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CMILT), based on only loss of time of people, a staggering amount of US$ 2 billion is lost every year in traffic jams in the capital city. The study also revealed that traffic jam was liable for the loss of people's 8.15 million working hours, 40 per cent of which are business hours.

The aforesaid money is lost due to 3.2 million business hours wasted in congestion. Again, from another study of Dhaka Transport Coordination Board (DTCB), it has been found that against the speed capacity of 40 kilometers per hour (kph), motorized vehicles can run in the city on a speed of average 15 kph. In reality, the speed is much less now.

In fact, the quality of life and mental as well as physical stress remain uncountable which means the loss is much more than the calculated amount.

Apart from the mentioned losses, motorists are burning extra liters of fuel or extra cubic metres of compressed natural gas as they crawl along in stop-start traffic on the choked roads.

From a reliable research paper, it has been found that cars use four times more fuel on congested roads than when traffic is flowing at a normal speed. When a car is at a standstill, stopping and starting or moving slowly in heavy traffic, it uses 24.4 litres of fuel for every 100km driven. If the same car moves in free-flowing traffic, traveling at 50km/h or more, the fuel consumption drops to 6.4 litres per 100km. This is how our valuable resources are wasted. Points to be considered are: the government pays a huge amount of money for importing fuel; the government gives a significant amount of money as subsidy to keep fuel within the reachable limit of the people; and gas, the country's valuable natural resource, is being wasted.

Traffic congestion is one of those things we put up with in our lives of quiet desperation. It doesn't seem to get proper recognition as a problem, except to scream for wider roads as if that would solve traffic congestion. Over the years, traffic problem has been generating a number of negative effects:
  • Wasting time of motorists and passengers ("opportunity cost"). As a non-productive activity for most people, congestion reduces regional economic health.
  • Delays, which may result in late arrival for employment, meetings, and education, resulting in lost business, disciplinary action or other personal losses.
  • Inability to forecast travel time accurately, leading to drivers allocating more time to travel, and less time on productive activities.
  • Wasted fuel increasing air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions owing to increased idling, acceleration and braking. Increased fuel use may also in theory cause a rise in fuel costs.
  • Wear and tear on vehicles as a result of frequent acceleration and braking, leading to more frequent repairs and replacements.
  • Stressed and frustrated motorists, encouraging road rage and reduced health of motorists
  • Emergencies: blocked traffic may interfere with the passage of emergency vehicles traveling to their destinations where they are urgently needed.
Many a time, the government has expressed its concern about brain drain but the answer to the question "why do educated people try to leave the country," can be found in the problem of perennial traffic congestion. It is certainly physically exhausting to stay on the road hour after hour each day only to go to work, while keeping other activities postponed for the weekends. Desperate situations need desperate solutions but sadly, much has been said than done to solve the problem.

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