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American Commuters Lose 97 Hours, $87 Billion to Traffic Congestion, Says New Report

INRIX's 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard highlights the need for congestion pricing and new lanes to combat rush hour traffic.

Ryan Deberardinis/Dreamstime.comRyan Deberardinis/Dreamstime.comThe land of the free manages to have some pretty congested freeways. That's according to transportation analytics firm INRIX's new 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, which ranks metro areas by how much time auto commuters waste in rush hour traffic.

Topping the list are European and Latin American metros, with drivers in Bogota, Moscow, and London all losing over 200 hours a year to congestion. U.S. cities look better by comparison, but commuters here still manage to idle away an incredible amount of time behind the wheel.

INRIX's scorecard finds Boston to be the most congested city in the country. Drivers there spend 164 hours (nearly a full week) in rush hour traffic each year. A close second is Washington, D.C., where commuters are losing 155 hours to gridlock.

Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle fill out the rest of the top six in INRIX's rankings—which weigh time lost to congestion against a city's population—with drivers in these metros wasting between 128 and 138 hours a year in traffic. On average, commuters are losing 97 hours a year because of congestion.

INRIX develops these rankings by comparing travel times during peak hours to those during free flow conditions when there is no traffic. The difference between the two figures is the amount of time lost to traffic congestion.

Having congested roadways can be a huge drag on a city's productivity, according to the INRIX report.

"[Congestion] incurs costs from time loss, increased pollution rates, and higher incidents of accidents," reads the INRIX report, which estimates the cost of traffic congestion at $87 billion a year in lost time for drivers (roughly $1,365 for the average driver.) The freight industry loses another $74 billion a year to congestion.

In addition to the lost time is the lost opportunity that traffic congestion brings. The INRIX report cites research showing that whatever the levels of traffic congestion, people are generally only willing to spend one hour a day commuting—half an hour each way—with most people moving closer to work to cut down on travel times.

The more congestion limits where you can travel within that 30 minutes, as well as the employment and leisure opportunities you'll be able to comfortably access—limiting the advantages of living in an urban area in the first place.

Congestion, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation analyst at the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit which publishes this website) is at its core a supply and demand problem. "Congestion is when you have more people than you have road space," Feigenbaum tells Reason, saying that the solution is a mix of adding congestion pricing to current road space and adding new lane miles.

The idea behind congestion pricing—variable tolls that rise and fall depending on the number of cars on the road—is that by charging drivers for the space they take up, they can be incentivized to take less congested routes or to travel in off-peak hours when traffic is lighter, improving road conditions for everyone.

A number of American cities are already giving this policy a hard look. In September 2018, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan included $1 million in her proposed budget to study congestion pricing. In December of that year, Oregon asked the federal government for permission to toll interstates around Portland (current federal law prohibits states from tolling most interstates). Last month, the head of Los Angeles' transit agency endorsed the idea as well; so too has New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

So far, Virginia is the only place in the U.S. to have implemented real congestion pricing, imposing variable tolls on parts of I-66 leading into D.C. The INRIX report notes that Singapore has managed to have both high levels of growth and low levels of congestion thanks to an aggressive policy of road pricing and high fees charged to vehicle owners.

Another option is to increase the supply of roads by adding new lane miles, which—when combined with some form of congestion pricing—can help to bring down traffic congestion, says Feigenbaum.

"Cities that have not been investing in their roadways at all, and not building any new lane capacity, are very high up on this list compared to their overall [population] size," Feigenbaum tells Reason. Road-adverse Seattle, he notes, is the 15th largest U.S. metro area by population, but manages to have the sixth-most congested roads, and travel speeds in the inner city nearly as low as New York City.

By contrast, Houston—the fifth largest metro in the U.S. and one that has continued to add more roadways to accommodate its growing population—ranks 13th on INRIX's scorecard.

Expanding roadways is not a cure all for congestion. More lanes can induce more driving, meaning more trips are taken but actual traffic flows stay about the same. Measures of roadway congestion can also understate urban mobility if a city has well-functioning transit options. INRIX's gives London as an example of a place where congestion has gotten much worse, but expanding transit options may well have increased overall urban mobility.

Feigenbaum says that transit can play a role in improving mobility in some American cities, provided it's the riders, not the taxpayers in general, that are paying for it. Improving congestion, however, he says, requires treating road space more like normal market goods, where prices rise and fall, and supply expands to meet demand.

Photo Credit: Ryan Deberardinis/Dreamstime.com

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  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    Fuck congestion pricing.

    Yeah, let's reduce the amount of cars by keeping poorer people off the road during certain hours.

    It's just another tax.

  • ||

    "Open the border in order to tax more people who drive on roads." -Reason Magazine

  • John||

    Bingo. Reason seems to actually think that people are all driving around at the same time for fun and by choice rather than because that is when they have to get to and from work.

  • LarryA||

    I used to commute to an 8-to-5 job in San Antonio, about 50 minutes each way. Then the boss said, "Let's try working from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m." It cut the commute to 15 minutes.

    "When they have to get to and from work" can be flexible.

    Now I live in a small town. "Rush hour" is waiting through a light twice at the busiest intersection.

  • DaveSs||

    Now I live in a small town. "Rush hour" is waiting through a light twice at the busiest intersection.

    Its strange how our perception of traffic changes.

    I used to deal with suburban traffic (30 minutes morning, 50 minutes evening for an 18 mile drive to/from work)
    Now I live in a small town as well, and telecommute to that job in the suburbs.

    Waiting those two cycles at the light on Main is frustrating, even though that light changes about every 35-45 seconds.

  • BigT||

    Isn't this the free market working? Other than the fact that the roads are state-owned, isn't this what private owners would be doing to minimize congestion?

  • jkj||

    Yes. But you didn't think there are actual libertarians posting comments here, did you?

  • BigT||

    The suggestion to build more roads is libertarian as well - but if the state is the only entity that can build roads, then that is problematic. Complaining that it hurts poor people is kind of weak - there are buses, hitchhiking, carpooling, or changing jobs, or moving closer to work.

    I'm a 'big tent' libertarian - I think there is often more than one solution that complies with libertarian principles. And, of course, the market will decide amongst the solutions implemented!

    Being libertarian is hard. You have to think of the issue from many angles and sometimes can't see all the consequences or just let experience get in the way. We all fall off the libertarian wagon on occasion. I am forgiving, as I wish to be forgiven when that happens.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Bing libertarian is pretty easy. The biggest hurdle is learning when your emotional outrage has taken over your mouth -- then going back to self-ownership and see where that gets you. Don't take people's stuff and don't hurt them.

    Them who owns the property set the rules. If the market hurts their business, that's their problem too.

    Or as I used to call it, self-control: the right, and the duty, to control yourself and your property.

  • JFree||

    The suggestion to build more roads is libertarian as well - if the state is the only entity that can build roads, then that is problematic.

    It isn't the only entity that can build roads. You can do so tomorrow.

    Nor do you need roads to get from point A to point B. Just wake up a bit early tomorrow and negotiate 10,000 or so easement contracts with every property owner from where you live to where you work. Should be a breeze

  • Sevo||

    JFree|2.12.19 @ 8:01PM|#
    "The suggestion to build more roads is libertarian as well - if the state is the only entity that can build roads, then that is problematic."

    See below, you fucking ignoramus, and quit making an ass of yourself.

  • Joe M||

    Yes. But I do think a big chunk of the problem is too many companies are still wedded to the 8-5 workday, and people can't control when they have to be on the road.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    I interviewed once at a company whose president had decreed that everybody had to be at work in the morning between 8:00 and 8:30. This company was the very last exit before crossing a major commute bridge, and doubled or tripled everybody's commute. I understood they were out of business a couple of years later; if so, not from the commute policy, but from the other stupid policies that such an out-of-touch president could think up.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    It's a fantastic example of how free markets would handle it. But there are too many faux-libertarians here who pull out the "unfair to the poor" diatribe and think it makes them look like compassionate libertarians. They probably think price gougers should be shot on sight as looters too.

  • Billy Bones||

    "So far, Virginia is the only place in the U.S. to have implemented real congestion pricing, imposing variable tolls on parts of I-66 leading into D.C."

    Really? Unless there is something more drastic to Virginia's, we have the same thing here in Atlanta. We have converted all of our HOV lanes into "Peach Pass" (I do not know technical name) lanes. You pay a variable amount to use those based on your distance traveled and amount of congestion in those lanes. Sounds similar enough to me. We have those lanes on I-75 and I-85. I do not believe they have placed any on I-285 yet.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Let in more illegals.

    Clearly there is a financial burden with more people in the USA.

    Its official, Reason is okay with hurting Americans by having them sit in traffic.

  • ChuckNorrisBeardFist||

    "So far, Virginia is the only place in the U.S. to have implemented real congestion pricing, imposing variable tolls on parts of I-66 leading into D.C. The INRIX report notes that Singapore has managed to have both high levels of growth and low levels of congestion thanks to an aggressive policy of road pricing and high fees charged to vehicle owners."

    This assine. So I have to be at work 9 to 5 and I'm punished because everyone else has to be at work 9 to 5.
    The way to reduce congestion is if business vary their hours or telework. Not every company can do that.

    And Houston, where I live, is always under construction. Sorry, that because of jobs and taxes the city is grouping. Congestion wasn't a problem 10 years ago. One accident and you might as well plan on 3 hr wait.

  • Juice||

    The way to reduce congestion is if business vary their hours or telework.

    Businesses? 90% of everyone in NoVa is commuting into their government/contractor job. The government could easily stagger work hours. Problem is, most people have kids in school and don't want an odd shift that doesn't jibe with the kids' schedule.

    The vast majority of government work is sitting at a desk, so telework should definitely be done way more often. Sitting in traffic for an hour to commute 10 miles each way is asinine.

  • John||

    Telework could be done in a lot of fields. But ultimately, if you have big cities with a lot of people, you have to build roads for them to get around. Making it too expensive for anyone to travel doesn't solve the problem so much as eliminate the reason for it being a problem by making everyone poor.

  • ||

    The vast majority of government work is sitting at a desk, so telework should definitely be done way more often.

    The vast majority of government work is non-essential to the point that the government shuts down and the first thing everybody worries about it the National Parks.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Your way of reducing congestion relies on central planning.

    What part about free markets do you mistrust? Is it just because it would raise your costs?

  • John||

    Congestion pricing solves the problem by screwing the poor. No one is out driving during rush hour for fun or for any reason other than because they have to be there. The congestion itself is plenty motivation to work off peak hours if you can. So all congrestion pricing does is price people out of being able to use the roads and makes life harder for people who don't make a lot of money at their jobs.

    The sollution to the problem is to build more and bigger roads. There is no way around that.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    The sollution to the problem is to build more and bigger roads. There is no way around that.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand

  • John||

    Yes it is called Seay's law. And supply does sometimes create demand. But think about what that means in the context of roads. What is the demand for roads during the business day? It is people doing business and productive things for the most part. So, if building more roads creates more demand, that is not a bad thing. Indeed, the whole reason you build roads is so that people can use them and conduct trade and do productive things that they couldn't do without the roads.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    So, if building more roads creates more demand, that is not a bad thing.

    It's creating more demand *for that particular road*, not necessarily for more business activity in general.

    So if you expand a highway, people will switch to the new and bigger highway when they had been using the smaller road before. But now, the state has to maintain both the new highway and the original smaller road. And there's no new business activity being generated, it's just the same people doing the same things, just using a different road. How exactly does this work out as a net benefit economically, John? It's starting to sound like the economic fairy tales that stadium boosters tell when they talk about all the supposed new economic activity that stadiums bring about. Actually they don't, they just redistribute existing economic activity, and put cities on the hook for paying to maintain more infrastructure to boot.

  • John||

    They only switch to that bigger road to the extent it is quicker than the smaller road. And it being quicker is a good thing. At some point the bigger road backs up enough that the smaller road becomes quicker. If it never does, then you want people using the bigger road.

    By your logic, we should just tear down roads. That would reduce demand as well.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    By your logic, we should just tear down roads.

    Enjoy your strawman, John.

    But perhaps first you can tell us how expanding roads generates economic activity beyond that of the road construction itself.

  • Hank Phillips||

    By making These States into a gigantic airport for interceptors and nuclear bombers AND evacuation routes out the wazoo to boot? What communist dictatorship thinks they can attack that and prevail?

  • Sevo||

    "But perhaps first you can tell us how expanding roads generates economic activity beyond that of the road construction itself."

    Really? I knew you were dim, but didn't think you were brain-dead.
    How do you think goods get from where they are made to where they are used? I've got time; think about it for a while.

  • JFree||

    How do you think goods get from where they are made to where they are used?

    40% by rail. 30% by truck (who tend to avoid driving during rush hour in cities and certainly aren't causing rush hour probs). 15% by barge.

    So nope. They don't need roads built in cities. This is 100% for suburban commuters - not even city residents.

  • Sevo||

    JFree|2.13.19 @ 12:43AM|#
    "40% by rail. 30% by truck (who tend to avoid driving during rush hour in cities and certainly aren't causing rush hour probs). 15% by barge."
    You for got the 'last mile'; nearly 100% go by truck

    "So nope. They don't need roads built in cities. This is 100% for suburban commuters - not even city residents."
    So you are still full of shit.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Central planning FTW, eh, slaver? You know best.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    Sometimes you can't build more and/or bigger roads. In that case, let the people who are willing to pay the price via their time and energy in slow moving traffic or traffic jams use the roads.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    If only there were a way to use market-based mechanisms to alleviate congestion on roads...

  • John||

    Sometimes you can't. But in most cases you can. But in the cases where you can't, there is nothing that says rationing by time is any worse than rationing by ability to pay.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The other solution would be cities allow new housing which might space out some of the housing and jobs based on what the market wants, not central planners.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    The way to reduce congestion is free markets and not central planning. Let the road owners try different schemes. If that raises your particular cost, so be it.

    You have a remarkable lack of faith where your blind spots come in. No principles, that's for sure.

    If anybody else had said "it hurts the poor", you'd have called them socialist redistributors.

  • JFree||

    The sollution to the problem is to build more and bigger roads

    This is a perfect example of how marginalist economics is simply nonsense. Build more roads simply means 'tear down something that is currently paying prop taxes in order to pave it over with something that doesn't'. Allocate a higher % of the land to roads and a lower % to stuff like housing/etc.

    Building roads is not like building widgets cuz you can't create land.

  • Sevo||

    Oh, goody! JFree is here to make everyone more stupid!

    JFree|2.12.19 @ 7:07PM|#
    "This is a perfect example of how marginalist economics is simply nonsense. Build more roads simply means 'tear down something that is currently paying prop taxes in order to pave it over with something that doesn't'. Allocate a higher % of the land to roads and a lower % to stuff like housing/etc."
    Generating property tax is the highest and best use of land? Folks, I did not make this up and accuse one of the resident ignoramuses of making the claim; he made it right there.

    "Building roads is not like building widgets cuz you can't create land."
    So what?
    You are truly amazing in your stupidity.

  • JFree||

    Generating property tax is the highest and best use of land?

    No. It is a reasonable proxy for whether land IS being used for its most valuable sustainable purpose. Not the best - land tax is better - but you are precisely one of those morons who doesn't even know what that is.

    Converting NYC to farmland would obviously be converting that land to an inferior use - unless the price of food goes thru the roof and the food purchased by NYers becomes far more valuable than all the activities that they currently pursue. But how to tell?

    The reason prop tax is a reasonable measure is because it is a required annual external payment of cash that approximates economic rent. Eliminating that factor from the income the land generates allows one to distinguish between the income (value) that is being generated from the USE of a resource v that being generated merely from the possession/title to or monopoly over a resource. If the income can't even cover the economic rent, then it is economically rational for the land to be transferred to a use that CAN cover that rent.

  • JFree||

    BTW - Galts' Gulch also runs on the model I describe - except that 'govt' = Midas Mulligan

  • Sevo||

    "No. It is a reasonable proxy for whether land IS being used for its most valuable sustainable purpose. Not the best - land tax is better - but you are precisely one of those morons who doesn't even know what that is."
    It is nothing of the sort.
    Claims by lefty idiots are not arguments.

    "Converting NYC to farmland would obviously be converting that land to an inferior use - unless the price of food goes thru the roof and the food purchased by NYers becomes far more valuable than all the activities that they currently pursue. But how to tell?"
    There's this wonderful determinate of value. It's called "the market"

  • Fats of Fury||

    Are high speed roller skates and organic pogo sticks part of the NGD?

  • BigT||

    "Washington, D.C., where commuters are losing 155 hours to gridlock."

    The problem is that they aren't losing ENOUGH hours to gridlock. They should be losing 2,000 hours per year so the rest of us wouldn't feel as much pain from their 'work.'

  • NoVaNick||

    Wait-Boston is the worst for traffic and DC is 2nd? I thought these places both have amazing public transit and lots of tree hugging proggies who ride it every day...

  • Juice||

    I'll take the Boston T over the DC Metro any day though.

  • SIV||

    It's Robert Poole's dream to toll all the existing public roads to free up fuel tax revenue for non-transportation government spending.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    You must have been reading a different Robert Poole.

  • Hank Phillips||

    R. Buckminster Fuller calculated the US tied up something like 150 million horsepower idling at stop lights. This was back when there were fewer than half as many people available to idle at stoplights.

  • Sevo||

    This was before SF converted a third of the roadways to bicycle lanes for the 1% who ride to work (when it's not raining).

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    An excellent example of central planning for those who should pay attention, but, alas, will not.

  • Sevo||

    BTW, the most recent counts have bike ridership falling quite a bit; it's been fashionably cyclic (sorry) for some time.
    "San Franciscans may be spurning two-wheeled trips.
    Nearly 20,000 fewer daily bicycle trips were taken in 2017 compared to 2016, data revealed Monday by The City's newest "Mobility Trends" report shows.
    The dwindling bike numbers look even worse when compared to The City's record-setting year for bike trips, 2015, which reached a height of 126,000 average bicycle trips per day."
    http://www.sfexaminer.com/mobi.....ecline-sf/

    But one of SF's difficulties is 'district elections' for supervisor; a supe can easily win by 30-100 votes, get a first gov't job and ride the gravy train until fully-funded retirement! The "Bicycle Coalition" which, given the oh, so, correct signaling, can promise X votes, and thereby demand attention.
    If you look at the funding for BC, you'll find it is largely 'granted' by the San Francisco Foundation, which seems a beneficiary of city government funding (although the various sites are 'coy' about the sources).

  • Longtobefree||

    See! An 87 billion savings to help pay for the GND!

  • NashTiger||

    I'm sure I've lost 97 hours to Nashville traffic, but I doubt I've lost 87 Billion...

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    Boston ranks worst for traffic for the second year-in-a-row.
    I'll put money down we win the next five years.
    Why? We are a "sanctuary" city. Your road funds all go in to the "general fund" which then go to the Illegal Aliens welfare and ETB cards.
    Got that? Our roads look like the turdwolrd because Marty Walsh wants it that way.
    His solution? ride your frickin bike to work. No lie.
    BTW we just got 8" of Global Warming to shovel off our pothole-filled roads last night.
    Ride your bike through that.

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