congestion charges reduce car use

Congestion charges reduce car use

After London’s congestion charges, the City of Oxford is now asking non-electric vehicles to pay 10 pounds to access its historic medieval center. The decision is part of a pilot program to create a zero-emission zone and make the city cleaner, healthier and less congested.

Unsurprisingly, the charge is facing some resistance. The restricted area currently covers several of the city’s main shopping streets and some Oxford University colleges, but the plan is to expand it to around 2 miles across to almost all the city center, thus impacting workers commuting in from surrounding districts and potentially reshaping the economics of the whole city.e

Oxford is being watched as a test case for the applicability of congestion charges beyond major urban centers. But are these measures really helpful in reducing car use, mitigating traffic, and improving sustainability and air quality?

A new study carried out at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies in Sweden and published in Case Studies on Transport Policy, examined about 800 peer-reviewed reports and real experiences in Europe, and ranked congestion charges as the most effective way to reduce car use in cities.

According to the research, the introduction of congestion charges reduced car traffic by up to 33%, while other measures proved to be less impactful. For instance, limited traffic zones cut the transit of non-resident vehicles by 20% during the restricted hours; offering discounted or free public transport passes to workers and students made car commuters drop by up to 37%.

Parking-related measures were also scrutinized. Making parking more difficult by removing parking spaces and replacing them with walkable lanes and bike tracks was found to reduce car usage by up to 19% (that was the best result achieved in Oslo, Norway). Workplace parking charges – with workers asked to pay when parking outside their offices – led to a 20-25% reduction in employee car commutes and the corresponding shift towards public transport.

The smarter management of parking facilities may not directly contribute to getting cars out of cities, but it is undoubtedly effective in improving urban mobility and mitigating traffic. Independent studies proved that about 30% of overall road congestion is due to parking search: Smart Parking solutions allow Cities to improve drivers experience by reducing idle itineraries looking for a free spot, and related fuel consumption, air pollution, time waste and stress.

 

Want to learn more about our Smart Parking solution? Watch our video and contact our experts!


road safety

Road safety in cities: smart technologies help

2020 was the deadliest year in the US for traffic crashes in over a decade, with a 7% increase in fatalities over the previous year. The unfortunate trend continued in 2021, with about 20 thousand victims in the first half of the year.

Last week, the US Department of Transportation announced a new comprehensive National Roadway Safety Strategy, a roadmap for addressing what has become a true national crisis. Adopting a “Safe System Approach”, the strategy acknowledges human mistakes in crashes, but urges the design of redundant systems and the implementation of smart technologies to make roads safer for everyone.

Generally speaking, there is a pressing need for new systems to prevent traffic accidents. Vehicles are increasingly equipped with sensors, advanced driver-assistance systems, and automatic emergency braking that improve navigation and safety. Infrastructure is also becoming more intelligent to enable traffic monitoring and control, thus contributing to accident prevention and quicker intervention when needed.

But cities are highly complex system, and there are many and competing demands placed on their transport systems. There is no single silver bullet measure, and the mix of interventions that works in one city may not be enough in another community.

According to the International Transport Forum – coordinating the ‘Safer City Streets’ initiative at the OECD since 2016 –, smart technology plays an increasingly important role in road safety and feed both accurate monitoring (think of video surveillance at critical junctions or along busy itineraries) and data-driven decisions related to traffic engineering and speed management.

The timing and configuration of traffic lights are also very important. A simple but effective example is the optimization of pedestrian intervals: real-life experiments proved that indicating “walk” to pedestrians several seconds before turning traffic gets a green light improves pedestrian safety a lot, making them more visible and decreasing the risk of being hit by a car.

Vehicles are becoming increasingly connected by devices that interact with each other and the road infrastructure. Data flows resulting from Vehicle to Everything (V2X) technologies and their interaction with the so called Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems can feed emergency braking warning, distance sensing, improper-driving detection, collision-avoidance systems, weather-related skid warnings, and optimized intersection management.

But road safety is not only about private motor vehicles and pedestrians. As micro mobility and cycle riding are on the up, cities are increasingly looking at road safety from a wider perspective. Space is being reallocated, effective parking management and curb management are needed to ensure a safe access to different urban transportation systems. Smart technologies are definitely part of the improvements being made to road infrastructure.


transportation equity

Inclusive cities pursue transportation equity

In the global-local effort to shape sustainable, resilient, and inclusive cities, mobility systems are at stake. There is an urgent call for transportation equity, that means designing and delivering transport systems that are safe, accessible, reliable, and affordable for all, including the mobility-underprivileged communities.

Mobility is a critical success factor for socio-economic growth, but it is still far from being equitable in many places, points out a recent white paper by the World Economic Forum, BCG and the University of St Gallen.

The report analyzes three archetypical cities and their transportation ecosystems: the car-centric Chicago in the USA, the compact middleweight Berlin in Germany, and the high-density megacity Beijing in China. Researchers warn that the pure increase of mobility infrastructure does not always improve social inclusion, as in all investigated cities the best results came when considering both transportation supply and demand.

Accurate data collection is pivotal to better understand rider demand and the specific mobility challenges affecting minorities, disabled and economically disadvantaged people. Data-driven decisions allowed cities to pilot some simple but highly effective mobility initiatives.

In Chicago, adding first- and last-mile shuttles to and from local public transit stations increased the number of jobs accessible to underserved communities by up to 90%. A scaled-up metro pass reservation system in Beijing allows people to pre-book their slot on a train and bypass queues at the station to enter the train directly, resulting in commuting times to be decreased by 29%. In Berlin, a differentiated service level on public transit, like business-class carriages on trains, increased the share of public transit trips by 11% while at the same time generating 28% higher revenue for the operator.

Looking at the 15-minute city planning concept, cities strive to reduce traffic and make life easier for drivers (including parking search), at the same time they try to strengthen public transportation systems.

But the report also suggests that transportation equity eschews the cars/public transport binary perspective. Truly inclusive cities should consider innovative, multimodal transportation solutions, where scooters, bikes, and electric vehicles play a role and contribute to safe, accessible, reliable, and affordable mobility systems for all.


traffic

City traffic lags pre-Covid levels

About 22 months after Covid-19 spread across the world, health protection measures are still in place in many countries around the world, many people continue to work from home, and urban commercial and social life is still limited.

City mobility volumes are lagging pre-Covid levels, says 2021 Global Traffic Scorecard by INRIX, and new traffic patterns are emerging. Trains and local public transportation are considerably down, and car traffic rates dropped in most cities. There are relevant changes in trip distribution throughout the day, shifting congestion away from the AM peak into the mid-day hours.

Measuring the number of hours lost in traffic, INRIX calculated London, Paris, Brussels, Moscow, and New York are the top 5 most congested cities in the world.

Data are quite astonishing. Londoners spend about 148 hours per year in traffic, costing about £1,211 per driver – that means £5.1 billions for the entire City. If you are travelling to the UK capital, keep away from the A503 at 4pm: that’s the worst corridor in the city.

In the US, the average American driver loses 36 hours per year due to congestion – 102 hours if living in New York City, 21 in Phoenix. Traffic rates decreased significantly due to the pandemic, as nowadays drivers experience about 2.6 billion fewer hours in traffic than in 2019. This is mostly due to the decrease of downtown travels that INRIX recorded in most big cities including San Francisco, Detroit, and Washington DC.

It’s hard to predict if and how urban mobility will be back to pre-Covid habits. Traffic patterns will probably change according to local conditions more than to a global, widespread return to “normal” – and cities will look for new ways to manage road congestion and parking to provide residents and visitors an agreeable urban experience.


commuters

Will post-pandemic commuters be stuck again in traffic jams?

It’s a hard time for mobility experts who are asked to predict the impact of post-Covid working habits on commuters and urban traffic. We know the pandemic is not over, and lots of organizations are offering hybrid models with teleworking options to their employees - but the 'return to office' call is equally strong. Most analysts agree there will be a gradual increase in commuters over the coming months, rather than a sudden rush back to the office, but the spread of virus variants might blur the picture overnight.

In some cities, the reduced traffic congestion due to Covid-19 lockdowns and the massive teleworking seems to be encouraging more people to drive to the office. In the US, INRIX compared driving times to downtown Seattle at 8:30am, during morning rush hour: in 2019, before Covid, about 500 thousand workers were within a thirty-minute drive from home, while in 2020, during Covid, more than 800 thousand people were within a thirty-minute drive. This means the lack of congestion gave 58% more people the opportunity to travel downtown in half an hour, thus being more willing to make the drive as they don’t fear traffic.

The possibility that more commuters are driving is proved by parking trends. In several large cities with major mass-transit systems, including New York and San Francisco, parking usage rates are resuming quite quickly after collapsing in 2020. As reported by The Washington Post, in San Francisco parking facilities are at 85 to 90 percent of their pre-pandemic levels, compared with a 74 percent average comeback in other North American cities.

However, mobility experts acknowledge urban people are increasingly interested in alternative commuting systems – and those who commute less often are more likely to ride a bicycle or walk, provided their home-office journey is not too long.

The City of Boston investigated mobility habits of 2,650+ workers and calculated drive-alone commuting rates have dropped 10 percentage points in the last 12 months. About 6.5% of respondents questioned in 2021 said they use to bike to work, while about 9.5% said they plan to bike to work in the future. A similar survey in 2020 had lower results, as 4.4% said they used to bike to work and 8% said they planned to in the future. Building on these findings, the City is improving the existing bike infrastructure and 4.5 new miles of separated bike lanes will be added by the end of this year to the current network.

Changes are under way and it’s not clear whether commuters will be back to their habits of early 2020 or enjoy a new routine — and cities needs to closely monitor the evolution to take wise decisions about mobility and traffic management. But the common feeling is, some adjustments to pre-pandemic commuting patterns might be everlasting.


curb management

Curb management needs data

You might assume curbs are about pedestrians walks, but city managers think of these spaces as an interesting source of parking revenues. Curb management is normally based on cities’ fixed assets, with street signs displaying applicable rules: vehicle parking can have variable prices according to districts, days of the week or time slots; there might be reserved spaces for residents, disabled or electric cars.

However, curbs are nowadays seeing a convergence of different competing uses. From an increase in pick-ups and drop-offs to new ways to get around like shared bikes and scooters, curb management is becoming increasingly important for urban mobility – and cities are looking for new ways to organize and monetize their curb space.

Curb policies are mostly decided on a case-by-case basis without any data-driven support. This might result in a street block having metered parking all day and no loading zones for morning deliveries, no stopping restrictions during rush hours or specific options for commercial operators. Many drivers can either park illegally or circle the block multiple times while waiting for a spot (and we know that up to 56% of city traffic is due to idle cruising for parking). Where curbs allow different use cases, sometimes unclear signage causes some driver confusion as to which rule applies where, creating an inefficient parking and ticketing system.

Several innovative cities in the US and Europe recognized curbs are vital community spaces and one of the most extensive and valuable urban assets. Active and data-driven curb management enables communities to offer more equitable access among different users, improve level of service for everyone, collect data on transportation behaviors, draw more customers for local businesses, and create a sustainable revenue source.

In South California, US, the City of Stanford is executing a curb management plan to map all available spaces, their locations and current use. This preliminary survey will assist the City Council in enhancing street-level parking management, relieving spaces to improve alternative transportation options and identifying possible multiuser curbs space options. This project is scheduled to be completed within the year.

Again in the US, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is leveraging curb management to address some immediate safety issues along 6th and Taylor streets, which are among the streets accounting for 75% of severe traffic injuries and fatalities in San Francisco. The communities that live along these corridors largely consist of seniors, children, people with disabilities, limited English proficient people and lower-income families. Together with some travel lane reconfigurations and signal changes, SFMTA believes better curb management can significantly contribute to pedestrians’ safety.

In Italy, the City of Turin is piloting a curb management project leveraging an analytics software. Data captured by cameras overlooking street parking and road traffic are analyzed and correlated with information generated by flows of public buses, delivery trucks, ride-sharing vehicles, scooters, bikes, and pedestrians. This should allow a comprehensive view of all mobility needs in the trial districts, supporting data-driven decision making.

With widespread, reliable datasets, the opportunities for smart curb management are vast. Cities can improve urban mobility and mitigate congestion thanks to a streamlined management of available street-level parking, price parking more equitably, better manage micromobility and commercial vehicle transit – with tangible benefits for their communities and the environment they live in.