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Worldwide pain of the commute – and what to do about it

IBM produces Commuter Pain Index

'A portrait of human pain’.

That’s how IBM describes the results of its 2011 worldwide Commuter Pain Survey. This survey of 8000 commuters in 20 cities around the world paints a picture of frustration, delay, despair and disruption to work.

All over the world respondents reported being stuck in traffic for very long periods and reporting routine delays of an hour or more. 47% reported cancelling a trip in the last month due to anticipated traffic.

From the results the IBM researchers have constructed a Commuter Pain Index based on 10 factors:

  1. commuting time

  2. time stuck in traffic

  3. perception that price of gas is already too high

  4. perception that traffic has got  worse

  5. perception that start-stop traffic is a problem

  6. perception that driving causes stress

  7. perception that driving causes anger

  8. perception that traffic affects work

  9. perception that traffic so bad driving stopped, and

  10. decisions not to make a trip due to traffic.

A tale of two worlds?

If we think we’ve got it bad in the West, the Commuter Pain Index provides a reality check. The most painful places to commute are, in order of anguish: Mexico City, Shenzhen, Beijing, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Bangalore and New Delhi. These all have 70 or more points on the index.

At the bottom of the list are Madrid, New York, Toronto, Stockholm, Chicago, London and Montreal, all with under 30 points.  We suspect commuters in these cities may be surprised at being relatively better off - or maybe relieved that it's much worse elsewhere.

IBM Commuter Pain Index

There could be a variety of reasons why these western cities are are lower down the pain league.  The report suggests better public transport and congestion charges in Stockholm and London (i.e. managing the traffic better) as possible reasons.

It could also be that by surveying drivers the pain index underestimates the sheer frustration felt by regular users of public transport! Delays on the rail and underground networks can be just as painful as those on the roads.

But there is a big message coming out of the commuter pain being experienced in the emerging megacities of the developing world.  Car ownership in these cities is nowhere near peak levels yet - so there will be much more pain to come as car ownership increases and urban concentration intensifies.

What is to be done?

The solutions in the report focus on the benefits of using technology to manage mobility and to provide passenger information - IBM says it is at the forefront of technology in these fields.

But there is also a nod towards the opportunities for telecommuting:

  1. better route guidance, to use roads more efficiently

  2. intelligent transportation systems, including better traffic prediction, to allow people to alter their routes or traveling times and allow system operators to manage the road network better

  3. greater ease in switching between cars and various forms of public transportation

  4. faster removal of road blockages due to damages or collisions from location-­‐based information

  5. more dynamic workplaces that allow telecommuting flexibility.

At Flexibility, we'd put number 5 at number 1.  Transport technologists often focus on using technology to manage mobility, rather than using technology to replace it.  It's an engineering thing - they love to swing metal and engines around.  It's a harder deal conceptually to envisage doing without the movement and the things that move us.

In the end, though, we do need to move so its a 'both .. and'.  But the message within this report for us is that for congestion - we ain't seen nothing yet. So we should eliminate the trips we can, and then do what we can to manage the rest.

October 2011



Further information

IBM's Commuter Pain survey can be found here

There's also a  goofy cartoon video with a rabbit driving a car to occupy your time when you need an alternative to working.































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