Is there a solution for vehicular congestion?

They have caused more than one headache, especially during long weekends or during peak business hours. The ‘tacos’, both in cities and highways, are already another variant of everyday life in large cities. And this phenomenon is expected to continue to grow.

Data from the National Automotive Association of Chile (Anac) indicate that the Chilean automotive fleet of light and medium vehicles in circulation reached 5.2 million during 2020, and 43.3% is only in the Metropolitan Region. In second place is the Valparaíso Region, with 9.6%.

And chances are, that number will only increase, leading to even more problems. The motorization rate in our country is one vehicle for every 3.7 inhabitants, still lower than the rate in developed countries: in Europe, the same indicator is one vehicle for every two inhabitants, while in the United States there is parity between vehicles and inhabitants (ratio of 1 to 1).

Regarding travel times, TomTom, a Dutch navigation systems company, indicated in its most recent Traffic index that in Santiago the average trip rose four minutes per day in 2021.

Added to this, the firm confirms that, on average, the travel time was 39% longer compared to when there is no congestion, which in practice means that a 30-minute trip by car is increased by twelve minutes.

Fees: a hard pill to swallow

Traffic congestion is not an exclusive challenge for Chile. Large cities suffer from traffic jams that experts and governments have tried to solve without success

Despite the above, in the academic world a certain consensus has been reached around a measure that has shown parameters of improvement in traffic, but also of high resistance in people.

These are congestion charges -or road pricing in English- which, as their name suggests, are a price attached to the use of the road, designed to make it flow more freely.

The professors of the Institute of Transportation Studies, of the University of California, Los Angeles, Michael Manville and Brian Taylor, are categorical and explain that “charging reduces congestion, nothing else does. It’s a bitter pill: no one wants to pay for something they’re used to getting for free, but it’s the medicine that works.”

They base their argument on the fact that the non-charge for the use of highways means that more people use the highway, generating a shortage and congestion of traffic.

“Keeping the price of roads at zero, in other words, leads people to overuse and congest them. Pricing highways correctly can reduce that overuse, ease congestion, and make traffic flow more freely,” he states.

This method may sound similar to the system currently used on highways in Santiago, through electronic toll collection or TAG. However, the purpose of congestion pricing is not to generate revenue from the road concession, but rather to ensure that a road flows freely and to reinvest the profits in improving public transport, for example.

London and Singapore model

In 1998, Singapore introduced Electronic Highway Pricing, with charges varying by time of day – currently from $300 to $1,900 – location and vehicle type for those entering the central zone and at various points along the highway. along various highways.

Among the results of this policy was a 24% decrease in traffic from Monday to Friday, as well as an increase in average vehicle speeds from 30 kilometers per hour to 45 kilometers per hour.

In London, the English capital and a highly touristic city, a charging scheme was launched in 2003, inspired by the Singapore model, with a fee of five pounds sterling and an initial investment of US$214 million.

Since its implementation, London has achieved a 30% reduction in traffic congestion and a 30% increase in average speed.

For 2011, according to official data, there was a 79% increase in the use of bicycles in the area and a historic rise in bus passengers. In addition, there was an improvement in air quality due to less traffic and a solid source of long-term financing was created, generating profits of 1.7 billion pounds sterling, for future improvements in public transport. By law, all income from the system must be reinvested.

Currently, and due to the good results of this policy, new environmental goals have been announced for this decade and the expansion of the area where the charging scheme is applied, which reaches a fee of 15 pounds sterling.

Another emblematic example where this measure was put to the test was in Stockholm. In 2004, the Swedish capital launched a pilot plan that considered not only the reduction of traffic, but also the expansion of public transport and the increase in parking lots.

One of the axes of the initiative also included the environmental part, with the promise of reducing the levels of CO2 emissions to win the acceptance of citizens who were skeptical of this policy.

After showing early success in their measures and overcoming press headlines predicting the failure of the system and the population’s doubts, the Swedes voted in favor of the permanent implementation of this project in a referendum.

Among the benefits that this measure brought, it was observed that traffic to and from the city center was reduced by 20% and traffic delays were reduced by between 30% and 50%. Vehicle kilometers traveled decreased by 14%.

After the variable pricing system was introduced in 2016, traffic congestion dropped an additional 5% during that period.

Failed attempt

This model was tried to be implemented in Chile without much luck. Within the framework of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Urban Mobility, promoted in 2014 by former President Bachelet and after a series of dialogues and citizen proposals, a series of strategies were recommended to mitigate urban mobility problems.

And among those ideas was road pricing. The former Minister of Transport, Germán Correa, at that time president of the commission, explains that none of all the proposals in the report were carried out.

Among the reasons for this, he points out that it is due to the fact that it is an “unpopular” measure and the lack of “political will”.

He also adds that, when he was Minister of Transportation, between 1990 and 1992, he entered a bill in the Chamber of Deputies to “provide for the payment of a fee for the use of urban roads affected by traffic congestion.” After a long stay in the corporation, this project was archived in 2006.

governance problem

Although the trigger of traffic jams in cities and highways responds to a series of factors, the challenge of eradicating them -or reducing them- requires an effort by several entities.

For the former president of the EFE Group, Jorge Inostroza, this is a problem that “is not from now, we knew it from before. Car use has been growing strongly since the 1980s and we haven’t done anything about it.”

The Origin Destination Survey carried out in 2012 -the most current edition available- by the Road and Urban Transport Program, SECTRA, shows that the use of the car grew 40% and public transport, on the other hand, fell 12% between 2001 and 2012.

Along these lines, the mobility expert states that there is no solution for vehicular congestion in a city like Santiago. But there are palliative methods to combat this phenomenon. “The way to solve this is public transport, but also walking and cycling. Little has been done to solve the mobility of people in cities, where practically all of them are very congested,” he says.

Likewise, Inostroza questions the poor performance of the authorities by not giving priority to projects that are in the direction of being an alternative to the automobile. He mentions, for example, plans such as trams, cable cars, trains and even elevators that have been announced, but his works have not prospered.

On why there has been no progress in combating vehicular congestion, Inostroza points to a problem of governance and institutionality, where the Ministry of Transport “has no capacity or resources to design transport projects and even less to operate.”

Along these lines, he proposes that the current Government execute a reform to this Ministry to grant it powers for the “design and operation” of projects, so that there is a state entity that is in charge of mobility in the country.

Roads: Answers
simple and focused

In these cases, the plugs respond to bottlenecks “that are not anticipated when there is a lot of flow.” There the apps have been a support.

Outside of the constant hustle and bustle of the city, the roads experience another reality. The professor of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences of the University of Los Andes, Rodrigo Fernández, explains that in this case the plugs respond to bottlenecks “that are not anticipated when there is a lot of flow.”
In his opinion, when it comes to coping with this phenomenon, which is known to happen, but not when, traffic management is key and drawing up contingency plans when incidents occur that block the roads.
The expert suggests moving forward and deepening measures that are already applied in the country: free-flow tolls, informing the user through social networks, the media and variable information panels about blockages or delays, and preparing lanes in 3×1 systems or 4×0 depending on the contingency, among others.
These are also some of the formulas that VíasChile, the concessionaire of Route 68 that connects the capital with the Valparaíso Region, has been implementing over the years.
The director of operations, Christian Arbulú, comments that in addition to these initiatives to combat congestion, an agreement with the Waze transit application was also added in 2018. “This helps the user to be informed during times of travel. The user greatly appreciates the delivery of information en route”, affirms the executive, along with emphasizing that there are studies that measure the positive impact of this application.
The road capacity of the route, that is, the number of vehicles that can travel simultaneously before a traffic jam forms, is approximately 2,700 cars per hour. From then on, the route begins to collapse.
These levels occur in the summer time of the year -between December and February- and during long weekends, where 3,300 cars per hour can easily be reached.
And when those events occur, Arbulú affirms that, together with the MOP and Carabineros, “we establish contingency plans, which aim to mitigate the high demands that we are going to have on the route.”
“In no case are we going to eliminate congestion, which on Route 68 is generated at points that we already have fairly well identified. In this case, the connectivity provided by the Costanera Norte with Route 68, and Vespucio Norte with Route 68, that is, where one highway meets another”, he details.

solutions journalism

  • In this edition, DF includes a new article in the “Solutions Journalism” series.
  • This concept accounts for a trend that seeks to put in the foreground actions that are giving results in solving different social and economic problems.

Leave a Reply