Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Traffic Congestion in Jersey

There are too many cars on Jersey’s roads, according to Transport Minister, Eddie Noel. The question is what to do about it.

Carrots and Sticks
In a study on transport management strategies, Todd Litman looks at the problems of overcrowded roads. One of the main problems which he highlights is that the consumer has little choice because the alternatives are so poor.

“Although consumers have many choices when it comes to purchasing a vehicle, they often have few alternatives to driving if they want to participate in common activities. In most North American communities walking and cycling conditions are poor, public transit is inferior, intercity bus and train service is infrequent and expensive. Employment, commercial, education and recreation centres are usually located for the convenience of motorists, which is often inconvenient for access by other modes. See for yourself -- try living without an automobile for a few weeks. This is not a problem in a few communities that offer good transportation choices, but in most areas non-drivers are severely disadvantaged”

This is much the same in Jersey. For instance, there is no bus service which enables the user to get from La Moye, for example, to the Jersey Bowls or Rugby Club or Garden Centre. The positioning of the hub system means that a user would either have to take two buses and walk some distance – the 12 and the 15, or use the central hub, and go into town, and take another bus out of time. Not only is this inconvenient in terms of times, it is also much more costly.

In terms of the economics of driving, Litman also points out that taking alternative forms of transport actually does not benefit the motorist much at all:

“Current pricing fails to return to individual motorists much of the savings that result when they reduce mileage. For example, commuters who shifts from driving to another mode usually reduce traffic congestion, parking requirements, accident risk (and therefore insurance costs) and environmental impacts, but these benefits would be widely dispersed rather than returned to the individuals who make the change.”

He suggest that in order to encourage people to give up driving so much, and take alternative forms of transport, there must be sufficient incentive to do so:

“When you make a transportation decision that reduces automobile use (for example, by riding transit, cycling, telecommuting or simply using a closer destination) you reduce external costs. Your neighbours benefit. An optimal market returns more of these benefits directly to you, increasing your incentive to choose the most efficient travel option for each trip. You would not give up all driving, but you would probably reduce some car travel to take advantage of these additional savings, just as many consumers respond to retail store sales and discount coupons.”

One alternative strategy is to suggest car sharing, but car sharing can also reduce the use of public transport, leading to more subsidies being required for that service. Nevertheless, some kind of car sharing would reduce transport costs, especially for commuters.

This is not, incidentally, the use of cars for payment, as in a taxi service, but commuters with spare capacity simply giving that capacity free of charge to neighbours, at regular times. This has been tried on social media, but not entirely successfully, because for it to work, you really need a proper central system whereby people can sign up to the times of their commutes and others can contact them.

Social media such as Facebook, with a tendency to lose entries down the history on the wall, is poorly suited for this purpose. What is needed, perhaps, is a system more like that set up a while back to allow users to send in pump petrol prices across the Island, and which could be sortable by journey locations and time.

Such facilities exist elsewhere – Litman calls them “rideshare matching” and he points out that an investment in such a database can reap benefits elsewhere – “These can provide financial savings to governments, businesses and consumers, as well as environmental benefits”

“Transportation management associations provide services such as rideshare matching, transit information, and parking coordination in a particular area, such as a commercial district or mall. This achieves more efficient use of resources and allows businesses of all sizes to participate in commute trip reduction programs.”

There is always a stick to bring, and as with London, one option is a congestion charge. The ability to recognise number plates is improving all the time:

“Congestion pricing is road pricing with higher fees during congested time periods to encourage shifts in route, time and mode. Such pricing is an effective ways to reduce traffic congestion and encourage use of alternative modes”

He also notes that land use and planning should feature in any transport strategy, and indeed building of estates is mainly driven by available sites, and little consideration is given to how close that is to modes of public transport; if it occurs, it is a lucky accident.

Planning and Structural Causes of Traffic Congestion
In Tayebeh Saghapour’s look at congestion in Iran, he comments that land use has a direct effect on congestion and the use of the motor car:

“Land use pattern has a significant influence on accessibility, the way different uses distribute in the city and neighbourhoods directly affect the decision, purpose of trips and type of travel pattern”

And Saghppurr also points out that this is in part a structural problem:

“Increasing car ownership led to the dispersion patterns of development in cities. In this pattern of land uses, residents had to make long trips for daily activities which significantly increased fuel consumption as well as car dependency. So, the distance between homes, works, schools and shopping centres affected on the length of trips, especially in low-density and widespread cities. That would also make people more dependent on private cars and less interested in walking or cycling trips. In most cities, the main structure of the city has been shaped to encourage people for using more private cars in comparison with other modes”

“In many cases, increasing the car ownership has encouraged residents to migrate to suburbs, in this way; they usually commuted between city centres and their living suburbs at least once a day. In fact, urban planning after World War II has been faced with a trend towards suburbs”

This suggests that whatever remedies can be put forward, part of the reason why they can only mitigate and not solve the problem of congestion is how the developments have fed off the motor car. Locations developed for housing have been profitable because they depend on the ability of the occupier to be able to use a motor vehicle.

The more salubrious suburban developments, and the rural developments in Jersey are themselves a planning structure which necessitates use of motor cars for the kind of lifestyle in which people now find themselves, in which work and shops may well be situated at some distance from dwellings.

This is something which has changed historically. The change of styles work, in which there are increasing pressures on time, and the increased demand of leisure time (which may be used, as well, for taking children to extra-curricular activities) has lead to a frenetic lifestyle, fast paced, and the kind of world in which people cycles from St Ouen, or walked into work from St Brelade, have long gone (and yes, I know of two people who did that, and they were not alone)

What can be done is for future planning to look for existing transport systems such as buses or cycle lanes close by to where the development takes place, or to consider extra bus stops if a bus goes close to a new development.

We cannot reverse the effect of planning decisions of the past with a legacy of migration away to rural locations, but we can ensure that future planning takes into account the existing public transport as part of the planning process, and at least not add to the problems.

The number of cars in Jersey has grown with the number of people, so that what was once only a problem during summer months (in the tourism boom years) now occurs all year around. As the population grows, whether internally or from immigration, the number of cars is set to increase.

Part of the problem, which effects all urban spaces with a commuter belt of suburban and rural housing feeding into it, is a legacy of structures of the past. This means that there is little if no public transport readily available or economically available at appropriate times of day - both work, and in evenings. This acts as a disincentive to use the car – after all, if you have various fixed costs – insurance, service etc every year, it makes sense to use it sometimes for convenience, in less accessible locations, by necessity.

Some kind of investment in rideshare either by setting up associations, or by providing such groups with suitable database functions would help curb congestion. At the moment, there is I believe one Facebook group, but it is ad hoc, and not well structured. 

Proper investment of time and effort is needed, but the rewards in terms of lessening cars on the road could be significant. Rideshare depends to a degree on altruism, but I suspect sufficient altruism is there – it just has not got the proper support structure to work properly.

And finally, technology suggests that a congestion charge might well have an effect. It may not diminish the traffic, but it may spread the times of commuters, and would also provide a greater incentive for rideshare schemes, especially if those could be offset against such a charge.

Win-Win Transportation Management Strategies: Cooperation for Economic, Social and Environmental Benefits. Todd Litman, Journal of Business Administration and Policy Analysis, 1999

Achievement of Sustainable Transportation through Land-Use Mix at Local Level: Case Studies of Two Urban Districts in Shiraz City, Iran. Tayebeh Saghapour, Journal of Sustainable Development, 2013


James said...

This is much the same in Jersey. For instance, there is no bus service which enables the user to get from La Moye, for example, to the Jersey Bowls or Rugby Club or Garden Centre.

Not true. There is an infrequent service (22) which does this. But in principle you are right, and it's a source of contention that no operator has ever put the effort into making a viable run across the north (Gorey-Durrell-St John-L'Etacq).

The narrowness of the roads and the excessive width of most buses means it will now probably never happen.

cyril said...

Most traffic congestion in Jersey is a result of the school run and the commute to and from work, sort out those two and there wouldn't be a problem. You hardly need rocket science to do this, all that is required is real political will. However with the vast sums of money collected on transport fuel tax that is not spent on maintaining our roads (as it should be)
nor on effective public transport, the powers that should not be prefer to squander our hard earned cash on jollies for themselves.