Home/ Money / Calculators/  How expensive is a traffic jam for you?

This year, it’s not Mumbai but the Delhi-National Capital Region, which is facing the wrath of monsoons. In May 2015, Delhi witnessed a traffic jam on National Highway 8 that spread over 20 km and lasted for over four hours. Headline-making traffic jams haunt commuters. Sridharan Ramkumar, 41, a lawyer by profession who travels from his home in Gurgaon sector 56 to Saket, a distance of about 30 km, said, “Nowadays, it takes me around two hours to commute one way. There is a new metro station coming up at Golf Link Road, and that poses a major traffic block."

Many of those travelling from Gurgaon to Delhi using the Golf Link Road to reach Mehrauli Gurgaon Road face this problem. Queues are long, and slow moving. “I use a Maruti Alto 800 with CNG facility. Fuel alone costs me 300 just travelling one side," said Ramkumar.

Many other parts of Delhi have the same traffic woes. Sahil Chhabra, 28, a senior manager at Case Extraminds Edusocial Ltd, travels from Faridabad to Nehru Place daily. “The distance is hardly 20 km, but it takes one-and-a-half hours during office hours, and over two hours during the evening rush hour. The main issue is battery-operated rickshaws as they don’t have stoppage points. They stop wherever they feel like for the customers. Even the red lights don’t work in the rainy season." Chhabra’s commute costs him 300-400 daily.

Here’s an example of how traffic jams eat away your time and your money. Petrol price in Delhi is about 67 a litre. If a car’s mileage is 15km per litre, and the distance to be covered is 20 km, the fuel cost to cover the distance will be around 89. In a traffic jam, a vehicle consumes almost 20% more fuel. So, the same distance of 20km will cost you about 107. Assuming that you are in a jam six times a week, you spend 108 more than you would otherwise, or 432 a month, or 5,000 a year.

While Delhi has many cars, Ahmedabad is a two-wheeler friendly city. But here, too, it takes more than an hour to travel from North Ahmedabad to West Ahmedabad to cover a distance of just 13 km. So, if a two-wheeler’s mileage is 50km a litre, and petrol costs 65, the person would spend 17 one-way. If the traffic is slow moving, the same trip will cost 20. That means an extra 973 a year, if traffic jams occur six times a week.

Problem of plenty

“Earlier this year, three of the Indian cities (Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata) featured in the list of Top 10 cities with the worst traffic conditions in the world (as per a list put together by Numbeo)," said Garry Singh, managing director of risk consulting and intelligence advisory firm IIRIS Pvt. Ltd.

Traffic congestion costs time and money. “Delay in traffic attracts four major costs—safety, death, delay and cost of doing business. Each of these segments, in turn, have a direct economic impact. As per the last study conducted by the Transport Corporation of India and IIM Calcutta (2012), India stands to lose almost 60,000 crore a year due to traffic delays (including fuel wastage) on high-volume highways," said Singh.

While Delhi faced a traffic snarl of historic proportions, worse was what commuters faced in Beijing, China, almost five years back, in August 2010. The line of stuck vehicles was 100 km long and it took 10 days to clear the jam. Cause? Heavy vehicles and road construction.

The Delhi area suffers from a unique problem—too many roads. “More road space attracts more traffic," said Shreya Gadepalli, director-India, Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP). “Delhi is in an enviable position. It has more street space per capita than any other metro city. It also has more cars than Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai put together," she added. According to the Delhi Traffic Police’s website, 96,34,976 vehicles were registered in Delhi as of May 2015. In Mumbai it is 25,02,673 (as of March 2015), in Chennai 44,70,328 (April 2015) and about 445,000 in Kolkata (as of 2012), according to data from various state transport offices.

“A static car takes about 150 sq. ft. And it needs 2-3 parking slots—one at residence, one at work place and one at, say, recreational place. One parking slot has to be about 250 sq. ft in size. Each car user occupies 30 times more road space than a bus user. That’s the equivalent of three dwelling units for the poor," said Gadepalli.

Not just Delhi, other big cities in India face the problem of too many cars. Around 400 cars are added to Mumbai roads daily. Nitin Dossa, executive chairman, Western India Automobile Association, said, “Every day around 75,000 cars go towards the airport side in Mumbai. But since there is no underground system, there is congestion even on the Western Express highway. There is an immediate need to have alternate modes of transport such as metro line and even sea transport." Extension to the sea-link and underground parking facilities would improve the situation, he added.

The solution, Gadepalli said, lies in controlling private ownership of vehicles and building an effective public transport system. “The look-feel has to be like a metro," she said, adding that it must be integrated with other modes of transport.

Creating more roads and more parking space not only costs a lot, it also attracts more traffic. An ITDP report estimated that in 2014, while 34% people travelled by foot, 28% did so using cars and two-wheelers. Only 24% used buses or intermediate public transport. On decongesting Delhi, it stated that around 140 km of new roads, tunnels, and flyovers are proposed in a decongestion plan, to be built at a cost of 33,800 crore. But with a tripling of car use, the actual need would be of 2,90,000 crore of new roads to keep congestion at moderate levels.


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Updated: 10 Aug 2015, 09:38 PM IST
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