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IBM: Smart solutions needed to unknot road congestion

Oct. 2, 2009
A recent report from IBM points out that as the world becomes more urbanized – with 70% of the globe’s population projected living in cities by the year 2050 – cities are struggling to keep pace with increased roadway congestion

A recent report from IBM points out that as the world becomes more urbanized – with 70% of the globe’s population projected living in cities by the year 2050 – cities are struggling to keep pace with increased roadway congestion.

As a result, transportation issues are emerging as an urgent priority for municipal planners—with increasing mass transit and moving more freight to railroads viewed as key components to unknotting congestion.

“Freight makes an enormous impact on inter-city congestion,” Matt Berry, an IBM spokesperson, told FleetOwner.. “Not only does it put a severe strain on the city streets, traffic congestion has a negative impact on how the shippers are able to operate. Not only do we need to move some of those cars and trucks off the roads and into other modes of transportation, we have to do a better job of managing our existing road, rail and mass transit infrastructure.”

The “Intelligent Transport: How Cities Can Improve Mobility” study is based on the analysis of transportation conditions in 50 cities, followed by in-depth interviews with senior transport officials in 16 selected cities.

Cities in both developed nations and developing countries were found to be battling with stressed transportation networks – the result of an increase in demand as well as an inability to build sufficient infrastructure. These conditions are choking countries and cities around the world, IBM found.

For example, the cost of congestion across the U.S. transportation system nears $200 billion each year, according to data compiled by the Dept. of Transportation. In Europe, home to about 300-million drivers, traffic congestion costs the European Union 1% of its gross domestic product – equivalent to 100 billion Euros, or roughly $146.2 billion, every year.

“Clearing congestion and improving how people and goods are moved cross-town and cross-region are critical, not only to address quality of life and a cleaner environment,” noted Jamie Houghton, global leader-intelligent transport systems for IBM, in the study. "They are critical to economic viability and sustainability for municipalities worldwide.”

“When we look at the numbers, it's obvious that we need to move more freight to railroads,” added IBM’s Berry. “Consider this: A single freight train can replace 280 trucks on a road, reducing fuel use, congestion and emissions; and rail is extremely efficient – two to five times more efficient than road and air transportation.”

Mass transit is viewed as another key to moving people off the roads, he said. “Mass transit initiatives face some challenges in terms of getting people to change the way they commute and travel,” Berry explained. “However, there's a tremendous upside in terms of the economic, environmental and societal benefits. We see mass transit adoption exploding in countries around the world and expect that to continue as these systems get smarter, faster, safer and more efficient.”

One of the cities the IBM study looked at in greater detail is Stockholm, Sweden, which is retooling its transportation system to reduce roadway traffic. Stockholm’s congestion tax drove a 25% reduction in car use and 14% reduction in emissions from road traffic. Yet it implemented the tax as part of a holistic transport plan that also increased bus services and park-and-ride facilities, along with the use of an integrated ticketing system that links the major modes of transport.

Beyond rail and mass transit, though, it goes back to being smarter about how existing resources are used, Berry added. “[IBM is] doing a lot of research to determine better ways of routing traffic based on time of day, weather conditions, events taking place in a given city, how many people are riding the subway and thousands of other variables. “

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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