Pity commuters in Beijing, Mexico City and Jo’burg

If you think your drive to work is bad then spare a thought for commuters in the cities of Beijing, Mexico City and Johannesburg which have come top in a global poll of the worst driving commutes in the world.

An IBM Commuter Pain Study of 8 192 motorists in 20 cities, released on Wednesday, found most commuters — 67% — said traffic has got worse in the past three years and it is making them sick and affecting how they do their job.

The survey found 65% of people driving to work every day say the journey makes them stressed, angry and reduces their sleep and family time while 29% said traffic was adversely affecting their performance at work or school.

Some cities came out worse than others with 22% of commuters in Mexico City taking more than an hour a day for a typical one-way trip to work compared to only 2% of commuters in New York or Madrid taking that long.

“Cities like Beijing and Mexico City have very long commutes and the uncertainty of the commute is high as one day it can take 45 minutes and the next day two hours,” IBM’s Global Lead for Intelligent Transportation Naveen Lamba told Reuters.

“This means a lot of time stuck in traffic and on occasions people just give up and go back home … and it is not just the individuals affected but there is a cost for businesses and for the cities themselves. You have a cascading affect.”

Rounding out the top 10 of the worst cities for commuters were Moscow, New Delhi, São Paulo, Milan, Buenos Aires, Madrid and London, with scores determined by up to 10 factors including commuting time, time stuck in traffic, and stress levels.

Lamba said this was the third annual commuter pain survey but this was the first global poll as the previous two had focused only on US cities.

“When we focused on the United States, the cities you expect — like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago — came up as some of the worst commutes as these are cities where congestion is bad and commutes are long but in a global context they looked very efficient in terms of transportation,” he said.

“Developing cities are growing so fast that you are seeing congestion building up very quickly as opposed to large cities in developed countries where congestion has taken decades to build up, giving officials more time to address the problem.”

For example the number of new cars registered in Beijing in the first four months of 2010 rose 23,8 to 248 000, according to the Beijing municipal taxation office.

He said although Beijing topped the list, most commuters in the Chinese capital said the situation was improving after rapid growth in the city caused enormous congestion.

“In fact Beijing had the highest number of people who said the situation had got better in the past three years (48%),” said Lamba.

“Beijing has invested in adding to its transport infrastructure and subway system so we can see why travellers feel it is getting better.”

The survey found the top frustrations among commuters were stop-start traffic, which bugged 42% of people, and rude drivers, who irritated 32% of commuters.

But despite the frustrations and the economic downturn, few commuters had changed the way they go to work with 84% saying the financial crisis had not stopped them driving to work.

“Even though commuters say the traffic is getting worse, for some reason people seem fond of their cars,” said Lamba who hoped the information from the survey could be used by transport officials to better understand and manage traffic flow.

The other 10 cities involved in the survey were Paris, Toronto, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Berlin, Montreal, New York, Houston, Melbourne and Stockholm. – Reuters

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