May 10, 2012
Media Release - Traffic Congestion Hurts Productivity
A National Transit Strategy Could Make Matters Worse
Winnipeg / Ottawa: Today the Frontier Centre for Public Policy released a new study, Improving the Competitiveness of Metropolitan Areas authored by Wendell Cox, challenging the assumptions of those calling for a national transportation strategy.
Wendell Cox, one of the foremost transportation policy experts, examines in this study the ways in which the Canadian federal government could help to improve the competitiveness of metropolitan areas by reducing commute times. While many activists argue that it would require a national transit strategy, Cox points out that such solution could actually make things worse.
Cox analyzed commute times in 109 metropolitan areas. With the exception of Edmonton, the results for Canadian cities are dismal. Calgary and Ottawa finished at 58th and 60th, while the big three cities fared far worse. Toronto finished at 97th, while Montreal and Vancouver came in at 90th and 86th, respectively. By contrast, Edmonton came in at an impressive 15th.
“It is often suggested that transit reduces traffic congestion,” writes Cox. “These claims are frequently based upon unrealistic scenarios in which all transit service is cancelled and people who currently take transit are forced to drive instead. However, there are no such serious proposals.”
Transit is usually incapable of reducing traffic congestion levels. It would require attracting drivers from cars in large numbers, and since most down-town commuters are already using transit, the reductions would necessarily have to come from travel to other destinations. Locations outside of downtown, where most employment is located, are far more difficult for transit to serve. “The assumption of reduced traffic congestion where there is greater transit use is generally an invalid assumption,” Cox tells us.
The reason that Edmonton does so well, Cox says, is that the city has largely done the opposite of what smart growth activists advocate. Edmonton has a relatively dispersed population, has the lowest share of downtown employment of the major Canadian cities, and spends the least on transit. Cox holds that this dispersion allows people to get where they need far quicker than they could if the city was denser, and more reliant on transit. Calgary and Ottawa, which are in the same population bracket, have spent much more on transit, and have worked at creating density and encouraging downtown employment. Calgary has the highest percentage of downtown employment among Canadian cities. That is a cause of, rather than a solution to, lengthening commute times.
Increasing public transit seems like an obvious way to reduce traffic congestion. However, it is generally only cost effective in dense city cores. Increasing transit capacity generally doesn't get drivers out of their cars because driving is faster and more convenient. Even drivers in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal have much shorter commute times than their transit using counterparts.
Instead of making sweeping recommendations, however, Cox advises the federal government to direct funding toward research on affordable strategies to reduce commute times. It would help to determine best practices for municipalities, rather than working on the assumption that simply expanding transit will fix congestion. Cox also singles out telecommuting as a method of combating gridlock. The easiest way to shorten people's commutes is by finding ways to enable them not to commute.
About the author: Wendell Cox, Senior Fellow, is principal of Wendell Cox Consultancy, an international public policy, demographics and transport consulting firm. He is the author of several books on urban issues, and is visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (a national university) in Paris.
Download a copy of Improving the Competitiveness of Metropolitan Areas HERE.
For more information and to arrange an interview with the study's author, media (only) should contact:
Tel: (618) 632-8507
The Frontier Centre for Public Policy
is an independent public policy think tank whose mission is "to broaden the debate on our future through public policy research and education and to explore positive changes within our public institutions that support economic growth and opportunity."