Time travel would cut down on travel time. If New Yorkers could turn the clock back to 1982, their average travel time might be cut by 70 percent. But meanwhile, things are getting worse. The NYC metro area average congestion delay (per peak traveler) jumped to 16th worst in the nation in 2005 (the latest year) at 46 hours – a deterioration from 23rd worst in 2004. The cost of delay is estimated at $888 per peak traveler, 18th highest – again, a deterioration from 22nd worse in 2004.
It’s no surprise that Los Angeles is the most congested, with 72 hours per year in wasted time per traveler. On traffic-congestion delays, New York City ranks with Chicago and Boston among U.S. metro areas according to the just-released 2007 Annual Mobility Report by the Texas Transportation Institute (part of Texas A&M University). The rankings are overall but are grouped by size of each urban area.
The report provides complete information on the New York City region trend since 1982. The total delay has risen eight-fold from 68 million hours in 1982 to 384 million hours, reflective of the area’s size and growth. However, the growth in delay per peak traveler has grown more slowly than the average – reflective of the large number of people in the area who use public transit.
In the absence of a time machine, government officials at all levels need to consider the high cost of traffic congestion – a total of 4.2 billion lost American hours in 2005, the cost per city varying based on size, availability of public transit and local policies.
The report attributes two-thirds of the delays in the NYC area to incidents on the highways that delay traffic. It gives most credit in delay-reduction to “freeway incident management” – e.g., use of cameras and service patrols to incident prevention and response.
The other bright spot is NYC’s strong public transit network. If there were no public transit, the annual delay per peak traveler would jump in the NYC area by 26 hours, from 46 to 72 – ahead of Los Angeles.The total cost of congestion in the NYC area has grown, according to the report, from $649 million in 1982 to $7.4 billion in 2005. Although NYC is not nearly the most congested on an average traveler basis, its total cost remains in second place throughout the 1982-2005 period. Congestion pricing and other options deserve the attention they have been getting from Washington and New York City officials.