Urban density and congestion Part 3 – Congestion and unnecessary trips
STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete (The Freeman) - March 17, 2020 - 12:00am

I was almost tempted to exclaim – “Now there’s the solution to traffic congestion!” I was driving my wife to her workplace and it took less than half the time it normally takes before this coronavirus scare seeped in. Even without a technical explanation, people would readily understand why. Firstly, it’s because classes were suspended. But that’s not really the main reason – traffic also dips on Christmas and summer vacations but very lightly – students who normally go to school will go somewhere else.

In today’s case, it’s more on the COVID-19 scare and the concomitant fear associated with it. Whether by personal desire or due to the limitations imposed by the government, people move less. In fact, ideally, we should not move at all, if we want to really contain this contagion. But the world, and the city, can’t stop running of course, we have to go on with our daily lives, and that always involves moving. Whether going to the office or workplace or other destinations, a minimal number of trips is inevitable. But trip counts can be decreased when we want to. Those involved in transport mobility should remember that. And not continue focusing on road-widening or opening new roads which will not solve the problem at all.

We go back to our previous explanation of the traffic congestion phenomenon – starting with person trips. On any given day, more than half of all trips in a city are home-to-work trips, upwards of 60%. On top of that, it is regularly peaked in the morning when we go to work, and in the afternoon, when we go home. All the other trips are those that involved business, other chores, shopping, visiting relatives and friends, going to the doctor or the machine shop, entertainment, and the rest of what you do outside of home and work. Then there are what are considered unnecessary trips among those which are not home-to-work trips.

Let’s say one afternoon, you wanted to go to a mall to buy something. You found out that your car won’t start, and your wife tells you to take the jeepney. You tell her, never mind, let’s have the car checked and buy that something the next day. That trip which you postponed, was an unnecessary trip. Or consider this housewife in Texas who was faced with the prospect of a terrible traffic jam in the freeway. She decided to do her groceries twice instead of three times a week. Or do it at a time when traffic is lean (non-peak). The initial trips were unnecessary trips – trips which you could forego without affecting your life.

There are actually many of those which we take but are actually unnecessary. If we increase gas prices, we usually let go of many such trips. That’s why transport economics is important - unnecessary trips are bad for the economy regardless of whether you can afford them or not. And when transformed into traffic congestion, they’re bad for everybody! This is one valuable lesson from COVID-19 which we should not let pass by us without learning. (To be continued)

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