In the 21st century, car use and the inevitable congestion continues to grow, with a cost to the environment, business and health. Viewed in simple terms, this can be seen as a result of overpopulation. There are simply too many people in the world, all needing or wanting to get from A to B. But since that issue cannot be easily and quickly solved, we have to look at ways of managing and reducing traffic in the meantime.
A hugely effective way of solving the congestion issue would be to severely limit the use of personal vehicles, either through legislation or persuasion. But this would require government/council with the willingness to take unpopular decisions such as banning car use in cities. Persuasion is generally more effective, though unfortunately only on a limited scale; most motorists are unwilling to reduce their own dependency on the car, and expect someone else to take on the responsibility instead.
Given that most people are motivated primarily by self-interest, rather than the greater good, incentives that will save them money are often more successful. For example, Barcelona now offers motorists free transport for three years if they give up an older, more polluting car and don’t buy another one – a gesture that could save them thousands of pounds in motoring costs. Subsidising public transport also offers an incentive to leave the car at home (or not buy one).
A congestion charge, however, such as in London, only penalises poorer motorists. Wealthy drivers can afford to pay it, and it is hard to shake off the suspicion that the charge was intended as a revenue raiser, rather than an incentive for traffic reduction. If the capital was serious about reducing traffic they would take steps to cut down the number of vehicles. Has the congestion charge reduced traffic?
Promoting working from home would also make a massive difference to traffic. Many jobs could easily be performed remotely as they do not require a physical presence in the office. This would leave roads freer for people who do need to travel to work. Ferrying children to school also adds significantly to weekday traffic, so councils and schools should promote walking to school, and provide bus transport for pupils who live further away.
There are many alternatives to using one’s own car; it is simply that we have long since been accustomed to the freedom of our own vehicle. Car sharing is a very practical way to cut down on commuter traffic. Those who are fortunate enough to live where there is good public transport should use it as much as possible. If you only need a car on occasions, it makes more sense to join a car rental club or hire one. Delivery services locally could be made using pedal power or electric vehicles, and encouraging people to shop locally can reduce a lot of personal journeys.
Good traffic management also plays an essential role in avoiding congestion. Councils and utility companies should work together to try to minimise disruption when carrying out works. Perhaps there is also a role for technology in predicting traffic patterns and changing lights, for example, to facilitate the flow of traffic.
Motorists should be made to understand that we all bear responsibility for reducing traffic and pollution. We should look at our own journeys and decide if they are really necessary. Planning our trips can help us reduce our contribution to traffic. There is really no sense in complaining about sitting in traffic when you are part of it!