Britain in a jam.

Britons spend 32 hours in traffic jams each year, Tside investigates the cause and possible solutions of this £30bn problem.

MOTORISTS, we know the feeling all too well of being stuck in seemingly endless traffic jams that leave cars crawling along, bumper to bumper with the vehicles around, for possibly hours at a time.

It is one of the biggest bug-bears of modern life and it is costing us more in time and money each year.

The Problem

INRIX, the traffic information company, conducted a study which found that on average, UK motorists spent 32 hours in traffic jams last year, making Britain the third most congested country in Europe.

The study found that the total cost of hold-ups now reaches £31bn – an average of £968 per driver.

Unfortunately, this figure is unlikely to shrink over the coming months as a report conducted by Highways England revealed that 60% of all traffic congestion is due to a simple lack of road capacity.

This becomes a problem when even a minor incident on the road can cause a long delay for motorists following behind, as there is no way for emergency vehicles or other cars to get past.

The A19 in the North East, brought to a crawl by snowy weather

Regarding their effort to reduce delays of this nature, a Highways England spokesperson said: “We care about making journeys safer and better for all who use our motorways and major roads.”

“In our first two years we met our target to clear 85% of all incidents on our network within an hour and last year exceeded our target to keep 97% of lanes available to road users, to help smooth the flow of traffic.

“We will continue to ensure roads are reopened safely, but as quickly as possible.”

Their report also found that 98% of UK businesses have an essential reliance on the road system, making it crucial to the British economy.

And with over 30 million cars on the road already, a figure which is currently increasing by at least 600,000 each year, something must be done to curb this growing problem.

This never-ending rise in car ownership stems from Margaret Thatcher’s reputed claim that “a man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.”

It was her drive for private ownership that has resulted in this belief becoming ingrained in our society and is one of the root causes of the gridlock we face during rush hour today.

Margaret Thatcher deep in thought

Even now, almost 30 years since the end of Thatcher’s reign, there is one car in the UK for every two people, and with a road system that was built mainly during the 1970s and 80s, the country’s roads simply cannot cope with the sheer volume of traffic we have today.

But what can be done to minimise this issue that is costing us so much?

Unlikely Alternatives

You might think the first port of call would be public transport. However, in its current guise public transport can often be hugely unreliable, inconvenient and costly for regular commuters, so much so that travelling by car is the only method available to most travelers.

Once again, we turn to Margaret Thatcher, who in her time as Prime Minister privatised many public transport networks, leaving corporations in charge of the rail and bus services, meaning that unprofitable or rarely used routes are often cut to protect the private company’s profit margins.


A crowded train

Trains are routinely overcrowded, especially at peak times where the congestion in carriages can be highly dangerous as people are packed onto trains like sardines.

More misery has also been heaped onto commuters as rail fares have risen yet again this year, seeing a 3.4% surge in ticket prices, the largest increase in the last five years.

Even buses lack the capability to tempt people away from their cars as services remain hugely inconsistent and troublesome for many commuters, leaving people out in the cold while they wait for buses and walk to their final destination and furthermore, buses still end up in the same traffic as cars.

What’s more, it is common for rail and bus workers to strike, as their corporate bosses pay them a meager wage, leaving commuters and passengers, who rely on their services, stranded if industrial action is ever called.

Arriva bus drivers on strike in the North West

So, if the road system is too full and other transport methods simply can’t cut it, what can be done to solve Britain’s traffic problem?

Possible Solutions?

In recent years the government has begun work to reduce the congestion on the roads, mainly through the conversion of motorways into ‘smart motorways’, which aim to reduce queues on the carriageway by slowing the speed of vehicles to keep traffic flowing instead of grinding to a halt.

A spokesman from the Department for Transport said: “We are making the most extensive improvements to roads since the 1970s, investing a record £23bn to keep our country moving and make journeys faster, better and more reliable for everyone.”

Congestion on the M62 being eased using the smart motorway’s dynamic speed limit

The biggest downside with smart motorways seen thus far is the astronomical amount of time it takes to convert a regular motorway into one, with large stretches of road being consumed in egregious amounts of roadworks for years at a time.

Toll roads are another commonly suggested method to bring down congestion in Britain. The aim being to deter people from making short, unnecessary journeys on the motorway.

Graham Cookson, chief economist at INRIX said: “The cost of this congestion is staggering, stripping the economy of billions, impacting businesses and costing consumers dearly.”

“To tackle this problem, we must consider bold options such as remote working, wider use of road user charging and investment in big data to create more effective and intelligent transportation systems.”

Toll booths at the Dartford bridge near London

The unfortunate strain this could put on motorists’ pockets could see a move towards more use of public transport.

Which leads us onto High Speed 2 (HS2), a planned high-speed rail link between London and the North of England, aimed at reducing the strain on existing train services in and out of London.

The issue here is that HS2 is another very London-centered scheme and will do little for the rest of the UK despite reported costs of £55bn, a figure likely to rise even further as development continues.

It is yet to be seen if these suggested methods will have any effect on the congested roads and rail network of the UK and with nothing new announced in Phillip Hammond’s 2017 budget, aside from an unhelpful £500m fund for driverless cars, Britain’s transport system is likely to get worse before it can improve.


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