Which city has the worst traffic jams in the world? São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, according to Time magazine, holds this not so enviable record.
In this Brazilian megalopolis the traffic is so chaotic that every day it forces many people to spend hours in the road stuck in traffic. In some neighborhoods, it takes about three hours to travel around ten miles.
The situation is not better in São Paulo’s underground transport: with 4.5 million daily users, five subway lines in the city are constantly congested. Travelers are sometimes forced to wait outside the station before entering the platform. Those who use them to get to their workplace would spend an average of two days per month!
Economists from the Dom Cabral Foundation – a Brazilian Business School – have done the math. In term of waste of time and fuel, traffic (car and public transport) costs São Paulo 7 Euros per person per hour.
In total, the shortfall would be about €15 billion a year – at the time of this study, about 1% of Brazil’s GDP – whereas the city could invest this money elsewhere: for example in the construction of new undersground lines.
According to the Dom Cabral Foundation, more than 80 kilometers of metro rail could be funded with the money that is wasted everyday due to traffic jam.
That at least is what the Foundation said in June 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, at the 4th Seminar on intelligent transport systems. As a solution, they advocate all-round use of new technologies, which they believe should help traffic flow.
Some examples: automatic recognition of number plates for tolling purpose, which would avoid stopping vehicles and enable electronic billing, or display alternative routes on the roads particularly saturated.
A key benefit of this technical implementation would be an improved air quality in the roads and in the city, which cannot wait any longer. In 2009, the Dom Cabral Foundation published the results of another study, indicating that pollution resulting from traffic congestion in São Paulo is very much a threat and it only gives the city four years’ time, before serious trouble surfaces. After this period, air pollution would probably put people’s life at risk.
Is São Paulo making progress on this matter since then? Little has changed since 2009, as the city is still coping with the worst traffic jams in the world: by working on its public transport infrastructure and exploring a range of green commuting options (included some supervised by The World Bank, such as the “Voluntary Corporate Mobility” pilot programs) things may change in the future, but it’s definitely a long way to go.
Will São Paulo ever manage to avoid being irreparably choked by its own traffic? We hope so…