IBM Finds Commuter Pain on the Rise

In its annual global Consumer Pain Survey, IBM shows that commuters worldwide are seeing increased stress levels.

A new IBM survey relating to traffic in some of the largest cities in the world indicates that although efforts have been made to alleviate traffic congestion, commuter complaints have increased.

In its annual global Commuter Pain Survey, released Sept. 8, IBM shows that in a number of cities more people are taking public transportation rather than driving, when compared with last year's survey. In many cities, there were big jumps in the percentage of respondents who said that roadway traffic has improved either "somewhat" or "substantially" in the past three years, IBM said.

However, in many cities, the survey recorded significant increases in the number of respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their levels of personal stress and anger and negatively affected their performance at work or school.

"Commuting doesn't occur in a vacuum," said Naveen Lamba, IBM's global intelligent transportation expert, in a statement. "A person's emotional response to the daily commute is colored by many factors-pertaining both to traffic congestion as well as to other, unrelated, issues. This year's Global Commuter Pain survey indicates that drivers in cities around the world are much more unsettled and anxious compared with 2010."

IBM officials said the survey results suggest that aggressive infrastructure investment in some of the most rapidly growing economies seems to be paying off. Compared with other cities surveyed, more commuters in Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing and Shenzhen reported improvement in traffic conditions over the last three years. For example, last year Beijing was expected to invest approximately 80 billion yuan to improve its transportation infrastructure, and Mexico City is making a significant investment of $2.5 billion over the next few years to better support the growing demands of its transportation network in one of the most populated urban areas in the world. With more than 1 billion cars on the road worldwide, cities are continuing to address traffic congestion and looking for new ways to handle the growing demand, IBM said.

And even though commuters in many emerging market cities report that traffic is down, there is much room for improvement. The respondents in many of these same cities also report, with a greater frequency than the global average, that traffic negatively impacts their stress levels, physical health and productivity, according to the survey.

For example, 86 percent of the respondents in Beijing, 87 percent in Shenzhen, 70 percent in New Delhi and 61 percent in Nairobi report traffic as a key inhibitor to work or school performance, IBM officials said. Sixty-seven percent of drivers in Mexico City, 63 percent in Shenzhen and New Delhi, and 61 percent in Beijing said they had decided not to make a driving trip in the last month due to anticipated traffic-the most of all cities surveyed, IBM said.

Commuting pain is also reflected globally as 69 percent of those surveyed indicated that traffic has negatively affected their health in some way. Some 42 percent of respondents globally reported increased stress and 35 percent reported increased anger. Respiratory problems due to traffic congestion were most prevalent in China and India.

In addition, the IBM survey results reflect an increased willingness to use public transportation and technology to improve the commute. Overall, 41 percent believe improved public transit would help reduce traffic congestion, IBM said. Consider that even though globally only 35 percent of people changed the way that they get to work or school in the last year, 45 percent of those who have are opting for public transit. A whopping 70 percent of Nairobi residents report taking public transit more often in the last year on their daily commute.

The biggest movement to public transit is in emerging cities including Nairobi, Mexico City, Shenzhen, Buenos Aires and Beijing, IBM said. If this continues, it could help mitigate increasing traffic due to population growth and urbanization.

Moreover, the desire for more accurate and timely information about road conditions as a way to reduce stress was shared across a number of cities from Los Angeles and Chicago to Moscow and Bangalore, IBM said.

IBM compiled the results of the survey into its Commuter Pain Index, which ranks the emotional and economic toll of commuting in each city, with the highest number being the most onerous. The index reveals a broad disparity in the pain of the daily commute from city to city. Montreal had the least painful commute of the cities studied, followed by London and Chicago.

"We can't simply build our way out of congestion no matter which city," said Vinodh Swaminathan, director of intelligent transportation systems at IBM, in a statement. "In order to improve traffic flow and congestion, cities need to move beyond knowing and reacting; they have to find ways to anticipate and avoid situations that cause congestion that could turn the world into one giant parking lot."

IBM conducts its Commuter Pain Survey to better understand consumer attitudes around traffic congestion as the issue reaches crisis proportions around the world and higher levels of auto emissions stir environmental concerns. These events are impacting communities around the world, where governments, citizens and private sector organizations are looking beyond traditional remedies like additional roads and greater access to public transportation to reverse the negative impacts of increased road congestion. This is IBM's fourth annual Commuter Pain survey. IBM surveyed 8,042 commuters in 20 cities on six continents.

Meanwhile, IBM is working with cities, governments and others around the world to make their transportation systems smarter. Smarter transportation systems can help traffic and public transit systems flow more smoothly, anticipate and improve congestion in advance, reduce emissions, and increase the capacity of infrastructure. IBM has invested in research to advance smarter transportation systems as part of its Smarter Planet strategy.