Traffic congestion in St. Louis isn’t all that bad, at least according to the latest Annual Urban Mobility Report. The full report can be found here. There’s an incredible amount of information and it’s worth a look, but what does it tell us about St. Louis?
The report concludes that the average St. Louisian spends the equivalent of one day each year sitting in traffic. The Post-Dispatch covers the ins and outs of what this means and some reasons why St. Louis has experienced decreasing congestion over the past decade.
I would like to focus on what role our mass transit system plays in the congestion equation. If we take the report’s numbers at face-value we see that eliminating our transit system would add two hours to the time the average driver spends in traffic. How much is the average driver willing to pay for two hours of their time? With congestion relatively low and funding for Metro already rejected twice, the answer is apparently $0. Perhaps not enough people are thinking of time as money. Personally, I would pay, say $10 to buy back two hours. If everyone did that we could largely fund Metro.
Yet this isn’t just a personal time issue. The study suggests that congestion in St. Louis costs the region $697,000,000 and peak-hour travelers $562 each year. Congestion cost is calculated as the cost of lost time and wasted fuel. Clearly one could add the cost of the unpredictable but certain injuries and deaths that result from congested roadways. It would be futile to attempt to eliminate congestion (though we did declare wars on poverty and drugs so why not?) but we should place a higher value on our low level of congestion and increase funding for mass transit. We’re paying the cost either way.