Key Findings: 2012-2013 INRIX Traffic Scorecard Annual Report
Death, taxes and traffic are often called the three certainties of life. At social gatherings, traffic and its impact to our lives is a common topic. “Traffic is bad and it’s getting worse” one might say. “If it gets any worse, I am going to…” another might say. Until recently, traffic and its horrors has been a largely anecdotal discussion. “If you think your commute is bad, you should try to get from ( ) to ( ) at 8am; I bet it’s the worst commute in town.”
How bad is traffic? Where are the worst places and the worst times to drive? London or Manchester? New York or L.A.? On the M25 or the M6? Monday morning or Friday evening? How does UK traffic compare to France or Germany? How does traffic in Europe compare with the U.S.? With increasing amounts of data and cutting edge analytics techniques, we now have the data and tools required to adequately analyze and address these issues.
Drawing on more than six years of trend data, this 2012 Annual Report documents that traffic congestion across Europe dropped 18 percent and North America dropped 22 percent last year compared to 2011. Of the 15 countries analysed in the 2012 report, Portugal experienced the biggest decline (-50%), Spain (-38%) and Italy (-34%) – interestingly these are the same countries that continue to struggle the most through the European debt crisis mirror those with the largest drops in traffic congestion. Despite being considered the strongest European economies, troubles across the Eurozone fueled declines in Germany (-15%), Netherlands (-15%) and France (-10%). Luxembourg was the only country to experience an increase in traffic congestion in 2012 at 29%. No surprise given that Luxembourg has the best per capita income with the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. Although it’s a small economy, it’s GDP of $55.9 billion equates to a GDP of $106,958 per person.
Analysis of traffic congestion in the first 3 months of 2013 shows some signs for optimism – particularly in the U.S. and Ireland. Among all 15 countries analyzed worldwide, only three (Luxembourg, Ireland and the U.S.) have experienced increases in 2013. Traffic congestion in the first three months of 2013 is up 4%, Ireland is up 10% and Luxembourg is up 38% combined with a declines and unemployment and a return of consumer spending. By contrast, Eurozone countries continue to experience even greater declines in the first 3 months of the year with Portugal (-68%), Spain (-57%), Italy (-33%), Germany (-23%), France(-6%), U.K Z(-11%) and Netherlands (-26%). Only France appears to be bucking the trend with traffic congestion down just 6% in comparison to the 10% decline in 2012.
In the U.S., a stop and go economy resulting from consumers and employers taking a “wait and see” approach through numerous tax and fiscal deadlines in 2012 stalled the economy and any rises in traffic congestion. By contrast, resolution to payroll tax extension and the temporary budget fix from the sequester helped create enough certainty in the first quarter of 2013 for employers to resume hiring (up 1.3%) and consumers to spending (consumer confidence is at its highest rate in 2+ years) While fuel prices have remained relatively stable in 2013, high unemployment and the debt crisis have been the primary drivers of Europe’s declines.
In summary, the data paints a picture of a “Stop n Go Economy” worldwide where shifts in traffic congestion are indicative of shifts in the broader economic health of the countries and cities examined in the report.
Since its groundbreaking first publication in 2007, the INRIX Traffic Scorecard Annual Report has analyzed and compared the status of traffic congestion throughout the top 100 metropolitan markets in the U.S. and the nation as a whole. In 2010, INRIX also introduced the Scorecard for major countries throughout Europe. Reviewed by regional departments of transportation, academics, media, city planners, economists and everyday drivers, the INRIX Traffic Scorecard has become a trusted benchmark for understanding traffic congestion and an indicator of the health of our local economies.
Drawing on six years of trend data, the 2012-2013 Annual Report shows that traffic congestion is up 4 percent already in 2013 compared to 2012. After cuts in government spending during the final months of 2012 brought the economic recovery to a virtual halt, economic sentiment improved during the first three months of 2013 and data indicates that traffic congestion is once again on the rise as a result. This suggests that after a tumultuous economic year in 2012, the economy may be back on the mend for good, and with that bringing increased traffic congestion.
Key 2012-2013 Scorecard Findings
- Traffic is back on the rise in 2013, at least in the U.S.: When comparing the INRIX Index for the U.S. during the first three months of the year, data shows that traffic congestion in 2013 is already higher than during the same time period in 2012. The INRIX Index for January through March 2013 was 6.7 – 4% higher than January through March 2012 (6.3).
So far this year, 61 of America’s Top 100 Worst Traffic cities have experienced increased traffic congestion. This is a dramatic shift from 2012, where only six cities experienced increases and 94 saw decreases.
- The 2013 increase follows another decrease in 2012: The uptick in traffic congestion in 2013 follows a 22 percent decrease in 2012. The “stop n go” nature of the results indicate an overall economic climate that has not yet returned to pre-recession levels in many areas, including total jobs and unemployment rates.
- The U.S. is trending opposite of global congestion in 2013: Traffic congestion fell 18 percent across Europe in 2012 and continues to spiral downward in 2013, with a further 23 percent decline in the first quarter. Eigthy-one of the 94 European cities analysed have experienced decreases in traffic congestion in Q1 2013.
- Not all congestion is created equal: In 2012, the worst travel corridors in the U.S. can cost their drivers 62 hours a year from sitting idle in gridlock, almost twice the national average (38 hours).
- Traffic as an indicator of economic health: When examined with employment data from 2012 and 2013, the Scorecard shows how observed shifts in traffic congestion serve as a key indicator of economic health.
Initial INRIX 2007 Traffic Scorecard Annual Report was transformative in its ability to illustrate how “Big Data” crowd-sourced in real-time from actual vehicles and mobile devices traveling our road networks could be archived and analyzed to provide a comprehensive, consistent and timely measure of traffic congestion nationwide. The 2008 Annual Report documented the dramatic 30%+ plunge in congestion from 2007 caused by 2008’s skyrocketing fuel prices, high unemployment and sharp reductions in consumer spending during the recession – validating traffic’s value as an economic indicator. The 2009 and 2010 Annual Reports showed that the drop in congestion had ended and appeared to “reset” to 2004/2005 levels, prompting INRIX data analysts to predict that future traffic patterns will be heavily influenced by the rate and pace of economic recovery. In 2011, this prediction proved true as traffic congestion decreased 24% as a result of a sluggish economy.
U.S. Economic Factors Affecting Traffic Congestion
Despite economic ups and downs throughout 2012, INRIX reports that congestion back on the rise in 2013 – congestion in January through March 2013 is already 4 percent higher than the same time period in 2012, indicating that after 2012’s rollercoaster, the economy may be on the road to recovery for good.
However, with congestion continuing to decline last year, the Scorecard found the nation’s INRIX Index for 2012 decreased 22 percent from 8.4 in 2011 to 6.6 in 2012. Traffic congestion remained relatively consistent throughout the year, with a peak congestion level (INRIX Index) of 7.1 in both September and October, following a low of 5.9 in July. In this section of the Annual Report, we look closely at national employment levels, urban interstate traffic volumes and U.S. gas prices to determine their effect on traffic congestion. The tables below show year-to-year changes in several key statistics, each based on data from the appropriate federal agency.
Fuel prices in 2012 experienced several peaks and valleys, with a high reached in April ($3.90 per gallon average) and a low hit in December ($3.31 per gallon average). Prices were consistently higher during the first four months of 2012 than in 2011. In May, the trend reversed and prices throughout the late spring/early summer (May-July) were lower than 2011 levels. In August, 2012 prices once again outpaced the previous year, and this continued throughout the remainder of the year. Overall, the average gallon rose $0.10 from $3.52 in 2011 to $3.62 in 2012, a nearly three percent increase. In 2013, fuel prices have risen nearly 12 percent from January through March. However, the average cost per gallon in 2013 is still lower than in 2012.
Fuel Prices in 2011, 2012 & 2013 (to date)
(U.S. Regular, All Formations)
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
Travel on roadways classified as “Urban Interstates” by the Federal Highway Administration (the roads that most closely align with the roads analyzed in the Scorecard) declined 1.2% in 2012. This decrease, similar to the level of decline from 2010-2011, is likely due to less Americans driving overall either because they are out of work, stopped looking for a job or just trying to spend less on gas in a tight economy. Already in 2013, overall traffic volumes are up compared to the same period in 2012 (January through March).
Annual Vehicle Miles Traveled, Urban Interstates
Source: U.S Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration
Total employment in the U.S. increased by nearly 2.3 million jobs in 2012, a nearly two percent increase over 2011 (up from a 1 percent increase from 2010-2011). Still, from its 2007 peak, America is down nearly 4 million jobs nationwide at the conclusion of 2012. So far in 2013, employment has increased by 1.3 percent.
Annual Average U.S. Non-Farm Employment
Source: United States Department of Labor
National Congestion Results and Economic Trends
- Traffic congestion in the U.S. is up 4 percent in the first three months of 2013 compared to 2012. In 2013, traffic congestion increased each month for the first three months of the year, the first such consecutive month increase in two years. This increase is in line with a steady increase in employment in the first three months of 2013 (+1.3%)1.
- So far this year, 61 of America’s Top 100 cities have experienced increased traffic congestion. This is a big shift from 2012 where only six cities experienced increases.
- Among the 2012 Top 10 Worst Cities for Traffic in America, seven of them have experienced increases in 2013 compared to last year. The largest increase to date is in Boston (+31%), likely a result of the Boston metropolitan area boasting unemployment figures that were 1.2 percentage points lower than the national average in February 20132.
- 1. Los Angeles (+6%)
- 2. Honolulu (+4%)
- 3. San Francisco (+3%)
- 4. Austin (+8%)
- 5. New York (+10%)
- 6. Bridgeport (+16%)
- 7. San Jose (+13%)
- 8. Seattle (-11%)
- 9. Washington, D.C. (-5%)
- 10. Boston (+31%)
- Among all 15 countries analyzed worldwide, the U.S. is only one of three that has experienced increased congestion in 2013 (Luxembourg and Ireland are the others).
- In 2012, the nation’s INRIX Index was 6.6. This means that during peak driving times, the average trip for drivers on the roads analyzed in the 100 largest region’s in the U.S. took nearly seven percent longer than if there was no congestion.
- The 2012 INRIX Index is a 22 percent decrease from 2011’s 8.8, and it is still more than 50 percent lower than 2007’s record for delays (13.3).
- Despite the overall decrease in traffic congestion nationally, six of the top 100 metropolitan areas saw increased congestion vs. 2011. The remaining 94 metros experienced declines or no change in traffic.
- The Top 10 Worst Cities for Traffic in America, along with total annual hours wasted in traffic, were:
- 1. Los Angeles (59 hours)
- 2. Honolulu (50 hours)
- 3. San Francisco (49 hours)
- 4. Austin (38 hours)
- 5. New York (50 hours)
- 6. Bridgeport (39 hours)
- 7. San Jose (31 hours)
- 8. Seattle (35 hours)
- 9. Washington, D.C. (41 hours)
- 10. Boston (31 hours)
- Across America’s 10 Worst Cities for Traffic in America, drivers wasted on average 42 hours in traffic – the equivalent to one week of vacation.
- Los Angeles was back at the top of the list in 2012 after falling to number two in 2011 (behind Honolulu). This is likely due to the fact that Los Angeles County gained approximately 90,000 jobs in February 2013 – a growth rate of 2.3 percent. This is the fastest year-over-year growth in the LA area since the recession began in 20073.
- Two of the Top 10 Worst Cities for Traffic in America saw an increase in congestion in 2012: San Jose (+6%) and Austin (+3%). The eight cities saw the following declines:
- 1. Los Angeles (-9%)
- 2. Honolulu (-23%)
- 3. San Francisco (-7%)
- 4. New York (-17%)
- 5. Bridgeport (-19%)
- 6. Seattle (-10%)
- 7. Washington, D.C. (-18%)
- 8. Boston (-22%)
- Tuesday from 8:00-9:00 AM was the busiest morning commute hour, and Friday between 5:00-6:00 PM was the busiest evening commute hour, where the average trip took 11 percent longer.
- Each weekday morning, overall national congestion peaked between 8:00 and 9:00 AM. Overall national evening congestion peaks between 5:00 and 6:00 PM.
Global Congestion Results and Economic Trends
As in the U.S., traffic congestion is also closely tied with economic trends in Europe.
- With rising unemployment and soaring fuel prices, Europe saw an 18 percent drop in congestion in 2012, and unlike in the U.S., traffic has continued to decline in 2013. The 23 percent drop in traffic congestion in the first quarter of 2013 indicates that economic conditions such as unemployment and fuel price will continue to decline throughout the year.
- All of the European countries analyzed experienced a drop in traffic congestion in 2012, with the exception of Luxemborg (+29%).
- The countries impacted most by the European debt mirror those with the largest drops in traffic congestion:
- 2012: Portugal (-50%), Spain (-38%) and Italy (-34%)
- 2012 compared to 2013 Q1: Portugal (-68%) and Spain (-57%)
- The below table of Europe’s Worst Countries for Traffic Congestion in 2012 illustrate a strong connection between traffic congestion and the overall economy.
||Hours wasted in traffic in 2012
||% Change 2012 from 2011
||Change in hours
||% Change Q1 2012 - Q1 2013
So what does this year’s Scorecard tell us?
- After a tumultuous economic year in 2012, the economy may be back on the mend and with that bringing increased traffic congestion. With many economic indicators, such as household wealth and retail sales, trending toward the positive in 2013, INRIX’s comparison of congestion in 2012 versus 2013 year-to-date paints a clear picture of how the overall economic climate affects national traffic congestion.
- When viewing traffic congestion as an economic indicator, initial 2013 data shows that the U.S. economy could be back on the upswing, with traffic trending higher in the first few months of the year than in 2012. While headwinds remain for the economy overall (including political gridlock, the European debt crisis and sequestration), economic sentiment has improved since the start of this year and is being helped by a recovering U.S. housing market. In Europe, it’s clear much of the region is still struggling through the debt crisis. Ireland whose commitment to austerity and putting its economy back on track is starting to show dividends as traffic congestion returns.
- Fears over recurring fiscal deadlines, the threat of the breakup of the Eurozone and ongoing debt issues in 2012 likely fueled declines in traffic congestion, with businesses and consumers alike taking a ‘wait and see’ approach. While bad news for drivers, the gains recorded in the U.S. and Ireland in 2013 show there is some cause for optimism in the year ahead.
1United States Department of Labor
2United States Department of Labor
3State of California Employment Development Department