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Car-maggedon—the $4.4 trillion traffic problem

Traffic congestion over the next 17 years is set to give the U.S. and the biggest economies in Europe a $4.4 trillion headache, according to a U.K.-based economic consultancy firm.

France, Germany, the U.K and the U.S. will face a combined toll of $200.7 billion in 2013 across their whole economies and that figure is expected to rise to $293.1 billion by 2030, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

This would mark a 46 percent increase in the costs imposed by congestion and is calculated from direct costs, like fuel and wasted time, as well as indirect costs like the inflated household bills passed on by idle freight traffic.

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"This report shows that advanced economies could be heading for 'car-maggedon'," said Kevin Foreman, the general manager of geoanalytics at INRIX who provided the data for the CEBR.

"The scale of the problem is enormous, and we now know that gridlock will continue to have serious consequences for national and city economies, businesses and households into the future," he said in a press release on Tuesday.

Friday afternoon commuters clog the Los Angeles area freeways.
Jamie Rector | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Friday afternoon commuters clog the Los Angeles area freeways.

The U.K. is expected to see the biggest increase in costs due to congestion, with the U.S. in second place. Londoners faced the biggest impact - with a 71 percent rise - while Los Angeles is due for a 65 percent increase, according to the report. Road users spend, on average, 36 hours in gridlock every year in urban areas across these four economies, it added. It also noted that idle vehicles in these developed nations released 15,434 kilotons of carbon dioxide last year and forecast this to rise by 16 percent between 2013 and 2030.

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The reasons

The research firm IHS Automotive has detailed a weak but evident "epochal change" in the number of vehicles being used, especially in urban areas. In a report earlier this year, it said that mature cities such as London, Paris, New York, Stockholm, and Tokyo had seen the number of vehicles per 1,000 people decline steadily for the past decade, as more and more urban dwellers give up using their cars.

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The CEBR noted this decline in ownership in its report, but suggested that population growth and gross domestic product growth will still ensure a "significant" increase in the demand for road travel over the coming decades.

The remedies

The CEBR concluded that global governments should have a multi-pronged attack against this rise in traffic congestion. It calls on policymakers to do more – including improving public transport. Car-pooling is one suggestion it gives, as well as the rise of telecommuting or remote working. Real-time traffic management is another example that it gives, with the growth of "big data" and connected cars expected to create "smart cities" that reduce congestion.