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Main editorial comment: Issue 593 30 Mar 2012

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Car use, Road building, All of UK

In Passing: Just how much does congestion cost the economy?

  Announcing his private sector road plans last week, the Prime Minister said congestion was costing the economy £7bn a year, a figure that appears to be drawn from the 2006 report on transport and the economy commissioned by the Government from Sir Rod Eddington. But wait a minute – the Welsh Government suggested earlier this month that congestion costs the UK £30bn a year (LTT 16 Mar)! And didn’t the CBI say in 1989 the cost was £15bn? LTT this week decided to clear up the confusion once and for all. So here, with the help of Google, is the answer to the question, what’s the cost of congestion to UK?plc?

  • David Cameron, March 2012: £7bn.

  • CBI, March 2012: £8bn. 

  • Network Rail, undated: “Road congestion costs the British economy more than £10bn a year.”

  • Claire Haigh of Greener Journeys writing in the New Statesman in February 2012: “Congestion is also a massive drain on our economy with costs estimated at £11bn annually.”

  • Pteg: congestion costs urban economies alone “at least £11bn a year”.

  • Transport minister Norman Baker, March 2011: “Congestion can cause delay in urban areas at a cost of around £11bn a year.”

  • The Automotive Council UK, December 2011: “Congestion costs the UK economy about £12bn annually.”

  • The CBI, 1989: £15bn.

  • Staffordshire County Council’s website: “Traffic congestion costs UK businesses around £16bn a year (source: the CBI).”

  • Freight on Rail lobby group: “Rail freight can help ameliorate road congestion, which, the Freight Transport Association estimates, costs the economy £17bn per annum.”

  • Friends of the Earth, October 2011: “Congestion costs the UK £19bn a year.”

  • The BBC, 1998: “Traffic jams are costing firms about £19bn each year, according to the Confederation of British Industry’s publication, CBI News.”

  • The House of Commons transport committee: “The CBI has estimated that road congestion costs the UK economy £20bn a year.”

  • The Policy Exchange think-tank, 2008: £21bn.

  • Hitachi, November 2011: “The Government has previously estimated that congestion costs the economy approximately £22bn a year.”

  • The British Chambers of Commerce, 2011: “Congestion costs business £23.3bn a year.” (Nice precision – Ed)

  • Freight on Rail, December 2011: “Road congestion is now costing around £24bn annually, according to the Freight Transport Association.”

  • Transport minister Norman Baker, writing in Rail Professional, 2010: “Investment in rail will also help reduce congestion, which now costs the economy almost £25bn annually.” (3.5 times the PM’s estimate! Ed)

  • The Institute of Directors, 2007: “A national congestion charging system … is being considered by the Government in a bid to alleviate the £28bn cost to the economy of traffic jams.”

  • The Welsh Government, March 2010: “The most widely cited UK-wide study suggests that the cost of congestion to the UK economy is around £30bn per annum (Goodwin 2004).”

Are there any other ‘bids’ from LTT?readers?

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Elisabeth
30 Mar 2012

Norman Baker’s £11bn figure is from the Cabinet Office/DfT analysis of urban transport (http://tinyurl.com/c47l6tr) and excludes the measureable costs of physical inactivity, accidents, noise, carbon emissions and pollution, which goes some way to explaining the variation.

Phil
31 Mar 2012

Oh how ironic that I should be cited as the source of the highest estimate in your splendid list! What I actually wrote in 2004 (there is a copy at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1259/1/2004_25.pdf

was "It is an apparently precise answer to a phantom question. It really does not matter whether 'the answer' is £7 billion or £23 billion". It is only a rhetorical preamble to (any) statement of policy about congestion, with no real economic meaning. Incidentally the £7 billion comes from John Dodgson, 1997. The first ever estimate was Glanville and Smeed, 1958, £170 million.