At 51 hours wasted annually, Belgium had the worst traffic congestion in Europe during 2014. In the U.S. the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, with 82 hours of annual commute time, topped the list of cities with tough commutes.
While we would expect that Beijing also was a high ranking city for traffic problems, one of the reasons was rather surprising.
Where are we going? To the impact of number 4 on Beijing’s traffic congestion.
Beijing’s Traffic Problem
To reduce the number of cars and pollution, on Beijing’s 5th Ring Road between 7 am and 8 pm China uses license plate numbers. The policy though has an inconsistent impact on daily traffic volume because the last digit of your plate determines when you cannot use your car in the restricted area. Specifically, the numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 0 are each on 10% of all vehicles. Considered lucky, 6, 8 and 9 are on 12% to 13% of all cars.
By contrast, people avoid 4 because it is considered unlucky. As a result, they only have 1% to 3% of cars with 4 on a plate. So when 4s can’t be on the road, lots of cars remain that can…and the traffic is still pretty bad.
Our Bottom Line: Externalities
Traffic congestion creates a host of externalities that include wasted fuel and time. To that list, researchers from UC Berkeley, China’s Renmin University and the Beijing Transportation Research Center have added happiness. Using surveys which they correlated to congestion levels, they concluded that happiness levels decline when congestion was up–especially when the number 4 was off the road.
I wonder if the happiness deficit related to commuters’ time/income tradeoff: