Being stuck in traffic: worse than you think

Superstitions, Street Traffic, and Subjective Well-Being
by Michael L. Anderson, Fangwen Lu, Yiran Zhang, Jun Yang, Ping Qin – #21551 (DEV EEE PE)

Congestion plays a central role in urban and transportation economics. Existing estimates of congestion costs rely on stated or revealed preferences studies. We explore a complementary measure of congestion costs based on self-reported happiness. Exploiting quasi-random variation in daily congestion in Beijing that arises because of superstitions about the number four, we estimate a strong effect of daily congestion on self-reported happiness. When benchmarking this effect against the relationship between income and self-reported happiness we compute implied congestion costs that are several times larger than conventional estimates. Several factors, including the value of reliability and externalities on non-travelers, can reconcile our alternative estimates with the

existing literature.

This entry was posted in Economics and public policy. Bookmark the permalink.
Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

I remember when I used to live in Sydney, which must be one of the road-rage (stress) capitals of the world thinking a similar thing to this. You could probably get lower level biological markers of stress that are related to poor health outcomes that would show a similar pattern.

8 years ago

Yeah well I dunno.

Suppose that people who know that traffic would likely be bad and their trip would likely take 40 minutes left home 45 minutes before the appointment. Seems logical

But apparently we don’t like that it takes too much commitment and intrudes on our free space/time continuum . So we leave for appointments ‘whenever’ and are late because of someone else’s transport blocking ours.

Apparently public transport is unacceptable because it requires compliance to a state timetable. We don’t like compliance because it conflicts with our sensibilities.

People need to cut their cloth to suit

People just need to cut their jib

8 years ago

Woops that should read

Cut their cloth to suit the tailor.

Internet dodgy, I blame Malcolm.

Moz in Oz
Moz in Oz
8 years ago

I wonder if this is partly responsible for “cyclists are happier”, since our commute times are much more reliable. Maybe it’s not just the exercise and fumes?

For motorists I suspect it’s the uncertainty and the extra decision making, plus the wasted time. There’s extra stress in having to think about traffic density (which you can’t ever know in advance) and routes etc, then allow a safety margin, and inevitably waste time when you arrive slightly early (or stress when you’re late).

My favourite anecdote is once arriving at work and ringing my boss to say “where are you, the office is locked” and only then hearing that there was a public transport strike. The roads were apparently gridlocked and he’d assumed no-one would be able to make it to work. I quite genuinely hadn’t realised, because I rode along back streets and off-road bike paths, so the only times I saw the gridlocked main roads was when I crossed them a couple of times. If you’re only watching for half a minute at a time the difference between normal rush hour and gridlock isn’t obvious.

8 years ago
Reply to  Moz in Oz

Yes, bike commuting is a fantastic solution, both for efficiency and its physical/mental benefits. Australians keep saying this can “never” happen because of our spread out cities, but there are plenty of opportunities for mixed-mode transport. (It’s a bit depressing that the Western way to seem “sensible” and “mature” is to take the There Is No Alternative argument.) And there are plenty of inner city people who could well be riding, who are driving into the CBD.
(Decentralisation of employment, as well, would be good)

john Walker
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

We are lucky , where I live the traffic on all roads apart from the highway is light, and well behaved. Mind you my only serious prang was on a road with no traffic at all, entirely my own ‘work’.(And walking while texting is also not so good for the health, recently a teenager almost knocked me of my feet; she was actually running, in a art gallery ,and texting at the same time).