Nature and Biodiversity

Which city has the world’s worst traffic jams?

David Thorpe
Special Consultant, Sustainable Cities Collective
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Nature and Biodiversity?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of the Environment is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Future of the Environment

Indonesia’s capital Jakarta has the world’s worst traffic jams according to a new survey by Castrol, its 2014 Magnatec Stop-Start Index. Have sympathy for the city’s drivers, who were recorded as suffering 33,240 stop-starts per year, meaning they spent 27.22% of their total travel time going nowehere.

The index uses data shared anonymously by millions of TomTom navigation users around the world and covers 78 countries. The next worst city was Istanbul, with drivers spending nearly 29% of their travel time stationary.

2014 Magnatec Stop-Start Index.

Surprisingly omitted perhaps is the notorious Manila, in the Philippines, but then it was not included in the index at all. A separate study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) records that the country loses P2.4 billion in potential income due to traffic jams in Metro Manila.

Here are the worst ten cities with the most number of stop-starts per car a year based on the data:

1. Jakarta, Indonesia (33,240 stops-starts per car per year)
2. Istanbul, Turkey (32, 520)
3. Mexico City, Mexico (30,840)
4. Surabaya, Indonesia (29,880)
5. St. Petersburg, Russia (29,040)
6. Moscow, Russia (28,680)
7. Rome, Italy (28,680)
8. Bangkok, Thailand (27,480)
9. Guadalajara, Mexico (24,840)
10. Buenos Aires, Argentina (23,760)

At the other end of the scale, Europe contains 8 of the 10 cities with the lowest number of stops-starts, the winner being Tampere, Finland:

1. Tampere, Finland (6,240 stops-stars per car per year)
2. Rotterdam, The Netherlands (6,360)
3-4. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (6,840)
3-4. Bratislava, Slovakia (6,840)
5. Brisbane, Australia (6,960)
6. Antwerp, Belgium (7,080)
7. Porto, Portugal (7,200)
8. Brno, Czech Republic (7,320)
9. Copenhagen, Denmark (7,440)
10. Kosice, Slovakia (7,440)

The data shows that the average driver makes around 360 stop-starts per week. This means more accelerations and decelerations, but also extended periods of idling, which not only causes pollution and wastes fuel, it reduces engine life and has an economic effect on the life of the city in terms of wasted work hours.

Worst air pollution in cities according to the World Health Organization

Worst air pollution in cities according to the World Health Organization. More data here.

The problem affects the poor the most. In Manila, the JICA study shows that the average low income group households have to spend no less than 20% of their monthly household income on transport, and that without intervention, traffic demand will likely increase by 13% by 2030, and transport cost will be 2.5 times higher.

How to solve the problem

The JICA study provides some insights as to how municipal authorities might begin to tackle congestion problems. These are:

  1. at the regional level, spreading economic activities to other potential growth areas including balancing development of agriculture, manufacturing, and services, while protecting prime agricultural areas for food security;
  2. avoiding urban sprawl in hazard risk areas;
  3. promoting growth of local centers (to minimize the need for travel);
  4. establishing better connectivity and an appropriate hierarchy of different transportation modes such as roads, railways, and other mass transits;
  5. planned and guided urban expansion to adjoining provinces through an integrated public transport, affordable housing for low income groups (to minimize the need for travel);
  6. retrofitting of existing urban areas in integration with public transport;
  7. expanding multi-modal public transport network;
  8. and strengthening traffic management systems with ITS.

“Intelligent Transport Systems” or ITS, includes better traffic engineering and management that requires geometric improvements, pedestrian facilities, traffic surveillance, accident prevention, traffic safety education, and traffic enforcement.

An example of ITS, as discussed in the study, requires a signal control system, travel time prediction, road maintenance, intelligent parking, incident detection, and bus scheduling assistance among others.

Worldwide, over $100 trillion in public and private spending could be saved between now and 2050 if the world were to expand public transportation, walking and bicycling in cities, according to a report by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and the University of California, Davis. Additionally, reductions in carbon dioxide emissions reaching 1,700 megatons per year in 2050 could be achieved.

The report was co-authored by Michael Replogle, ITDP’s managing director for policy, and Lew Fulton, co-director of the NextSTEPS Program at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC-Davis. According to Replogle:

“Transportation, driven by rapid growth in car use, has been the fastest growing source of CO2 in the world.  An affordable but largely overlooked way to cut that pollution is to give people clean options to use public transportation, walking and cycling, expanding mobility options especially for the poor and curbing air pollution from traffic.”

The report, A Global High Shift Scenario, documents the first study to examine how major changes in transport investments worldwide would affect urban passenger transport emissions and the mobility of different income groups.

Yet cities in the developing world particularly frequntly fail to seethe above benefits and seem to believe that businesses need road priorities and traffic, while the contrary is the case. An example of this backward-looking mentality is Nairobi.

There, a recent report calls for road infrastructure, expanding feeder roads, dualing of major roads and constructing lay-bys. It covers a lot on the subject of inadequate parking, proposes ways to increase parking in the Central Business District, and the need for separate routes for transit vehicles.

While the study mentions the need for dedicated lanes, it surprisingly recommends that public transport vehicles should not be allowed access to the Central Business District, thus encouraging the use of private cars.

Going down this path would quickly produce more trafic and congestion. Any city requiring evience-based sensible advice should contact Embarq.

This organization works with mayors, city planners, and other municipal officials to provide technical assistance and institutional support for transport projects. employs the avoid, shift, improve (ASI) framework. This helps decision-makers and urban residents to avoid the need for travel motorized travel, and shift trips to the most sustainable modes, and improve conventional technologies, infrastructure, and policies.

This article is published in collaboration with The Sustainable Cities Collective. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

To keep up with the Agenda subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Author: David Thorpe is a Special Consultant at the Sustainable Cities Collective.

Image: Motorcycle couriers lane split between cars in Sao Paulo September 6, 2012. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker. 

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

What is the UN's Summit of the Future in 2024 and why is it important?

Kate Whiting

July 23, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum