hink traffic, think jams. Cars in Washington DC spend the equivalent of almost three days a year stuck in traffic; vehicles in Bangkok, an astounding six weeks. So we can add wasted time (costing trillions of dollars), to air and noise pollution, and injuries and deaths from accidents - in assessing the price of city life.
And it's going to get worse as cities grow - and grow more prosperous. Car ownership rises as fortunes improve: on average, wealthy households make twice as many trips daily as lower income ones. Are there any answers?
Bogotá, Colombia - one of the world's highest capitals - has made extraordinary progress in switching from cars to public transport. It has set up a remarkably successful rapid transit bus system - the TransMilenio - which now carries more than a million people a day and is estimated to save each of them an average of 300 hours in commuting time every year. By 2020, 85 per cent of the city's 9 million people will live within 500 metres of a station. Meanwhile the city bans 40 per cent of its cars during rush hours, closes 120 kilometres of roads to traffic every Sunday, and has scrapped planned new highways and replaced them with cycle routes.
Cyclists in Vienna can hop on any of the city's 1,500 public bikes any time of the day or night free of charge, thanks to the municipal 'Viennabikes' programme launched in 2002. The pink and blue bikes - weighing about 17 kilos each to deter theft - can be picked up and dropped off at any one of 235 terminals throughout the central districts. Users insert a small deposit of 2 euros ($2.60), refunded on return, and tourists are invited to take free maps of the city with them.
Tens of thousands of people in Seattle, San Diego, Chicago and Boston enjoy the convenience of cars without the hassles of ownership by joining 'mobility clubs'. These operate fleets of shared vehicles for members, who pick them up at designated spots within walking distance of their homes and return them when they are finished, at a cost generally ranging, depending on the car, from $8.50 to $12.50 per hour.
For another example of cutting jams - and air pollution - see London's congestion charge in the 7 City Wonders on page 22.
Four years ago India's Supreme Court ordered the conversion of Delhi's public transport from diesel to compressed natural gas (CNG), citing the city's abysmal record on air pollution. During the 20 (sometimes chaotic) months that followed some 7,200 buses, 400 minibuses and 55,000 auto-rickshaws switched to cleaner fuel. Delhi's present fleet of 75,000 CNG vehicles is much the world's largest, with runners-up Beijing and Seoul operating 1,600 and 1,000 natural-gas-powered buses respectively. The city has also passed laws to discourage diesel vehicles, and requires all new private cars to meet European Union emissions standards.
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