/ Motoring

Beep beep! How can we clear Britain’s congested roads?

Traffic jam

Research shows that Britain is one of Europe’s most congested countries. Hardly a surprise – so should drivers be doing more to limit the cars on the road or should we sit back and accept we’re in for a long journey?

It’s that time of year when I often find myself packing up the car and heading off somewhere nice for the weekend.

Unfortunately, getting to that ‘somewhere nice’ usually involves a slow getaway as the car crawls across London.

Blocked-up Britain

Figures out this week show what UK drivers probably already know; we have some of the worst traffic congestion in Europe. Sat nav company TomTom has come up with the 50 most gridlocked cities in Europe – and 16 of them are British. And, as if that’s not depressing enough, eight of them make the top 20.

London comes in at number three (under Brussels and Warsaw), with 34.5% of its roads regularly congested. Our Which? Car team looked at the top ten travel blackspots recently, in a bid to help drivers avoid jams during May Bank Holiday weekend, and a similar picture emerged. But while five blackspots where in London, the top spot actually went to Birmingham and the M5.

So it seems it isn’t just our capital that’s holding people up – most of Britain is gasping on car fumes. According to Friends of the Earth, traffic has increased by over 60% since 1980 and it costs the UK £19 billion a year. And it’s not just in major cities – back in my home town in Dorset, roads are undoubtedly getting busier, making me often question whether it’s any better than London.

Take the driving seat on clearing congestion

But if our roads are getting busier, what’s the future for drivers? Is it up to motorists to take responsibility to keep our roads clearer – and if so, how?

Car share schemes such as Liftshare and National CarShare are becoming increasingly popular. Every day there are 10 million empty seats on our roads, so these schemes make sense. Last year saw the first ever Liftshare Week and there are now over 400,000 people signed up to its network.

If getting in someone else’s car isn’t your dream drive, maybe a car club will appeal. This involves booking a car and picking it up from a designated bay in major cities. Which? Money researched car clubs in 2010 and found that a driver clocking up 3,000 miles a year could save up to £800, but the finances depend on how much you use your car and where you live.

Or maybe the answer is to simply trick the traffic – get a fancy sat nav that can predict which roads are busy and wind your way around the queues? The drawback? Usually only major roads, such as motorways and A-roads, are covered and, if the congestion hot spot is a daily occurrence (as opposed to a tailback behind an accident), it may not be flagged on your sat nav’s route.

Alternatively, of course, you could ditch the car altogether and use public transport or get on a bike instead.


sigh….. ask the Germans again 🙂

as in sequenced traffic lights, well designed junctions, lots of motorways and good lane discipline

Das ist nicht schwierig !


the cost to use public transport being more than trebled hasnt helped, making public transport affordable would be a good start.
some of the twitter comments (search for #ripoffbritain) regarding the costs of public transport each year are truly shocking!

Get rid of the over 1 million uninsured drivers and their cars from the roads – probably help with parking too.

They’ve tried to price us off the roads, price us off the trains, price us off drinking so much, not really a successful policy is it?

We all still have to get to work

Jim says:
17 June 2011

I live in Milton Keynes and recently travelled mid-week to Orpington in Kent. To avoid that jam-infested nightmare, the M25, I decided to go by train. The fare was not unreasonable, but there were signal failures on both the Euston and Charing Cross lines – to parody Churchill, never in the field of human transport endevour did so many signals signally fail on the one day! I got there and I got back, but wonder if it would have been any slower or more stressful to have driven, M25 and all.
Our transport infrastructure – road and rail alike – always seems to let us down, however much money we throw at it.
A problem specific to Milton Keynes is the high cost and poor availability of parking at the central rail station. Do other towns have this problem? It can tip the balance against using the train, especially since parking is free at the coach station here,

I think most people will never give up the right to go where they like, when they like and in their own personal transport, the car. Me included.
But I would be happy to make some trips especially the boring trips like commuting using public transport if it was clean, cheap and reliable, which in my opinion it’s not.
Yet we the motorist (and that’s nearly all of us) pays through the nose, 60% plus tax on fuel, tax though road fund license, tax on insurance, tax through parking charges, stealth tax in the form of penalties if we park in a way deemed illegal, stealth through speed cameras etc. There are 101 ways the motorist is fleeced.
If only a quarter of that massive revenue was used to improve and subsidise public transport we’d have by far the best in the world, and considerably less road congestion.
But no instead we find bus routes cancelled because of spending cuts and a train service which is a complete joke, and an expensive joke at that. So until the muppets in power take a “sensible pill” and rejoin the real world (if they were ever in it) we’re stuck with ever increasing gridlock.

My problem with public transport is the atrocious crowding at rush hours especially in Tubes – the long waits between buses which are also crowded – the inability to carry more than say two bags in each hand in safety – so to carry my usual 10 bags of shopping requires say three trips – each trip taking a total of three to four hours – so nine to twelve hours to go shopping. A journey by car for shopping takes a total of two hours including the actual shopping – no waiting – we car share..

Sirgeoffrey says:
24 June 2011

Perhaps the most obvious solution is to build some more roads and especially tunnels as the Swiss do. The argument that this is more pollution is going, to a point, since electric cars are coming. And we pay enough taxes as motorists for it. Our local by pass took over 45 years to build ridiculous and all it does is move a traffic jam down the road where a tunnel is needed. If builders want to build more houses on green belt land, then they could also pay for more roads. And let us stop wasting money improving roundabouts instead of putting tunnels underneath.

Rod Raij says:
25 June 2011

Here in London, where, despite the ‘congestion charge’ (with the emphasis on ‘con’…) the traffic is as bad as ever, Boris Johnson, well meaning though he may be, has put the cart before the horse. He’s given us racks of bikes for hire, which is good, but no bike lanes worthy of the name where we can ride them without putting ourselves in mortal danger every time we venture out on two wheels. Hey, it isn’t rocket science. Build proper bike lanes like they have in most major European cities and see how many thousands more Londoners will cycle to work, lowering the amount of carcinogenic emissions, getting fit and saving the NHS a fortune into the bargain.

von Zipper says:
1 July 2011

I agree, all the congestion charge seems to have done is remove relatively ‘clean’ private cars from central London and replaced them with even more diesel cabs, white vans and lorries. Congestion is just as bad, particulates and pollution increased.

Increase fuel prices significantly and invest heavily in public transport. The one will pay for the other. Everyone’s a winner – life is improved for those who want to use public transport; congestion is reduced for those who don’t.

Amend the law so that a driving ban is mandatory for ALL traffic offences. Introduce a tougher test that drivers must pass before regaining their licences. Everyone’s a winner – congestion will be reduced for those who drive sensibly; road safety will improve dramatically for all but especially for those previously bad drivers.

John W,
Isn’t 65% plus tax on fuel (plus VAT) enough?
Arn’t the millions in parking charges and fines enough?
I agree public transport should be heavily subsidised but come on. The money is being taken from the motorist already.
It’s just that that money is used to artificially keep things like income tax lower so the Government if the day has a slightly better chance of re-election.

Martin Lewis says:
31 August 2011

Another problem related to congestion is on the motorways (especially on M6 & M1). I recently came across a site Blabalcar, which offers long distance carpooling service. This is kind of a social networking site connecting people who make long distance trips.

They seem to have a lot of users who carpool the South – North-West route. I think this is a nice initiative!

karen says:
27 November 2011

Make public transport so cheap it’s not worth driving unless you really need the flexibility of a car.

We’d reach our carbon emissions reduction targets much faster.