Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to Kill Jakarta Traffic Jam, Economically Speaking (Part 1)

I am now reading an excellent book by Edward Glaeser of Harvard, Triumph of The City . It's about (great) life in cities and it brings me to the work of Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner as well as William Vickrey.

Let us imagine a typical situation many of us face in Jabotabek. Every morning you ponder if you would drive your car to work. While taking a shower, you make a mental calculation on the benefit of driving your car (for example, comfort) and the cost of it (gas, time, car depreciation, etc). If the net is still higher than taking taxi, bus, or KRL train, off you hit the road by car.

You may feel good about yourself because you think you've done proper marginal benefit and cost analysis? Alas, it's not the case. You miss important point: your decision makes other drivers' cost of driving increase.

As now the road is one car more crowded, time to drive is longer. Your private cost and benefit analysis does not take into account social cost of having one more car, your car, on the road.

Econ 101 calls this a negative externality. It is more evident when we use resources with zero or artificially low price, such as road. Multiply such (private) miscalculation with hundred thousands of Jabotabek car owners, we have all too familiar traffic jam we see every morning in the city.

Jakarta's traffic jam can be maddening indeed. Out of your frustration, you may demand for building more roads. After all, it's just about supply for roads that doesn't meet the demand, so you think.

Alas, this might be not feasible for two reasons. First, there is space limitation in already crowded Jakarta. Second, even if technology can overcome this constraint (tunnels or fly-over, for example), we'll soon come across Duranton and Turner (2010) and their fundamental law of traffic congestion.

The law says that more roads will proportionately increases car's kilometer traveled. Why? Because it increases the current residents' as well as previously-beyond-road-network residents' car use. It also brings more travel intensive production activities in the city. As a result: more roads, same traffic jam.

OK, what about, you say, more public transportation in Jakarta?

It will reduce traffic jam only if substantial number of car owners shift to public transportation. But, you know that if I leave my car at home and take bus, road will be less congested and travel by car will be more pleasant.

The catch-22 is that I know it well, too. As a result, nobody gives up his/her car. After all, who wants to takes trouble by taking bus only to allow more pleasant travel of other car owners? Public transportation will just reach more non-car owners previously outside public transportation network to enter Jakarta.

We again may end up with more public transportation, same traffic jam.

So, what’s the solution? To know it, we need to see the late William Vickrey and his work on road congestion problem. But it has to wait for another blog posting.

Stay tuned.