How bad is traffic congestion in Melbourne?

IBMs Commuter Pain Index

The Age reported earlier this month that Melbourne is second only to Stockholm for low traffic congestion according to a survey of 8,200 motorists in 20 cities.

The survey (here and here), which measured “commuter pain”, was undertaken by IBM, an active player in the international traffic management industry.

My experience of weekday traffic congestion in Melbourne is pretty limited but it is consistent with the survey’s finding. A couple of times a month I have a mid-week late afternoon meeting in South Yarra and finish up between 6pm and 6.30pm. I drive home up Punt Rd/Hoddle Street and then on to Heidelberg Rd.

The thing that always takes me by surprise on these trips is that the congestion is never as bad as I expect. In fact it has never yet taken me longer than an half an hour to get home and I rarely have the feeling that I’m “stuck” in traffic. Once you get past Victoria Pde it flows reasonably well in my experience.

I’m surprised because I always remember Eddie in Elliot Perlman’s novel, Three dollars, offering this advice: ‘Abby, my darling daughter, remember this: no matter where you are or what time of day it is – avoid Punt Road.’

But it’s dangerous to extrapolate from the personal to the general – many of the comments in The Age suggest my experience is atypical. Perhaps Punt Rd is much worse in the AM peak than in the afternoon or is simply not as bad as the freeways.

Alternatively, it might be that the methodology used by IBM is flawed. There’s no evidence to support this contention, it’s just that there isn’t any information about how they went about doing the study e.g. how was the sample chosen?

Or it might be that the survey reflects the reality of commuting in Melbourne. Consider that over 70% of jobs and 90% of workers are located more than 5 km from the CBD. Consider also that the median commute time for cars is just 30 minutes (public transport is 55 minutes). If it was a random sample, it might be that most Melburnians who responded to the survey don’t actually drive through locations of severe congestion on their way to and from work.

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