09/08/2011 01:51 EDT | Updated 11/08/2011 05:12 EST

Commuter Crankiness Worldwide At All-time High


Canadian motorists may growl at traffic congestion and other commuting woes, but a new survey suggests that at least two cities rank among the lowest in the world in terms of driving-related stress and anger.

In fact, of 20 international cities assessed for the emotional and economic toll of commuting, Montreal provided the least painful driving experiences, while Toronto was fifth from the bottom — with Mexico City drivers ranked as suffering the most road grief.

The 2011 Commuter Pain survey, released by IBM corporate headquarters in Armonk, N.Y., on Thursday, was conducted to better understand consumer attitudes around traffic congestion, an issue growing around the world as cities assess their infrastuctures to meet the demands of population growth and commuting needs in larger urban centres.

“Commuting doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” said Naveen Lamba, IBM's global intelligent transportation expert. “A person’s emotional response to the daily commute is coloured by many factors – pertaining both to traffic congestion as well as to other, unrelated, issues. This year's Global Commuter Pain survey indicates that drivers in cities around the world are much more unsettled and anxious compared with 2010.”

For the survey, 8,042 commuters were polled in the 20 cities on six continents, and a Commuter Pain Index was developed, based on a formula that took into account commuting time, time stuck in traffic, gas prices, ease of movement on the road, whether driving caused any anger and how it affected drivers once they reached their destinations.

In many cities, the survey found significant increases compared to last year's research in the number of drivers who said roadway traffic increased their levels of personal stress, anger and health, and actually had a negative impact on their productivity at work or school.

It’s estimated up to $30 trillion US will be spent on transportation infrastructure globally over the next 20 years, but that improving infrastructure isn't the only concern, says IBM. There's also growing debate on the best ways to maintain roads, rails and terminals in the face of strained budgets and resources.

“We can’t simply build our way out of congestion no matter which city,” said Vinodh Swaminathan, director of intelligent transportation systems at IBM. "In order to improve traffic flow and congestion, cities need to move beyond knowing and reacting; they have to find ways to anticipate and avoid situations that cause congestion that could turn the world into one giant parking lot.”

Other survey findings include:

- In a number of cities, more people took public transportation, as opposed to driving, compared to last year’s survey.

- Aggressive infrastructure investment in some of the most rapidly growing economies seems to be paying off. Compared with other cities surveyed, more commuters in Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing and Shenzhen reported improvement in traffic conditions over the last three years.

- 41 per cent believed improved public transit would help reduce traffic congestion.

- Of the 35 per cent of survey subjects who changed the way that they got to work or school in the last year, 45 per cent opted for public transit.