Impact of Congestion Growth in Muscat

Modified: 6th Jul 2023
Wordcount: 5467 words

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Statement of the problem

Most of the countries experienced significant increases in car ownership over the past two decades, resulting in rapid increases in total travel on the roads, and declining absolute market shares for public transport. Bonsall (2000) notes that, in the UK, car ownership rose from 30% of households in 1960 to 70% in 1995. In the US, by 2000, car ownership had exceeded an average of one car per licensed driver in many urban areas. Similar patterns are evident in many other countries around the world. With this burgeoning of car ownership has come the obvious consequence-escalating road congestion. As a result, policy makers have become increasingly focused on the idea of reducing congestion (Stradling, 2000). The mechanisms for reducing congestion are several. Included among these are increasing ride sharing (a mainstay of Transportation Demand Management policies in the US, for example), increasing the use of public transport, providing high occupancy vehicle lanes on various roadways, etc. Initially, Singapore, and then several cities in Norway experimented with introducing congestion charges for central cities. Most recently, London has introduced congestion charging for the central area, in an effort to reduce central London’s congestion levels. Following on the heels of that, many other cities around the world are now seriously considering similar congestion.

Therefore, Muscat as the capital of Sultanate of Oman, the increasing of car ownership is one of the higher growths per household. In 1999 the passenger cars estimated 174 per 1000 people by comparing Muscat with wealthy Asian cities car ownership 123 per 1000 people (Nicholas Low and Brendan Gleeson,2003).

42 percent more than Asian wealthy cities, in the same time the population of Muscat is much lower than any of Asian cities. Therefore, Muscat is one of the cities, which suffering from congestion in this world.

Current traffic situation

Past trends

  1. Many factors influence the travel behaviour and cause disturbances through unexpected external effects, such as oil prices, economic recession etc. (Known as explanatory variables). Thus if one understands these factors, one can forecast future behaviour on the basis of projections of these variables. However, it is conventional to base travel forecasts on past trends described by time series data over a period of years. In Muscat, the principal weakness is a lack of reliable traffic flow data to identify trends in past growth.
  2. It is reasonable to assume therefore, that increases in population and economic activity will result in increased road traffic and land use development. Land use development relates to the need to house population increases and to new employment opportunities created by economic growth.
  3. Analysis of available data from 1980 to the present showed that:
    • The population of Oman has increased at an average rate of about 10 per cent per annum.
    • The national economy has grown at rates varying between -3 and + 17 per cent per annum.
    • The national vehicle stock has increased at an average rate of 12 per cent per annum (the national car stock has grown even faster, at an average rate of 15 per cent per annum).

Current conditions and characteristics

  1. Local conditions need to be thoroughly examined before any remedial measures can be taken. The study has observed and identified many problems and characteristics concerning the traffic and road network conditions. It has been estimated that the total AM’ peak. hour flow over the whole of the network is about 35000 vehicles, out of which 8000 vehicles on Sultan Qaboos street alone (two way flow) which constitute 23% of the total network flow. Comparing this with the car ownership (estimated to be 11 0 per 1000 population) implies that there is significant travel. demand on the network.
  2. The Stage I identified the following characteristics and problems, all of which will be exacerbated by future traffic growth:
    • The road network in Muscat modern but depends, to a great extend, on the satisfactory operation of a single main road: Sultan Qaboos Street.
    • The demonstrably high (but unqualified) traffic growth rates of recent years mean that this “spine” route is reaching its operational limits at times of peak demand. Peak period delays are occurring at important junctions (Such as Al Khuwair, Al Ghubra Roundabout etc..) and on the highway. There are no alternative routes at present, until express way open, which be expecting in the end of 2010.
    • Traffic signal equipment in the important commercial centre of Ruwi is not exploiting the full potential of the existing road system.
    • All parking is free of charge and demand in the CBD is reaching levels that are creating supply problems. The operation of the road system is adversely affected by on-street (verge) parking in a number of locations.
    • Public transport services (buses) are provided by the Oman National Transport Company. It is understood that the scheduled ONTC services are subsidised by profitable charter services. The overall financial performance of ONTC, which is a state owned company, is just profitable. This performance is forcing modernisation of the bus fleet not to take place hence, reducing its appeal to potential customers. The average age of the bus fleet is increasing thus reducing the attraction of public transport.
    • Bus services are supplemented by minibus and taxi services. Public transport is rarely used in preference to a private car. This applies particularly to scheduled bus services. The future role, ownership and organisation of ONTC were supposed to be the subject of a separate study.
    • Coordination between the development of land use and transport policies at a local level is limited and could be improved.
    • Operational road safety and traffic control are the responsibility of ROP. Traffic control is to an acceptable standard although the manual control of some important signalised junctions in Ruwi should be reviewed. As in all countries, there is scope for improved standards of road safety through established driver education programmes.

The economic cost to the community of road accidents is not systematically quantified in Oman. In countries where such costs are quantified, they are found to be large and are used to justify traffic and safety management investment programmes often concerned with junction improvements to reduce accident risk.

Purpose of the study

In scientific research the purpose statement indicates ‘why you want to do the study and what you intend to accomplish’ (Locke, Spirduso, and Silverman, 2000). According to this;

The purpose of this sequential, mixed methods study is to first explore the impact of congestion growth in Muscat city as well as determining the percentage growth over the last ten year. Then based on the experiences and needs defined, the second phase will be to develop a solution that suits and match the requirement of transport provision needs based on the previous information as well as information collected in this phase; namely observation of both modern and professional ways of improving traffic demand management

Potential significance

This research study are important to different sectors. Because, the congestion is not only effecting the road users, but also society, economic, environment, and human. However, it’s important to consider externalities from congestion by implementing traffic demand management and improve public transport as one of the holistic solution in Muscat city.

Statements and rationale for mixing methods

This research is intended to follow a mixed methods research design. According to this, the aim of this section is to define and give a rationale for using this specific research design for this specific study.

Mixed methods research design is defined as ‘the collection or analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data in a single study in which the data are collected concurrently or sequentially, are given a priority, and involve integration of the data at one or more stages in the process of the research’ (Creswell, 2003).

Historically mixed research method is relatively not a new idea. It probably originated in 1959, when Campbell and Fiske used multiple methods to study validity of psychological traits. Their encouragement to others to use their ‘multimethod matrix’ prompted others to examine using mixed methods in their enquiry (Creswell, 2003). Recognizing that all research methods have limitations, researchers felt that biases inherent in any single method could neutralizes or cancel the biases of other methods another advantage of using mixed research methods design is that it allows researchers to simultaneously generalize results from a sample to a population and to gain deeper understanding of the phenomenon of interest (Hanson, Creswell, Creswell, Plano Clark, & Petska 2005).

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In this respect, this study will mix different research methods, for the purpose of being able to generalize research results that will be obtained, from a representative sample, but at the same time give insights and understanding of issues tackled through quantitative techniques. This will ultimately be achieved through the use and integration of data in the various research stages namely; data collection, data analysis and discussion and reporting of findings.

One rationale is that, in order to generalize weather road congestion in Muscat city have implications to the road users and public transport, a quantitative tool need to be used and applied. At the same time, the in depth of such suffering needs to be qualitatively addressed. As well as describing the processes of managing congestion by local authority. Another rationale for using mixed methods research is to ‘convey the needs of supportive bus services and thus this research is intending to explore their issues, which are related to road congestion

Although there are many challenges in using mixed methods research design, such as; the researcher should be familiar with both quantitative and qualitative research methods, also the need for extensive data collection (Creswell, 2003). But the growth and the developments of using this method proved the successful and the advantages of using this specific design, as stated earlier. In conclusion, for the purpose of this study a mixed methods research design will be used in order to achieve its stated purpose.

Research questions

This research will attempt to answer the following questions:

  • What are the challenges faced by road authority in Muscat?
  • What coping strategies for congestion growth?
  • Is there any improvement in public transport in regard to coping congestion?
  • What type of traffic demand management and technique used in Muscat?
  • Is there a clear vision of improving public transport?

Literature review

Sustainable transport systems

A sustainable transport system is “one in which fuel consumption, vehicle emissions, safety, congestion and local and economics access are of such levels that they can be sustained into the indefinite future without causing great or irreparable harm to future generation of people around the world” Richardson(1999). To achieve sustainable transport system, it should balance socio-economic and environmental consideration in recognition of the following:

  • Economic: A sustainable transport system is one that is affordable, operates fairly and efficiently, offers a choice of transport mode, supports a competitive economy, as well as balanced regional development;
  • Environmental: A sustainable transport system limits emissions and waste within the planet’s ability to absorb them, uses renewable resources at or below the rates of generation, and uses non-renewable resources at or below the of development of renewable substitutes, while minimizing the impact on the use of land and the generation of noise; and
  • Social: A sustainable transport system allows the basic access and development needs of individuals, companies, and society to be met safety and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, promotes equity within between successive generations. Transportation facilities and activities can have significant

Environmental issues

Surface transport accounts for approximately 25% of all C02 emissions globally, and transport is the only sector where emissions are increasing. While there are significant advances being made in reducing C02 emissions from other sectors such as industry and construction, technology has so far failed to find a solution for transport.

Any technological advances in reducing C02 emissions have been more or less cancelled out by the increasing number of trips we are making. There is a fairly simple correlation between increasing GDP and higher trip levels.

At the same time, developing countries are fast adopting the private car as their preferred mode’ of choice, and this is impacting on global C02 levels. This is set to increase with the introduction of the ultra low cost cars, such as the Nano car from Tata Motors in India, which has a price of about $3800.

In addition to C02 issues, there are also issues related to noise and air pollution. Increasing traffic levels lead to increased visual intrusion, noise, and polluted air. Monitoring stations are already set up in many world cities to measure the impact of traffic on noise and air. However, these issues are not solely related to the private car. There are also significant environmental issues related to freight, whether this is by road or by sea.

  • Traffic alone is responsible for breaching air quality standards in Muscat City
  • The hot climate is very important influence of travel behaviour
  • Key sensitive environmental areas are in close proximity to Muscat City (wetlands)

Globally, there have been several important decision making meetings set to resolve global warming, which have included discussions on the role of-transport. The Kyoto Protocol was’ agreed in December 1997, and was in operation by February 2005. The Protocol requires industrialised countries to reduce their total emissions of greenhouse gases by about five per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2012. Each country that signed the protocol agreed to their own specific target. Developing countries were not required to meet quantitative emission goals. The world is now working towards a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, but one that can be agreed by all countries.

Economic issues

In Europe time wasted while delayed on traffic congested roads costs close to 1 % of the European Union’s GDP. This high cost explains the desire to improve European transport networks, and reduce reliance on road based vehicles. The Middle East is increasingly experiencing similar. issues to Europe in terms of traffic congestion, and this is expected to result in a similar impact on GDP. With the rapidly growing economies of the Middle East, China, India, and Russia, there is an ever increasing demand for transport, and much of this is being planned for by road.

However, for these counties and regions to realise their full potential, there is a need for fast and reliable transport links that are not subject to congestion or delay. These links are required between their raw material suppliers and manufacturers, and ultimately to their customers, i.e. a national, regional, and worldwide network.

  • An efficient transport system will be vital to achieving Plan 2020 economic goals
  • Need to effectively involve private and public sector provision

Governments and developers understand the importance of transport as a catalyst for regeneration, improving productivity, and creating profit, but are reluctant to invest the high infrastructure costs, particularly when delivery of this is likely to be in the long term. Roads are often seen as a lower cost solution, but this is only related to construction and maintenance. The cost to the environment and to the social well being of the people is rarely included.

New economic solutions to investing in new schemes are also being devised, particularly for high cost infrastructure schemes such as new rail lines. These are developed to maximise the success of implementing a new scheme. One solution gaining favour is a property transport levy, whereby affected businesses, residents, and developers pay a lump sum for new transport infrastructure on the basis that property values and rents will increase as a result of the new transport scheme. An example of this is the Crossrail scheme in London, which is partly funded by contributions from private businesses in the financial districts.

Social Issues

We have already noted that on a global scale, car use is increasing, while public transport, walking, and cycling are in decline. It is becoming common place for children to be driven to school rather than walk, cycle or use public transport. Workers are increasingly using the private car for their commuting trip, and short leisure and shopping trips are driven rather than walked. For example, in suburban London it has been recorded that 32% of car trips are less than one mile.

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There is also strong evidence of worsening global health in the form of increasing levels of obesity, childhood diabetes, and heart disease. If healthier options for travelling were introduced globally, and people were encouraged out of their cars, this could provide a strong boost to health worldwide. Walking 20 minutes a day is one way to incorporate exercise into a daily routine to maintain a minimum level of fitness, but if there is no infrastructure to allow this, then’ car use will be preferred, even for the shortest trips.

  • Road traffic accident rates in Muscat amongst the highest in the world
  • Pedestrian accidents (at 40% of total) are a particular concern
  • Muscat’s city road network leads to major severance issues
  • Road network is very pedestrian and cycle unfriendly
  • Unique social mix makes provision of public transport more challenging

For a country to maximise its economic performance, it is important that its citizens have access to jobs, services, and goods. For a fully functioning global world class economy, this access should not be restricted to only those who are able to afford access to a car. Access for all is promoted in many countries around the world, with the provision of public transport. infrastructure, and walking and cycling routes. Countries without this level of access tend to find they have disconnected communities, with reduced opportunities to break the cycle of poverty.

The other movement issue related to transport is the severance effect of building new transport corridors, whether these are road or rail based. Given their longitudinal nature, they tend to split and divide communities, where only selected crossing points are provided for pedestrians and cyclists.

Linked to the risk of overcoming transport barriers is the connection between vehicular movements and road traffic accidents. These are either vehicle – vehicle accidents or vehicle ­pedestrian I cyclist accidents.

One of the reasons for road traffic accidents is the provision of corridors which encourage speeding, through the creation of what is known as a ‘canyon’ effect. This is when drivers feel separated from their environment, through the incorporation of pedestrian barriers and banning of the other users. This lead driver to have little regard for other more vulnerable users. In contrast, the safest streets tend to be those which either have limited or no access to private car.

Effects of congestion

The current literature is very limited especially with respect to Arab countries. Therefore, I will use literature from Europe and state as well as some of the experience of development countries.

The first problem with congested traffic conditions is that these conditions are inherently unstable. That is, vehicles may flow quite well at speeds that are only modestly reduced from free-flow speeds, but flow may also easily break down, with the formation of queues, stop-and-go conditions, and average speeds that are very low. This instability produces one of the negatives of congestion- travel time unreliability. A second negative of congestion, is that extra time is required under these conditions, time that may be considered to be non-productive time. For those who are caught in congested conditions and who are driving outside normal working hours, it is questionable as to whether the time losses from congested conditions have an economic impact. Redmond and Mokhtarian, (2001) show that many commuters do not perceive congestion as necessarily an evil of their daily commute. Based on their study, Nasser (2002) notes that, in these modern times, many people can find complete privacy in only two places-the car or the toilet. For many, there is actually “…peace and relaxation commuting alone. For many, it’s the only time they have to read (by listening to books on tape), enjoy music they like, catch up on the news, smoke without being chastised or make personal phone calls in total privacy” (Nasser, 2002). Such attitudes do not bode well for carpooling, which is often seen as one of the alternatives to reduce congestion.

New road to reduce congestion

Anthony Downs (1992), argues that building our way out of existing traffic congestion problems doesn’t work because of “triple convergence.”; When a road is widened to reduce traffic congestion, three responses occur over time to reduce the benefit of increased capacity. First, drivers who previously used alternate routes will switch to the newly expanded facility. Second, drivers who previously traveled on the congested facility during off-peak hours will switch to the peak period. Third, many people who car pooled or used public transit to avoid the hassle of stop-and-go traffic during the peak period will choose the convenience of driving alone on the newly uncongested link in the transportation system. The cumulative effect of the three types of individual behavioral responses to increased capacity ends up forcing equilibrium traffic flow on the expanded facility back toward its initial congested state.

This scenario exactly happening in Muscat, government continuously focusing to improve road infrastructure to solve a congestion problem, but within certain of time traffic volume build up by moving road users from congested routes to the new road and encouraging people to use their own private transport.

Recent studies show that building or widening highways induces more traffic, called induced travel. Shortly after the lanes or road is opened traffic will increase to 10 to 50% of the new roadway capacity as public transit or carpool riders switch to driving, or motorists decide to take more or longer trips or switch routes. This is short-term induced travel. In the longer term (three years or more), as the new roadway capacity stimulates more sprawl and motorists move farther from work and shopping, the total induced travel rises to 50 to 100% of the roadway¹s new capacity. This extra traffic clogs local streets at both ends of the highway travel. The following table summarizes these studies.

Accessibility and mobility

Accessibility can be defined as the ease of reaching destinations (Levine and Garb, 2002), whereas mobility may be defined as the ease of movement. While these two concepts are clearly related, they are not the same thing. If a person lives in an area where there are many possible destinations close by, accessibility may be very high, even though mobility might be constrained, as in a CBD. On the other hand, if a person lives in a relatively remote area, accessibility may be poor because considerable travel time and cost is required to reach any destination, although mobility may be high. In 1960, world inhabitants travelled an average of 1820 km by car, bus, railway or aircraft. Three decades later, the annual distance travelled had increased to 4390 km. In light of a 75% world population growth, absolute motorised mobility rose by a factor greater than four( Schafer, 1998).

As Levine and Garb (2002) point out, mobility and accessibility are measured in different ways. Mobility is measured as a generalised cost of travel (time plus money) per kilometre; accessibility is measured as the generalized cost of travel per destination. Generally, mobility is closely related to the level of service provided on the transport system. Higher levels of service represent lower costs per kilometre of travel. Thus, increases in capacity of the system will almost always lead to an increase in mobility, at least in the short term. Accessibility, however, is related to destinations, and therefore, requires attention both to land use patterns and to the quality of destinations. Miller, (1999).

Increasing congestion is likely to produce decreases in both mobility and accessibility. Longer travel times and increased monetary costs of travel, as a result of congestion, obviously increase the travel cost per kilometre. At the same time, these increased travel times may also result in reduced accessibility, by making potential destinations more expensive to reach. However, different methods for tackling congestion will be likely to have quite different effects on each of mobility and accessibility, as is discussed subsequently in this paper

Increasing public transport use

Public transport has an important role to play within most urban areas. There still remain significant groups of the population who either cannot afford to own and operate a car, or who make a conscious choice to avoid the car. There are also specific movements within the urban area to which public transport is better suited than the car, under virtually any circumstances. This is particularly the case for work trips going to the central business districts of many cities. It is also an important means of travel for the elderly who can no longer drive or no longer wish to, and for young people who are not yet old enough to hold a drivers license, or who cannot yet afford a car.

In modern history, and perhaps in all of transport history, there has never been success in shifting people into public transport at the rate that is called for in many contemporaneous policy statements. This alone, however, does not mean to say that such shifts into public transport are not possible. It may just be that no one has come up with the appropriate policy mix (carrots and sticks) to produce these sorts of market shifts. It is also possible that there has not existed previously the political courage to implement what must be done if such large shifts in public transport markets are to occur. It is, however, important to look at the magnitude of what is required.

Demand Management Toolbox

Demand management is playing important factor to solve traffic growth. There is a broad range of TDM measures, including:

  • Transportation Management Associations: leverage public and private funds to increase the use of ridesharing and other commuting options that reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality
  • Including or improving pedestrian-oriented design elements, such as short pedestrian crossings, wide sidewalks and street trees.
  • Requiring users of parking to pay the costs directly, as opposed to sharing the costs indirectly with others through increased rents and tax subsidies.
  • Including and improving public transportation infrastructure, such as subway entrances, bus stops and routes.
  • Subsidizing transit costs for employees or residents.
  • Bicycle-friendly facilities and environments, including secure bike storage areas and showers. See Bicycle transportation engineering
  • Providing active transportation (AT) facilities including bike lanes and multi-use trails.
  • Flex-time work schedules with employers to reduce congestion at peak times
  • Congestion pricing tolls during peak hours.
  • Road space rationing by restricting travel based on license plate number, at certain times and places.
  • Workplace travel plans
  • Road space reallocation, aiming to re-balance provision between private cars which often predominate due to high spatial allocations for roadside parking, and for sustainable modes.
  • Time, Distance and Place (TDP) Road Pricing, where road users are charged based on when, where and how much they drive. Some transportation experts believe TDP pricing is an integral part of the next generation in transportation demand management

Sustainable Mobility

“The common strategy of sustainable mobility should contain the impact on the environment, while allowing transport to continue to fulfill its economic and social function, particularly in the context of the single market, and thus ensure the long term development of transport in the community. It should also contribute to social and economic cohesion in the community and to the new opportunities for the peripheral regions “(Banister,2000)

Our sustainable strategy in Muscat focusing on economic issues only. However, we will end up by heavily a congestion road, and we can’t be coping with the economic growth. Unless we prepare green transport strategy, which provide better integration of land use and transport, and taking serious consideration of social and environment as well as economic concern.

The Intuitional Issues

  • Urban Policies and Development
  • The institutional issue refers to how the country, society and private agencies define and implement transport -related public policies. Several public policies influence socio-spatial organization, including urban development, land use, housing, transport and traffic. For my research topic three main areas are relevant:
    • Urban planning;
    • Transport planning; and
    • Traffic management

These are associated with three objectives: land, circulation of structure and means, and circulation patterns. The urban planning and transport planning are considered to be most important public action. Traffic management is often considered to be secondary importance, related more technical, simple objectives that should be dealt with engineers. While urban planning is mainly concerned with land use provision of public services, transport planning involves of definition of circulation infrastructure and means.

Urban planning

The Higher Committee for Town Planning government body responsible for implementing plans of economic and social development in the Sultanate in the fields of physical and spatial, and through the preparation of detailed plans at the regional and urban areas. Has been formally established by Royal Decree No. 27/85, dated the twenty-fourth of February 1985, was rebuilt more than once on the requirements of the public interest.

The main tasks of the Commission: policy-making of urban planning at all levels of in accordance with economic considerations, social and environmental development strategy of urban development so as to achieve overall development goals and sustainable development in all provinces and regions of the Sultanate approvals planning the allocation of land for various purposes in establishing controls and propose the necessary legislation to regulate and direct the work of the establishment of the Urban Planning an integrated system for geographic information includes databases and maps for


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