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The Most Efficient Traffic System – Japan, US, or India?

November 3, 2011

When I came to India for the first time, the biggest culture shock I had was the traffic. Cars, trucks, buses, scooters, auto rickshaws, bikes, pedestrians, cows, buffaloes, goat, dogs, roosters. They move towards the direction they want to go. The density of the traffic seemed hundred times more than the one on highway I-65 near Nashville, Tennessee.

If you define the efficiency of the traffic system as the number of people (or cargo) transported for a given distance during a given time, you could say India has the most efficient system. Why? This formula can answer you.

[Efficiency] = [Number of Vehicles] x [Average Passengers per Vehicle] x [Average Speed of Traffic]

1. Number of Vehicles

The first factor to determine the number of vehicles traveling is, if in the United States or Japan, the number of lanes. A two lane highway has double capacity of a one lane surface road. It’s simple, isn’t it? Wrong. A two lane highway in Nashville has probably only half capacity of a one lane surface road in Chennai, where people just ignore lanes and line the cars next to each other until there is no space in between. No space enough? We still have a shoulder!

Of course the same principle applies to the other dimension. You just move your car forward until there is no space visible between your car and the car in front of you. In Japan, we were told at the driving school that we should keep 100 meter distance from the car before us when driving on the highway. You know that’s nonsense even in the United States, but India is anther extreme. You will see 20 cars in the same stretch where we have only two cars in Japan.

2. Average Passengers per Vehicle

For this factor, now the extreme is not Japan, but the United States. The average number of passengers in a vehicle in the US is almost close to one. Everybody drives their own. For a family of hour going for a nice dinner, there can be four cars on the road. In India, the same family of four may ride on one motorcycle. Or, their four cars can transport four families or even eight if they drive American sized cars!

3. Average Speed of Traffic

Now we know that the road in India has more vehicles packed with more people. Well, it’s not hard to imagine. More people, more traffic. Maybe a little extreme version of Friday night in NYC or Monday morning LA interstates. Tokyo metropolitan highway becomes like that from time to time. The true surprise of this equation is, however, in this final variance: the speed of traffic. Unlike any other bad traffic in the world I know, the average speed of travel does not decrease in India. It’s amazing to see this amount of vehicles are traveling together at 60 mph, bumper to bumper, side mirror to side mirror. It is Indian people’s superhuman driving skills that makes it possible.

Today’s Lesson:

India’s traffic system is the most efficient. Neither the US or Japan can catch them up

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