This paper studies the traffic congestion problem in Baku which has both negative economic and social impacts. I will particularly discuss the most important and significant reasons for jams in my paper. Despite some measures and actions are taken by government, the traffic problem is still serious and cannot be solved by laws. For example, law on “Traffic regulations of the Republic of Azerbaijan” prohibits parking forbidden places, however drivers still their cars wherever they want. By examining foreign experience I will suggest some possible solutions such as imposing fees on the roads, building more roads and bridge in appropriate and necessary parts of the city and improving existing roads’ conditions and infrastructure that can be applied effectively in Baku in.
A road transport is the backbone of strong economies and active societies. The road transport network plays a vital role in the economic growth, social development and decreases the cost of transport, both in terms of money and time, especially in industrialized cities such as Baku. To create 24 hour flow road transport should be the aim of government to provide economic improvement. However Baku also faces gridlock for hours in rush hours every day as many capital cities such as London, Paris, Moscow due to their large size and development. Baku has been the capital city from 1991 and the main insdustry city of this geographic area as Baku was always rich with oil and gas, and also situated in the Great Silk Way (“The history of Baku city” (n.d) – Baku City Executive Administration) . Therefore the city was used for transit purpose and all business-sales were collected in Baku. Baku is the capital city of Azerbaijan now with more than 2 million officially registered people (Report of Statistics Committee “The territory, population and population density in the regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan” 2013), however the unofficial number is more than 3 million and the number of people is growing day by day because Baku is the central city of Azerbiajan in terms of economy, employment, culture and education. Near 40 higher education institutions are located in Baku. Thus the importance of Baku increases, relatively the number of population also rises.
The Background of problem
After the demise of USSR the economic and social infrastructure collapsed in Azerbaijan as well as other allied countries. From my own studies I know that, in Soviet times not everyone was allowed to buy and to have cars but after the collapse of USSR many people began to buy car, however at that time new roads had not yet been built. After gaining independence, the construction sector began to improve as many other economic sectors in Azerbaijan. Many private companies were created, especially Turkish construction companies came to Azerbaijan to build. The government did not have enough power and interest to stop this unplanned construction. At the middle of 90s Azerbaijan had more serious problem such us poverty, unemployment, dislocated people and so on, so government could not control the construction. Therefore construction companies built every vacant space in Baku without permission from executive city administration and without considering any kind of city plan. The results of the fall of USSR (the increase in the number of population and cars, new buildings) led to the traffic jam in Baku. Despite the applied solutions by government traffic congestion has not been solved because these solutions are not effective to meet the demand of growing number of cars and prevent people from using their own cars instead of public transport.
The main reasons for traffic congestion
Traffic jams are not only problem for drivers, but also for passengers. There are many reasons for traffic congestion in Baku. The population growth is one of the influential reasons for such terrible jams on the roads of Baku which has negative effects on economy and society. According to Ministry of Transportation report, there are 1232678 cars in Azerbaijan in 2013 which this number was 440626 in 2000 (“Number of Vehicles”. 2013. Report of Ministry of Transport). The numbers of cars increased almost threefold during past 13 years. According to Vugar Bayramov, director of Center for Economic and Social Development, 60% of these cars are registered in Baku and 10-15 % of cars travel to and from Baku every day, which means daily there are 800.000 cars in Baku (Nadiroglu.R. 2014). There is one car for every three persons which is almost same with European cities. Despite four main large avenues (Babek, Darnagul, H.Aliyev, Fahla), transportation system is not sufficient to meet the needs of growing number of people. From my own experience, I can say that traffic congestions occur nearly every hour in Baku, especially after beginning the new school year and autumn. With the beginning of new school year the number of cars increased significantly on the roads. Most important problem related with new school year beginning is that parents who go to take their children from schools park their cars on the sides of roads. Therefore the speed of traffic decreases considerably in evening rush hours. For instance, the roads where the modern education complex name after H.Aliyev, school N-23 is located are always heavily congested from 5p.m to 7p.m. Rains also affect traffic jams because of poor urban infrastructure. Sewage system is not built adequately and sufficiently on the roads, so a light rain is enough to make a gridlock for hours. On a heavy rainy day drivers need to leave home 30minutes earlier than usual in the mornings to reach your work or university in time. The situation becomes even worse if you use a tunnel to go somewhere as tunnels are under the roads and rain gathers there. It is common for cars to sink in rainy days in Baku (“Rain caused heavy jams in some streets of Baku” Musavat. 2013). Another factor that creates jam is that while raining drivers drive carefully and slowly in order to be safe. Personally, I have experienced staying 2 hours in the jams because of rain.
Another urban problem is buildings and construction; wedding halls; shopping centers such as MetroPark, 28 Mall are built near the main roads that attract many people to them. When people come to malls and wedding halls they need to park. In spite of the fact that some of them have garages there are still problem because of entry time. Weekends you cannot easily find place to park at shopping centers’ parking areas and even if there is a place all drivers need to enter garage which takes time and slows down the speed of traffic. The wedding halls makes jams last even longer, for example, “Arzu” wedding hall has no parking area located at Babek Avenue at all. As a person who uses this avenue every day I can say that three lines out of four are seized by cars that come to the wedding on this avenue. As I mentioned in the introduction, unplanned construction began after the collapse of USSR, and unfortunately this uncontrolled building continues till today. If the number of built flats was 5,600 per year in 1996, this number was 21,100 in 2013 (“The number and average size of flats and living spaces”. 2013. The report of Statistics Committee). In the some central streets of Baku (Nizami str.) buildings are built too close to each other and they keep only one line for cars that creates gridlock when a car parks.
The other reason for jams is ill-mannered drivers who park cars forbidden places instead of parking places. According to Samir Isayev (head of Information Analytic Environment Agency), over 100 cars are parked near the main roads even if there are about 200 empty places in the car parks (quoted in Valiyev H. 2013). This problem was discussed even in the meeting of the Cabmin (The Cabinet of Ministries of the Republic of Azerbaijan) which was directed by the president Ilham Aliyev on 14 April 2014. The president criticized illegal parking and assigned Baku Executive City Administration to fix this problem. After this meeting the city administration took action to reduce the traffic jam by putting ParkManat machines in the street (Quliyev I. 2014). Drivers pay money to this ParkManat machines and get a ticket for parking. The idea behind this policy is to prevent drivers from parking in the streets, on the roads illegally. However it does not solve the problem because still cars are on parked the sides of streets. In my opinion, this policy is adopted to get more money to the budget, not to decrease the traffic congestion.
While doing research on traffic congestion in Baku I found some interesting facts. Sevinc Telmanqizi, the author of Musavat newspaper which is opposite to the government, blames government for jams and shows regular excavations on roads as a result of repair process by government. In her article she claims that government sells the pavements, the places near the roads and the sides of roads to the shops and shopping centers. This fact attracted my attention very much and I got an interview from her about the selling of sidewalks. She said that, there was no proof such as official document, agreement between government and the owners of shops; however she gave me facts that prove her claim. She said that there is a market “Ag Dukan” in Mehdiabad (a small town in Baku). Before police did not allow drivers to park there for entering to the market. When drivers told police that there was no sign shows that it was prohibited to park, why they could not park here, police answer that it was because you created jams. According to her, after some months police allowed cars to park and did not hinder parking there when she went again to this market because the owner of this market gave “illegal taxes”, “fees” monthly to police for getting permission for market’s customers to park (Telmanqizi S. Personal communication. 2014). It has been always unclear for me how supermarkets, shops possess roads in front of their premises and put flags, advertisements that constrain people to walk on pavements. While doing research I found out the real cause of this issue. Last year Baku city Executive Administration banned outdoor sitting in some restaurants such as Mado, All Chicken, Shaurma, however after some months these restaurants began serve again to people in the streets that belong to people for walking (Jeyhun. 2013). All these facts are seen to prove the author’s claim.
After interviewing Sevinc Telmanqizi, I remember a happening that I experienced. Once I was waiting my mother on the way in front of the shopping center near our home. A security guard approached me and asked to leave this place (the side of road), I did not leave and asked why I should not park there, he answered that this road belonged to the shopping center. However I insisted and said him that roads were common good and could not belong to someone. He went and again came, said that our boss watched you, he became angry, took your car out of here. I said that if your boss had problem and thought that I violated you right to property, call to police, I was sure that road could not belong to someone. Again he went. Fortunately my mother came and we leave there. Till the interview I have never looked at the situation from the aspect that government can sell roads, however now I believe that this kind of trading happens.
Impacts of traffic jams
Traffic jams have two main negative impacts: economic and social. The study “Measuring the Economic Costs of Urban Traffic Congestion to Business” by Weisbrod G., Vary D., Treyz G. which was published in “Journal of the Transportation Research Board” in 2003 split the economic costs of traffic congestion to three parts: travel cost, additional business operating costs, productivity cost. Travel cost includes opportunity cost of time lost in jams, travel time reliability factors, vehicle operating expenses and congestion-related accident costs. Additional business operating costs mean that traffic congestion can create additional costs to businesses associated with freight and service deliveries. For instance, delay in delivering costs, logistics costs, reliability costs or just-in-time processing costs onto businesses that ship or receive the products. Productivity cost can reduce the size of business labor market areas, customer delivery market areas and/or shopper market areas that can be served or accessed within a limited window of reasonable travel time (Weisbrod G., Vary D. 2003). The economic cost of traffic congestion in Indonesia was USD 5.2 billion in 2010 (Gibb, S. 2013); USD 8.5 billion in London in 2013 (Gordon S., Pickard J. 2014).
Another economic impact of congestion is related to fuel consumption which has also environmental and social effects. The increase in fuel consumption means additional money for fuel in economic terms and also contributes carbon dioxide emissions by cars. These emissions create air pollution and lead to global warming. Annually 560 million liters fuel is lost in Washington roads (Telmanqizi S. 2014). The study “The Public Health Costs of Traffic Congestion” conducted by Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (Harvard School of Public Health, Boston) says that traffic generated air pollution and negative health effects. They find strong evidence for a causative role for traffic related air pollution and premature death, particularly from heart attacks and strokes. The gases emitted by cars also cause other health effects such as asthma attacks, and other respiratory illnesses (Levy J.I., Buonocore J.J., Stackelberg K. 2010). According to this study traffic congestion-related PM2.5, NOx and SO2 emissions caused approximately 4,000 premature deaths which monetized value was $31 billion in 2000 in 83 urban areas in USA.
While searching for solutions to the traffic problem I searched what actions have been taken by government till today and to what extent they reached the expected results. Government knows about the problem and tries to ease jams in the city. According to Ministry of Transport, bridges and road transmissions and 13 pedestrian crossings were built in 2006-2007 in order to eliminate the gridlock in Baku and to increase the level of transportation service for people by the “Yolneqliyyatservis” (Road transport service) department of Ministry of Transport (Road Transport. 2012). The official journal of the Parliament (Milli Majlis) of the Republic of Azerbaijan says that, 100 bridges, new roads and road transmissions were built from 2008 to 2011 (Parliamentary Valiyev A. 2012). The other action to reduce traffic congestion is police efforts. Police regulate most congested streets, roads such as Y.Safarov, 28 May, the cross of H.Aliyev Avenue and Babek Avenue, Azneft roundabout etc. in rush hours. However I should mention that some bridges are not in use because they were built in unneeded and inappropriate places, for example no one use 20Yanvar Bridge because the direction and the place of this bridge is wrong. Despite the taken measures and actions by government it seems that traffic congestion still stays as before and these solutions could not solve the problem.
The government’s last action was to adopt a decree (3 december 2014) for reducing jam and informing drivers (the users of roads) about the current condition, situation on the roads. According to the rules of this “SMS information about the temporary close of roads and other measures related with this issue” decree drivers will get SMS (short message) in three cases: when there is a repair on the roads; when some governmental events are organized in the city and when there are accidents on the roads. This service is not free and drivers will have to pay if they want to use this service. However I am not sure about the effect of this solution because drivers know about the traffic on the roads by the electron service of “Intelligent Transport Management Center”. The main goals of this center are to increase the safety system in transportation and regulation of transportation in the streets and avenues where the traffic jam is situated; to deliver information about transportation to users (Intelligent Transport Management Center: goals. 2012). So to know the situation on the roads is not enough to prevent drivers from using particular road.
My suggestion to solve the problem is using the Singaporean model. Singapore government has carried out an effective ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) system which averts drivers from using central ways at peak hour. The government imposed taxes on the roads. This system allows Singapore traffic to flow 24/7. (Gibb, S. 2013). This practical and operative system can also be applied in Baku with small changes such as to impose fees only for rush hours. In my opinion, this system can reduce traffic jams significantly. The implementation of this solution does not require years which gives a chance to get effective results soon. To implement this solution governmental support is essential. In the first stage, machines and equipment should be installed on the roads and these roads should be free for public transports. The idea of this policy is to prevent drivers from using main roads during rush hours and push them to use public transport. At the same time, the conditions of public transportation, especially the conditions in the subways should be improved in order to meet increasing demand. It could be difficult in the first months to adopt this policy by drivers because roads are common goods and they never paid money for using roads before and I know from my experience that, after used to drive own car it is hard to use public transport again. However after getting effective results such as not stay in jams for hours, not to leave home earlier in order to reach somewhere in time all residents and drivers will be satisfied.
Other solution includes improving infrastructure: roads’ surface and sewage system on the roads. Reparation of the roads’ surface is easier and cheaper than building new roads and bridges. To improve sewage system requires much money, but its importance should be underestimated while solving the problem because even if government imposes taxes and lessens the number of cars on the roads, rain will still create problem in tunnels. Government should keep in mind to offer alternatives roads while repairing existing roads and improving infrastructure, otherwise drivers will suffer more than normal.
I analyzed the main reasons for jams, its negative economic and social impacts and solutions that have already been taken by government. I also gave my suggestions like imposing fees on the roads to solve the problem in a short run and effectively. Of course, the improvement on the public transportation and the roads’ condition should be implemented at the same time with other solution. As Baku is growing day by day and many governmental and international events such as European Games 2015, Islamic Games are held in Baku the urgency of solving the traffic problem becomes more apparent. The problem could not be solved witout the efforts and help of the government.
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- Levy J.I., Buonocore J.J., Stackelberg K. (2010). The Public Health Costs of Traffic Congestion. Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston
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- Weisbrod G., Vary D. (2003). Measuring the Economic Costs of Urban Traffic Congestion to Business. Journal of the Transportation Research Board.
- “Yolların müvəqqəti bağlanması və bu sahədə digər tədbirlərlə bağlı SMS məlumatlandırma Qaydaları”nın təsdiq edilməsi haqqında – Azərbaycan Respubikasını Nazirlər Kabinetinin Qərarı – N381. 3 dekabr 2014-cü il
- Yol hərəkəti haqqında Azərbaycan Respublikasının qanunu. 3 iyul 1998
Advanced Academic Writing
Instructor: Molly Burke Kirova
Student: Aygun Gurbanli MPP 2016, Group A