The True Cost of Traffic

Amy EverhartMobility

Anyone who drives around Austin — for work, to take their kids to and from school, or just get to Barton Springs on a Saturday — knows that getting behind the wheel in this city can be an incredibly frustrating experience.

Traffic congestion takes a toll our mental health, physical health and financial health, as evidenced by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 8th Annual Urban Mobility Scorecard. The report tracks a number of metrics, including travel time, commuter stress, congestion cost, excess fuel consumption and annual hours of delay.

We know viscerally how our lack of mobility affects our stress level, but what factors will push Central Texans and their leaders beyond the tipping point where they shift their mindset and take action to really put Austin in motion?




This depressing data isn’t all that surprising, but it doesn’t just represent the negative effects of congestion on us as individuals. It also suggests the impact of traffic on our economic prosperity and environmental integrity  – values that Austin holds dear.

The TTI data also highlights how congestion is making Austin less affordable — a narrative that is consuming our city and region. According to AAA, it costs $8,876 per year to own and drive a car. When you add in the $1,159 in extra gas we are burning just to sit in traffic, the total cost tops $10,000. That is a large percentage of most people’s incomes, one that could be radically reduced with creative mobility solutions.

The Road Ahead

Austin is a great testing ground for big ideas and we’ve proven ourselves a city of early adopters. Local leaders have taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to addressing both affordability and transportation challenges.

We are changing our regional mindset by focusing on how to move people, rather than cars. Many forward-thinking organizations, such as the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Urban Land Institute and the American Public Transportation Association, have chosen to focus their energy and expertise on finding fixes for Austin specifically. We also have homegrown expertise here in Austin that is bringing diverse voices to these conversations. 

We need to upgrade our transit options and make them more comfortable and convenient. We need to expand our infrastructure — roads, rail, bike lanes and trails. And we need to embrace innovations such as Uber, Lyft, RideScout, bike-sharing, car-sharing, autonomous vehicles, and more. We may even need monorail, or gondolas, or subways.

When we choose “all of the above,” we have more chances to develop easy, accessible and affordable alternatives to driving alone in debilitating traffic. Wouldn’t that help us all find a little peace of mind?