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An ecosystem approach to reducing congestion

Executive summary

The challenge of congestion is a perennial issue for cities around the world, and is rapidly worsening. In recent years, a number of trends have exacerbated urban congestion. These include economic expansion and increased urbanization; the rise of both ride-hailing services, which puts more cars on the roads, and e-commerce, which adds to the number of delivery vehicles; the deterioration of existing infrastructure; and the mixed success of some efforts to reduce congestion.

Based on research sponsored by the National Parking Association (NPA) in the U.S., this study explores the drivers of congestion and potential solutions in an evolving mobility landscape, including how parking can be an asset within the transportation ecosystem and implications on effective policy planning in an effort to create livable cities of the future. The research encompasses analysis of publicly available information, as well as observations and interviews with people from diverse backgrounds: technologists, parking operators, developers, policy planners, academics, venture capitalists and other investors, the startup community, and infrastructure investors.

Numerous options for reducing congestion are available to municipalities, but some are more effective than others. The most successful tend to take a comprehensive ecosystem approach, recognizing from the start that all the elements of traffic design affect one another and should be designed and developed in an integrated way. This means considering both near-term and long-range measures that affect both transportation supply (e.g., new roads and rail infrastructure) and demand (e.g., incentives for travel at non-peak times).

These approaches include fostering innovation in an experimental, agile fashion so that city planners can learn while developing new solutions; seeking a wide range of financing from public–private partnerships and other sources; and tailoring the approach to each city’s unique traffic layout. There are seven archetypal city patterns — some with dense, non-grid cores (e.g., Singapore and Amsterdam); some with grid-based urban hubs (e.g., New York, London, and Toronto); and some with spread-out layouts and multiple hubs (e.g., Los Angeles and Paris).

Each city requires its own mix of measures to reduce congestion, and can choose from a wide array of options. These range from encouraging alternative modes of transportation (e.g., more opportunities for walking and travel by bicycle and motor scooter) to raising the real costs of inner-city access with measures like congestion pricing and variable parking fees to improving infrastructure for rail travel, bus service, or parking. (Motor scooter is the term used in this paper for all variants of powered scooters, including electric scooters and dockless scooters.) City planners can make more effective decisions about access to transportation network companies (TNCs), including ride-hailing and taxi services; establish new innovative approaches to double parking and last-mile deliveries; and prepare for new technologies, including machine learning-based analytics that can redirect traffic flows, vehicleto- vehicle connectivity that can increase highway utilization, and futuristic ventures such as drones and Hyperloop.

To take a fully holistic ecosystem approach, city planners need to consider the interrelationships among all these measures. Some efforts simply attract more vehicle traffic, while others reduce congestion by giving people multiple attractive alternatives and easy ways to switch among them. Pioneering “mobility hub” approaches, which coordinate parking, mass transit, and commuting, are now being implemented in cities around the world. Urban government and business leaders can learn from these leading-edge examples, and put new, improved innovations into practice.


The trends that exacerbate congestion show no signs of weakening, and most cities have not yet fully articulated the steps they’ll need to take to improve. Nonetheless, as we’ve shown in this report, plenty of tools are available that can help reduce congestion, and numerous forwardthinking cities are implementing them in the U.S. and around the world.

To most effectively combat congestion, government leaders, planners, and other stakeholders should keep in mind a few key points: Technology is no panacea, but can be a powerful tool. Weigh solutions that affect supply and demand in both the near and long term. Parking is an important tool, and has the ability to reduce congestion. Consider the entire transportation ecosystem to drive city livability. Foster innovation through collaboration, pilots, and agile policymaking. The mix of solutions applied will vary across city archetypes.

You can take a proactive approach to congestion by shifting the trajectory of mobility and making cities far more livable, with convenient, clean, and cost-effective mobility solutions. Ill-considered and reactive choices that don’t consider the entire transportation ecosystem, including parking, are likely to exacerbate congestion. Public–private collaboration — with a focus on citizen-centered mobility — is an ecosystem-oriented approach that can lead us to a future where we want to live.

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Ramesh Telang

Partner, Strategy& US

Andrew Higashi

Director, Strategy& US

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