Citing a 2018 survey conducted by the Human Resource Association of Jamaica (HRMAJ), the Jamaica Economy Panel (JEP) has established that an inverse relationship exists between traffic congestion and productivity; that longer hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic reduces the effectiveness and value of the labour produced by an employee.
In its exploration of the topic the 'Economics of Congestion' during a forum in May, the JEP was able to highlight several prognoses for this relationship using research from other jurisdictions in Latin America and the Caribbean, but it also proposed a number of solutions as well.
When looking at solutions, one needs to consider that while answers may be geared toward reducing traffic congestion, ultimately the goal is to increase staff productivity. To this end, solutions may be offered from the standpoint of reducing traffic congestion and/or allowing workers to be more efficient in their workday.
Coming out the 2018 survey used by JEP, then president of HRMAJ Karl Williams made the argument for staggered work hours or a flexi-work arrangement to help bridge the gap with persons who have to travel long distances to get to work. His stance was been supported by then Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica President Howard Mitchell who, in an interview with RJR News, said that staggered hours can work so long as employers are able to do it without damaging their process flows and productivity.
The case has also been made for work-at-home policies to reduce the number of motorists converging on the roadways and creating peak-hour traffic. This suggestion has been explored by accounting and business consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in a 2021 global survey that found that 46 per cent of companies reported improved workforce performance and productivity targets during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PwC survey canvassed 4,000 businesses and human resource leaders across 28 industries in 26 countries. In relation to the Caribbean, however, the survey points out that productivity may be overshadowed by supervisor-employee trust.
"Our survey reveals that building trust, while using data and technology that is human-centred, remains fundamental to workforce strategy," Adrian Tait, consulting lead, PwC Jamaica, commented on the findings.
Closer to home, a Jamaica Productivity Centre (JPC) survey of 81 businesses found that 43 per cent of business leaders found that work-at-home arrangements proved "very effective" while 49 per cent believe the arrangements were "somewhat effective".
Responding to the JPC survey, 75 per cent of organisations indicated that they were considering keeping alternative work arrangements after the pandemic, including reduced hours in office, staggered shifts, flexitime, flexible work sites, and a compressed workweek. Still, 31 per cent said they would consider continuing work-from-home arrangements.
While employer groups have explored solutions from within the workplace, the JEP has made recommendations from the standpoint of managing traffic congestion. One such suggestion is the use of integrated transport system plans that explore improving public transportation and increased prioritisation of the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Project, which started in 2016 and was being implemented by the then Ministry of Transport and Works.
The ITS project was one of the directives outlined in the Vision 2030 Transport Sector Plan. The project aims to "improve the ability to detect and respond to incidents, such as disabled vehicles, and to improve coordination between traffic management and traffic enforcement agencies". Additionally the ITS should provide driver feedback, real time broadcast of traffic data, and rerouting for traffic congestion alleviation.
Under the project some 80 traffic signals and 30 cameras were to be connected to the Traffic Management Centre at the National Work Agency to monitor and coordinate traffic from Constant Spring Road to Half-Way-Tree Road; Old Hope Road to Hope Road and Hagley Park Road; Upper Waterloo Road to Trafalgar Road; and Oxford Road to Knutsford Boulevard.
At the same time, the JEP proposed the introduction of a tram line in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, connecting Mona, Half-Way-Tree, New Kingston and downtown Kingston, in keeping with the concept of multi-modal transport. Another solution from the group of economists is the reintroduction of "dedicated bus lanes".
The JEP also makes the case for congestion costing, or the use of pricing mechanisms, to reduce the use of private vehicles on the road network. This position has also been proferred by JPC Administrative Manager Collette Barham in her column 'The productivity and competitiveness costs of traffic congestion', published in the Sunday Gleaner of April 22, 2018.
The JEP's recommendations are, however, not isolated but backed by research from other jurisdictions. Think tanks such as the World Economic Forum (WEF), Boston Consulting Group, and McKinsey Institute have proposed similar solutions, as well as improving the reliability and effectiveness of local transport systems.
One WEF blog post by Apurva Sanghi, who was then the World Bank's lead economist for Kenya, Rwanda and Eritrea, advocates for the marrying of traffic management with technology as well as improvement in public transport. Citing Singapore as a case study, the economist also proposes "electronic road pricing".
Similar recommendations are made in the WEF article 'Seven ways cities around the world are tackling traffic', the BCG's 'Solving the Cooperation Paradox in Urban Mobility', and McKinsey's 'Infrastructure technologies - challenges and solutions for smart mobility in urban areas'.