Pricey fuel drives Britons out of traffic jams

LONDON Wed Aug 27, 2008 3:33am EDT

Traffic enters Manchester city center in Manchester, England, June 9, 2008. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Traffic enters Manchester city center in Manchester, England, June 9, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Phil Noble

LONDON (Reuters) - High fuel costs and a biting economic downturn are proving effective measures in cutting road congestion in Britain, a report showed on Wednesday.

Fewer people are opting to use their cars -- put off by petrol prices topping 120 pence ($2.21) per liter and diesel at as much as 140 pence per liter -- and those who do take to the roads drive more slowly to save fuel, the Trafficmaster report showed.

Congestion was 12 percent less in the first six months of 2008, compared with January to June 2007.

"Rising fuel prices and general economic concerns are making people think carefully about how they drive," said Georgina Read, a spokeswoman for Trafficmaster, a road monitoring company.

"The upshot of less traffic is a drop in congestion levels, meaning motorists can get from A to B quicker while traveling at lower and more economical speeds."

Using data collected from 7,500 cameras on major road and motorways across Britain, Trafficmaster found that in the year June 2007 to June 2008, congestion eased as opposed to worsening for the first time in the four years the study has been carried out.

The average speed on motorways slowed to 62.2 miles per hour from 63.3 miles per hour in the previous year, but journey times improved, with people shaving 0.3 percent off their traveling time.

According to European Union data, road congestion in the 27-nation bloc results in some 7,500 km (4,690 miles) of traffic jams for EU drivers every day.

According to the Automobile Association (AA), the average annual cost of running a family car in Britain is currently around 6,250 pounds.

A study earlier this month showed London is as congested with cars now as it was five years ago -- despite the introduction in 2003 of the world's biggest traffic charging scheme -- the congestion charge.

Transport for London (TfL), which runs the British capital's transport system, said that although traffic levels had dropped significantly, roadworks and measures designed to help pedestrians, buses and cyclists were jamming up the roads.

But TfL also says cycling in the capital has risen by more than 83 percent since 2000, with around 480,000 journeys made by bike in London every day.

(Editing by Tim Castle)