Austin, TX makes BBC’s list of 10 monster traffic jams from around the world

10 monster traffic jams from around the world

Bangkok jam

The story of traffic problems in Brazil’s biggest city, Sao Paulo, which suffers jams of up to 180km at some points in the week, brought a worldwide response from readers. Here are 10 of their gridlock stories – plus one that’s traffic-free.

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok’s traffic problem has been getting worse since the government introduced a policy to refund tax for first-time car buyers.

Sirithep Vadrakchit’s commute

  • One hour to travel 50-60km into Bangkok
  • Mode of transport: Commuter van

Coupled with the Thai aspiration to own a car and get some status, this policy has resulted in five million vehicles in a city which can only cope with less than two million cars.

Once I got into a jam in downtown Bangkok, when I spent almost two hours moving less than a kilometre. Sometimes, my colleagues have arrived at work up to four hours late. I think the city should be more serious about public transport. People have better things to do than sit on the roads for hours every day.

Two or three weeks ago, travelling from Pathum Thani to central Bangkok, it took four and a half hours for a journey which usually takes less than an hour. Sirithep Vadrakchit, Thailand

Jakarta, Indonesia


Indonesians living in Jakarta have their own word for traffic jam – the inevitable “macet”.

Allan Bell’s commute

  • I’m moving to a new job and will give myself 90 minutes to two hours to cover 20-25km
  • Mode of transport: I usually use taxis as they are generally braver
  • Another option is the Ojek, a motorcycle taxi service – it’s good, fast and cuts through the traffic, and large numbers of people in hospitals all over Jakarta can attest to its popularity

Your life is planned around the traffic jams which often continue through the day. Travelling even short distances can take hours and some parts of the city are in a constant state of jam.

Unfortunately there is little alternative. Public transport is poor and even recent initiatives such as a trans-Jakarta bus lane are inefficient and even contribute to the problem by clogging intersections and reducing road space while moving comparatively small numbers of people.

Last week I went out to visit our new house. My driver got lost and ended up in Ciputat, a suburb notorious for traffic, and it took us about 30 minutes to cover 2km. Two hours to work in Sao Paolo? it’s the stuff of dreams. Allan Bell, Jakarta

Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi jam

The worst thing that the British colonialists left us with were the roundabouts.

Arthur Buliva’s commute

  • On a good traffic-free day, one hour to cover 12km – but on Friday evenings, your guess is as good as mine – anything from three hours
  • Mode of transport: Matatu (minibus) and my own car occasionally

These are the main source of traffic problems in Nairobi since the place to which you are headed may be very clear, but because the cars already in the roundabout have the right of way you are forced to wait.

Unpredictable traffic is the way of life here. Even if a place is only a kilometre away, you are safer leaving your house an hour ahead of time or even just walking. But laziness and pride makes walking to be frowned upon. The worst traffic jams are every Friday – when it rains even a little, you can even sleep in the road. Arthur Buliva, Nairobi

Manila, Philippines

Manila traffic

In Manila, the traffic congestion used to be unbelievable.

Bernie G Recrio’s commute

Bernie Recrio
  • It’s 7km to my meat shop – on a good day, it takes 10 minutes, on bad days, 45 minutes
  • But if you take public transport it’s even worse
  • Mode of transport: My own car

My worst-ever commute was 10 years ago, on my way home. We left Pampanga at 5.30pm and arrived home in Las Pinas City at 1.30am.

But congestion has begun to ease a bit with an odd/even scheme, which forbids car owners to hit the road one day a week.

If your registration plate number ends in the numeral one or two, then you’re not allowed to use your car on a Monday.

If your plate number ends in three or four, you can’t drive on Tuesday, and so on.

However, during weekends, the scheme is suspended, allowing everybody to use the road, and that’s when you’re back to reality. Bernie G Recrio, Las Pinas City, Philippines

Mumbai, India

David James’s commute

David James
  • Between 90 minutes and two hours to go 18km
  • Mode of transport: Car

Sao Paulo drivers are lucky – 180km of traffic jams in Sao Paulo would be super-jammed into 5km in India.

This is not an exaggeration. That ambulance you see between lanes is where every driver in India thinks he ought to be.

Add to that the cows, ponies and beggars that surround your car, and that is just the beginning.

Indians seem to think the car in front of them runs on their horn, not petrol – so blast away, even if the poor driver in front is only crawling as fast as the hundred cars in front of him.David James, Mumbai

Kampala, Uganda

Kampala traffic

We experience traffic jams every morning and evening.

And especially when it rains.

This is due to very bad road conditions, coupled with poor drainage systems.

The whole place is usually thrown into a total mess even though the stretches of the jams are not that long.

Motorists spend hours trying to manoeuvre through these terrible roads. Bob Sembatya, Kampala

Lexington, Kentucky, US

Lexington calls itself the Horse Capital of the World and it shows.

Lyle Goodwin’s commute

Lyle Goodwin
  • Three to 20 minutes to cover 2.5 miles
  • Mode of transport: My wife and I often use bicycles, but the traffic is pretty frightening

The city was laid out in the years before the industrial revolution, and since the mid-1900s, the explosion in car ownership has swamped the traffic system.

Our biggest road is so overcome with its burden that central lanes have to change direction at each rush hour. If you move the other direction, heaven help you.

The outer ring road clogs every morning and evening, especially because no trees were ever planted to keep the sun from shining directly in motorists’ faces at the busiest exchange, a 100-metre free-for-all where merging traffic competes with exiting traffic for the chance to smash each other to bits.

All this in the home of the largest indoor basketball arena, where games are scheduled sometimes for immediately after rush hour, and you have a level of anarchy that only a rural city in America could create.

Once, driving on my morning commute, it took me an hour to get to work. The drive without congestion is 15 minutes. Lyle Goodwin, Lexington, Kentucky

Austin, Texas, US

Neysa Joseph-Orr’s commute

Neysa Joseph-Orr
  • 45 minutes to cover 3km
  • Mode of transport: My own car (for which I castigate myself daily)

On any given day, as I sit in my car in traffic with the air conditioning whipping my hair around and the radio blasting, I see two things that make me feel both guilty and shocked.

A vacant city bus inching along my route and an empty tram cutting across traffic at 5pm.

For a city like Austin, experiencing only a fraction of the growing pains that a place like Sao Paolo is undergoing, this is the future.

A future cut off from each other in our middle-class lives, so we can be comfortable in our air-conditioned cars and not think about the implications of an energy-efficient city bus crawling along in traffic right by our side. Neysa Joseph-Orr, Austin, Texas

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul jam

Seoul drivers are notorious for ignoring any traffic rules, especially red lights, and will drive across intersections over red lights. This is called “biting tails” in Korean and means you end up with a few cars blocking the intersection when you get a green light – so you’re stuck.

This happens at every crossroad – and there are lots of crossroads – hence the fantastic 2mph experience.

Then on the weekends you battle your way out of town at a snail’s pace of about 15-20mph, and of course trying to get back into Seoul on a Sunday afternoon can take four hours for what should be only a 40-minute drive. You end up frustrated and drained.

Maybe I should invest in a Korean navigation set with an in-built TV so I can watch the soaps while I’m driving/crawling along like everyone else. Martina Marek, Seoul, South Korea

Dhaka, Bangladesh

Dhaka jam

Dhaka is arguably the most densely populated city in the world.

It lacks a mass transit system or a major freeway to support the 15 million people who live and work here. A 15km ride in an auto-rickshaw can take two to three hours in heavy traffic, during which one often has to contend with dust, exhaust fumes, extreme heat and noise pollution. Traffic laws aren’t usually enforced and vehicles move in an terrifying dance routine. Joshua Martin, Dhaka

And finally… Megeve, French Alps

I work in my chalet in the French Alpine resort of Megeve. I leave my bedroom at about 8am, according to how much wine I have drunk the evening before.

Vincent Bowler’s commute

  • About 7.5m in eight seconds
  • Mode of transport: My slippered feet

I commute two flights of stairs to my office every morning, glancing at Mont Blanc as I pass the first window, and I take a 20-minute break after the first flight, which is called breakfast. I then continue my commuting, which in all takes about 10 seconds, unless I cross someone coming in the opposite direction, which can add a further second to my journey.

The only times when the stairs get really congested are during holiday periods when lazy members of the family arrive to profit from their rich but hard-working brother. Then the journey can be a nightmare, so I leave them to the bustle of the stairs, while I take the lift. Vincent Bowler, Megeve


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