What does TomTom Traffic Index data tell us about the world's busiest cities?
Matthew Beedham·Feb 14, 2023

What does TomTom Traffic Index data tell us about the world's busiest cities?

Matthew Beedham
Feb 14, 2023 · 8 min read
TomTom Traffic Index: The world's busiest cities | TomTom Newsroom

TomTom’s Traffic Index is giving us more insight than ever into the realities of traffic in the world’s major cities. But there are a couple of questions that everyone wants answers to: which cities are hit worst by traffic? And which city centers experience the busiest rush hours? Thanks to TomTom’s traffic report, we have the answers.

Through the throes of the pandemic, we witnessed rush hours fade into memory. Sadly, it looks like they’re back.

Traffic data from a couple of years ago, in 2021, showed a general return of traffic post-pandemic. Back then, 158 out of the 404 cities analyzed showed an increase in traffic at peak hours. Overall traffic levels were still lower than before the pandemic in 2019, but compared to 2020, traffic increased and spread out throughout the day.

If you take a quick scroll through global city rankings of TomTom’s Traffic Index, you’ll see a lot of red numbers denoting how many minutes more drivers lose on average travel time per year, this year compared to last.

It seems we only needed one more year to get back in our cars and reignite rush hour traffic. In 2022, in most cities, drivers lost more time to traffic at peak hours than in 2021. Pushing us back towards, and beyond, pre-pandemic rush hour traffic levels. Diving deeper into TomTom’s Traffic Index using this metric, we can see, relatively speaking, what are the world’s busiest cities.

[Note: All the figures below are based on a typical journey of 10 km each way, every day, at peak hours, in the city center (urban) area. For this year’s Traffic Index, TomTom considers this a “typical” driver. For more on the methodology, click here.]

Which city's drivers spent the most time in traffic?

Dublin, Ireland

Drivers in Dublin, Ireland, suffered the most. They lost the most time to traffic at peak hours of any city in the index: 145 hours over the course of the year, to be exact.

The average driver in the Irish city spent over 277 hours commuting last year. That’s more than an hour per working day being lost to travel, with about half of that time being the result of suboptimal traffic flow.

The overall average 10 km trip in Dublin's city center took 28 minutes 30 seconds, nearly 2 minutes longer than in 2021.

The overview of what it's like driving in Dublin, Ireland. The time drivers spent in congestion would have been enough to read 55 books. Let's hope they had audiobooks...

Bucharest, Romania

Drivers in Bucharest, Romania, faced a similar plight.

Those driving in the city’s dense urban area lost 143 hours each year to traffic. Like Dublin, people driving on Bucharest’s roads spent a total of 277 hours commuting at peak hours.

The only upside for drivers in the Romanian capital is that on average a typical 10 km journey took 10 seconds less in 2022 than in 2021. So, drivers in Bucharest might be some of the biggest losers to traffic at peak times, but overall, traffic has got a tiny bit better since last year. In Dublin, it got worse by nearly two minutes.

Drivers in Bucharest also lost a lot of time, and on the surface, seem to have experience similar traffic characteristics as Dublin.

London, England

And third, was London.

The average Londoner spent an astonishing 325 hours commuting during peak hours last year. 139 hours of that were the result of traffic, highlighting the impact that London’s slow, complex and winding inner-city roads have on traffic. Even when conditions are optimal, it still takes a relatively long time to commute across central London.

It's no surprise that traffic in London is bad. Drivers there didn't lose quite as much time to traffic as those in Bucharest or Dublin, but it's still not great. A big part of the issue is that even in optimal conditions, London is still a slow city to drive around.

Even though Londoners don’t lose the most time to traffic, the English capital is ranked number 1 in this year’s traffic index because of how long the average 10 km trip takes. At 36 minutes and 20 seconds, it’s the slowest travel time for any city in the index. What’s more, it’s 1 minute and 50 seconds more than in 2021. Traffic is back, and so are rush hours.

No USA in the top 10. New York is 12th

It’s not all doom and gloom out on the world’s roads, though.

If you’re looking for a city where your horsepower won’t be kept firmly in its stable, head to Detroit, USA. Motor City is living up to its name once again. While it might not be the car-making bastion it once was, Detroit still has a special place in its heart for the automobile.

Over the course of the last year, the average driver in Detroit lost just 11 hours to traffic.

Traffic has remained consistent for Detroiters, with no increase compared to last year. The average 10 km trip takes just 9 minutes 10 seconds in Detroit, with traffic. In optimal conditions, that only drops to 8 minutes.

Downtown Detroit. A car capital of the world in more ways than one. There are probably plenty in the car industry that will be happy to see the American city rank as a very driveable town.

It’s also not that expensive to drive in Detroit. Over the course of the year, average drivers in the U.S. city spend $334 on petrol and $351 on diesel, and they lose just $10 per year to traffic, making it one of the cheapest cities in the world by this metric.

Despite its population density, Detroit isn’t too difficult to get around. Average travel times benefit from its network of highways and freeways. Which makes getting across the city a simple task.

Another way to think about traffic

Thanks to the Traffic Index’s breadth of data this year, we have more ways to conceptualize and examine how traffic flows through our cities. For a more general overview of the impact traffic has on cities, we can compare their average travel times against their optimal travel times (when traffic is free flowing). Doing so, we gain insight into how more cars and trucks on the road slow the whole thing down.

As we've seen, London is the world's slowest city — taking over 36 minutes to drive a typical 10 km journey. However, London is already a slow city to begin with. In optimal traffic, that same 10 km trip would take just over 24 minutes.

Take Bengaluru, India, and Bogotá, Colombia, for example. Both suffer from traffic like London, even though they are quicker to get around in optimal conditions.  The optimal travel time for a 10 km trip is around 16 and a half minutes in the Indian city, with traffic, it’s 25 minutes and 40 seconds. In the Colombian capital, optimal travel times are around 14 minutes 38 seconds, however, add traffic and that goes up to 26 minutes 20 seconds. Both lose out to traffic by a similar margin.

Above, the topline details on what traffic is like in Bengaluru, India.

Head to Sapporo, Japan, and we see a totally different situation. In optimal conditions, driving 10 km takes 20 minutes and 49 seconds. In real driving conditions, that same trip would take 27 minutes and 40 seconds. Drivers lose around seven minutes because of traffic. Far less than Bogotá, London or Bengaluru.

In Bengaluru, drivers lose 134 hours a year to traffic, based on typical driving behavior. In Sapporo, however, drivers lose just 81 hours a year. Even though 10 km travel times and yearly times spent driving aren’t too different, the amount of time lost because of traffic on the roads is significantly less — suggesting Sapporo handles its traffic a bit better in comparison.

Above, travel time and world ranking for Sapporo, Japan. Bengaluru and Sapporo, despite being quite different cities experience similar trends in travel times. The difference for Sapporo is that drivers lose a lot less time because of congestion.

What can we learn?

While TomTom’s data creates a robust platform for comparison, it’s always hard to compare cities directly. Understanding the true reasons for why some fall foul of traffic more than others is never simple.

Indeed, there’s a lot more to inner city travel times than just the number of cars on the road. There’s infrastructure, public transit, speed limits, congestion charges, traffic management and low emission zones. All affect the types of vehicles that enter our city centers and how they travel when they’re there.

Thanks to its breadth of data, TomTom’s Traffic Index hands us an accurate mirror, or representation, of reality out on our roads. And allows us to compare and contrast traffic in our world's cities. Much like the company’s maps, the data is a window that allows us to gaze upon and understand the world around us in new ways.

It allows us, to examine those cities where drivers seem to lose less time to traffic and compare them to those where drivers lose a lot. We can begin to answer questions such as: how can we improve traffic flows? How can we help people make more mindful journeys? How can we reduce emissions? How can we improve last mile deliveries? How can we make better cities for everyone?

If you want to dive deeper into global traffic trends for 2022, check out the full TomTom Traffic Index.

A few words on the methodology

TomTom has modified its approach to calculating congestion for this edition of its Traffic Index report. In previous editions, the company calculated congestion by measuring the additional time required to complete a trip compared to how long that same trip would take if traffic was free flowing.This year, TomTom is simulating how long it takes to complete a trip of 10 km. By splitting up all journeys taken into smaller chunks and then reconstructing them into different 10 km routes and calculating their travel times, TomTom says it gains an insight into traffic that more closely represent driving conditions in the real world. It also allows driving conditions in different cities to be compared more consistently, as the new method means that the length of a particular journey doesn’t distort the findings.

If you want to read the full methodology for yourself, click here.

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