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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Driving in Mexico City is a nightmare, while in Montreal it's a relative breeze.
So says an IBM-sponsored survey released on Thursday of 8,000 people in 20 cities who drive regularly and were asked about their level of "commuter pain" and the consequences in terms of stress, lost time, and ill health.
"Traffic congestion is down on a global level, while the pain of commuting is increasing," said Vinodh Swaminathan, IBM's director of intelligent transportation systems.
Economic weakness and high fuel prices were two reasons for the drop in traffic congestion since the survey was first conducted four years ago, Swaminathan said. Huge investments in roads and public transit infrastructure by emerging economic powers China and India also helped a bit.
Still, 41 percent of the drivers surveyed would like to kick their vehicles to the curb and take public transportation instead, if available, the survey found.
Mexico City -- which had the highest driver pain index of 108, compared to Montreal's 21 -- intends to spend more than $2 billion in coming years to ease its colossal traffic problem, Swaminathan said in an interview.
"You cannot build your way out of congestion. It has to be a balance of infrastructure improvements and technology," he said.
Stockholm, ranked fourth-best on the list of 20 cities, installed a congestion pricing system to reduce demand, cutting traffic by 25 percent and commute times in half, he said.
In California, drivers can obtain information on predicted road congestion based on data from road sensors. Some cities use programmable traffic lights to speed flow.
There are clear benefits in reducing traffic jams, Swaminathan said, citing a study that concluded a 10 percent reduction in traffic congestion produced a 2 percent increase in local economic activity.
But even in cities viewed as less-trafficked, many auto-bound commuters were miserable, the study concluded.
In Moscow, half of drivers said they had spent more than three hours stuck in traffic. Drivers in Beijing and Shenzhen expressed the most anger, and New Delhi drivers were most likely to give up and head home rather than fight traffic.
Overall, 60 percent of city-dwellers used a car or motorbike to commute an average of 12.8 miles in 33 minutes -- traveling at 23 mph. Some 13 percent commuted by bus and 7 percent by train.
Stop-and-start traffic was the biggest complaint of drivers, followed by unreliable journey time, the slow pace, and rude or aggressive drivers. One in 10 had no complaints.
More than half of drivers in Mexico City, Milan, Bangalore, and Johannesburg reported getting stressed-out. A significant number of drivers in Chinese and Indian cities said they suffered respiratory problems while stuck in traffic.
Even so, gasoline prices would have to rise 40 percent to persuade even one in five drivers to opt for a different mode of transport.
Drivers ranked Mexico City worst, followed by Shenzhen, Beijing, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Bangalore, New Delhi, Moscow, Milan, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Paris, Madrid, New York, Toronto, Stockholm, Chicago, London, and Montreal.
When asked what they would do with the additional time if traffic eased, half of New York drivers said they would exercise. More than one in four drivers in Milan, Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing, and Nairobi said they would work more.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman