Saturday, 29 September 2012

Have we reached Peak Car in Warsaw yet?

An interesting article appeared in last week's Economist which indicated that across cities of the developed world, car usage has peaked. Based on my own observations, comments from colleagues and media articles, it looks like there is indeed less traffic on Warsaw's streets than at this time in previous years. Has Warsaw's car usage peaked too?

Yesterday morning, the bus journey from home to Metro Stokłosy took 28 minutes; it has taken regularly taken over 40. This is 15kmh rather than 10kmh. The Park+Ride at Ursynów still had eight free places at 11:20 this morning; last year it would be completely full before ten.

There are many factors which are contributing to the thinning out of Warsaw's notorious jams; soaring fuel prices, economic slowdown, improved public transport, a fashion for cycling. A corollary is falling car crime - far fewer cars are being stolen in Warsaw, in Poland, indeed in the rich world, than was the case a decade ago. Demand is falling, it's not just an economic crisis thing (new car sales are sharply down across the EU).

Above: an electric car tops up on Warsaw's ul. Krucza. It's around midday; traffic's light, there are two cyclists in the background. I hope this is to be what the Warsaw of the future will look like. No big black SUVs. The city is not the place for them (fine if you live in a muddy field and need to transport beetroot and livestock to market).

Meanwhile, out on the far perimeter, the very real human cost of long-distance commuting is taking its toll on the real estate market. Do you remember this new housing development? Well, prices are now plummeting. Below: A billboard on ul. Karczunkowska advertising the new houses. They are now going for 560,000 złotys for a finished house, old price 699,000 złotys.

The difference expressed in sterling is even more profound: Since this time last year, the price has fallen from £141,000 to £108,000.Yet at the same time, flats finding themselves near the new Most Północny or second Metro line are rising in price. People don't want to live more than an hours' drive from the city centre. Developers who've found cheap plots beyond the edge of town are having to sell the houses they've built at a knock-down price.

Cities will grow up rather than out in the future. We'll be living in more densely populated urban centres, with excellent public transport links and cycle paths. The car will be increasingly associated with Hicksville and old people. In Polish, na dziady.

The Economist article linked at the top of this post is a must-read, a defining point of a tipping point in history. I hope the year 2012 was when we reached it in Warsaw; it would be nice to come back to past posts on commuting, motoring and development (see labels) and note that yes, traffic jams used to be far, far worse. And I hope that Pan Heniek Burak will finally get to see that using a huge, gas-guzzling SUV to drag his idle frame a few kilometres across town to that comfy parking spot outside his office is socially acceptable as passing wind loudly in a crowded lift.

This time last year:
A glorious month

This time three years ago:
Order from chaos

This time four years ago:
Well-shot pheasants


student SGH said...

Some apt observations.

Traffic volume has indeed gone down this autumn. A year ago traffic jam in the morning began around the border of Warsaw, before summer holidays traffic used to become stationary beyond the intersection with ul. Karczunkowska, these days traffic gets snarled up near ul. Pelikanów.

Thus my journey home - P&R Stokłosy lasts between 15 and 20 minutes (before 7 a.m.)

Until 2010 I did observe it was a shame to use public transport and saw many people clinging to their depreciating tins, now many people shift towards public transport, as more convenient, flexible and cheaper. And the quality and reliability in Warsaw is beyond reproach. Albeit I wouldn't lean towards changing commuting to P&R Stokłosy for a bus or a train.

Last time I fuelled up my car on 27 August and drove only 440 kilometres since then - leaving the car in the garage from time to time is never a bad idea, but taking it into the centre of town is almost always a bad one.

Michael, Nowa Wola is a back of beyond. My parents bought, finished and furnished our house for the same money in late 2004 / early 2005, but hey, we live half a kilometre from ul. Puławska. Given all the drawbacks of the location, this is still kind of pricey.

And are prices plummeting? In the case of houses on the suburbs this is true, but asking prices of flats in town hold high, despite 11% decrease y/y. I estimate the momentum of the downward trend is about to continue in 2013, without any "avalanches" and decelerations - this will simply mirror rising costs of living, falling confidence and curbing lending. Good time for cash buyers will be late 2013 or early 2014 :)

AndrzejK said...

I am sure that commuting is an issue as far as house and flat prices are concerned. There are a number of other factors. There is a rule of thumb that the average price of flats/ houses is unsustainable long term above a multiplier of between four times household income. Given that a joint income for a couple of PLN 10K per month is above average then even this suggests an everage property price of no more than PLN 500,000. Another factor is the plummeting cost of construction. Three years ago developers reckoned on a "stan surowy" cost for flats in Warsaw of PLN 3,500. It is currently PLN 2,000!!! Yet another concern particularly in Warsaw is the fact that there is potentially a massive over supply given the lack of an overall development plan for the city and the outlying gminy.

DC said...

I love the quote attributed to the mayor of Bogota in the linked article comments: "A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation."

How sad then to read that Poland is planning to axe a quarter of the rail network:

Anonymous said...

The property devaluation there seems in line with that of my apartment in Krakow. Although, I'd have though your other point (re commuter desirability) would have applied and my property, close to the river and a stone's throw from St Stanislaw's, would have been spared the slump.