Traffic Jams Return in Europe as Lockdowns Ease

(Bloomberg) --

Europe’s drivers have started to clog up the roads again in one of the first signs of a possible revival to the region’s economy.

Traffic jams on Germany’s highways doubled last weekend from a week earlier, according to Germany’s biggest automobile association ADAC. Congestion in Madrid and London is also on the rise, according to TomTom NV’s in-car navigation devices.

Nations are slowly lifting restrictions that have been in place since March. In Germany, restaurants, hotels, playgrounds, zoos, museums and churches have opened, while professional soccer can return in the second half of May.

“We assume that many citizens have used the weekend for family visits,” ADAC said.

As lockdowns ease, driving has emerged as the socially distant transportation mode of choice, with people so far staying away from public transport. That has increased demand for gasoline, offering some near-term relief to an oil market fresh off its worst crash in history. Gasoline and diesel sales surged after slumping by 80% during the lockdown, according to lobby group Tankstellen-Interessenverband.

In Germany, the number of traffic jams jumped to 645 over the period, a sevenfold increase compared with the weekend of March 21-22, the lowest during the lockdown.

“Mobility will continue to rise in the coming weeks and go alongside a recovery in consumer spending,” said Oliver Rakau, chief German economist at Oxford Economics Ltd. “A quick recovery in people’s mobility may be a sign of underlying consumer spirit not having been permanently damaged by worries over getting infected with the coronavirus, which could allow consumer spending to rise as shops are opening up.”

Congestion on working days on German roads have also increased since April 20, according to ADAC. The number of traffic jams increased from 1,800 in the week of March 23 to to 5,000 in the week of May 4. But that is still roughly just half of what is registered during a normal working week in the country.

It is too early to say whether the trend is sustainable. In most European cities and roads, congestion levels are still far below the level before coronavirus restrictions were imposed.

  • Berlin: At 8 a.m. on Monday, the congestion level was 39%, 5 percentage points higher than the same time a week earlier, but well below the 56% average expected for this time of year
  • Madrid: The measure stood at 7%, 1 point higher than the same time on previous week. The average is 59%
  • London congestion was at 20%, 4 points higher than the same time on previous week, but still below the 63% average
  • Rome was at 21%, the same as previous week and below the 81% average.

“There remain big question marks on the pace and extent of the recovery,” said Rakau. “Traffic jams may right now overstate the recovery in mobility.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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