Johannesburg is among the most stressful cities in the world when it comes to commuting to and from work, coming in fifth in terms of commuter pain.

A new IBM survey of the daily commute in a cross-section of some of the most economically important international cities reveals a startling dichotomy: while the commute has become a lot more bearable over the past year, drivers’ complaints are going through the roof.

The annual global Commuter Pain study, reveals that in a number of cities more people are taking public transportation rather than driving, when compared with last year’s survey. And in many cities, there were big jumps in the percentage of respondents who said that roadway traffic has improved either “somewhat” or “substantially” in the past three years.

But that’s only part of the story. In many cities, the survey recorded significant increases, when compared with last year, in the number of respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their levels of personal stress and anger and negatively affected their performance at work or school.

On average, drivers in Nairobi, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Beijing, Bangalore, and Moscow spend the longest amount of time (36 minutes or more) on the road to get to their workplace or school.

And, despite improving traffic conditions, respondents  who said that roadway traffic has increased their stress levels increased significantly in Johannesburg (52% in 2011 versus 30% in 2010).

“Commuting doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” says Gavin Pieterse, governmental programmes executive for IBM Sub-Saharan Africa. “The daily commute is coloured by many factors – pertaining both to traffic congestion as well as to other issues. But what’s significant from drivers in cities around the world and Johannesburg specifically voicing that they are much more unsettled and anxious compared with 2010, is that there is significant room for improvement in making our transport systems smarter.”

Respondents reported the impact of poor traffic had a negatively impact on stress levels, physical health and productivity The study found that if traffic didn’t take up so much time, commuters would rather devote it to personal relationships and improving their physical health. More than half of respondents (56%) would spend time won back with family/friends; while nearly half (48 percent) would exercise and 40% would spend more time on recreation. Nearly three in ten drivers (29%) would sleep more.

The survey results suggest that aggressive infrastructure investment in some of the most rapidly growing economies seems to be paying off. Compared with other cities surveyed, more commuters in Bangalore, New Delhi, Beijing and Shenzhen reported improvement in traffic conditions over the last three years.

For example, last year Beijing was expected to invest approximately 80-billion yuan to improve its transportation infrastructure, and Mexico City is making a significant investment of $2,5-billion US over the next few years to better support the growing demands of its transportation network in one of the most populated urban areas in the world. With more than one billion cars on the road worldwide, cities are continuing to address traffic congestion and looking for new ways to handle the growing demand.

Even though commuters in many emerging market cities report that traffic is down, there is much room for improvement. The respondents in many of these same cities also report, with a greater frequency than the global average, that traffic negatively impacts their stress levels, physical health and productivity. For example, 86% of the respondents in Beijing, 87% in Shenzhen, 70% in New Delhi and 61% in Nairobi report traffic as a key inhibitor to work or school performance. Sixty seven percent of drivers in Mexico City, 63% in Shenzhen and New Delhi and 61% in Beijing said they had decided not to make a driving trip in the last month due to anticipated traffic – the most of all cities surveyed.

Commuting pain is also reflected globally as 69% of those surveyed indicated that traffic has negatively affected their health in some way. Some 42% of respondents globally reported increased stress and 35% reported increased anger. Respiratory problems due to traffic congestion were most prevalent in China and India.

The survey results reflect an increased willingness to use public transportation and technology to improve the commute. Overall, 41% believe improved public transit would help reduce traffic congestion. Consider that even though globally only 35% of people changed the way that they get to work or school in the last year, 45% of those who have are opting for public transit. An astonishing 70% of Nairobi residents report taking public transit more often in the last year on their daily commute. The biggest movement to public transit is in emerging cities including Nairobi, Mexico City, Shenzhen, Buenos Aires and Beijing. If this continues, it could help mitigate increasing traffic due to population growth and urbanisation. Interestingly, the desire for more accurate and timely information about road conditions as a way to reduce stress was shared across a number of cities from Los Angeles and Chicago to Moscow and Bangalore.

Interesting trends from the survey include:

* Fourteen of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that traffic had improved either “somewhat” or “substantially” over the past three years, with many of the cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (24% in 2011 versus 12% in 2010), Toronto (23% in 2011 versus 8% in 2010), Milan (27% in 2011 versus 7% in 2010), Stockholm (42% in 2011 versus 18% in 2010), Moscow (31% in 2011 versus 16%), and Johannesburg (29% in 2011 versus 13% in 2010)

* Despite improving traffic conditions, 12 of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their stress levels, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (45% in 2011 vs. 13% in 2010), Los Angeles (44% in 2011 versus 21% in 2010), Toronto (40% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), London (33% in 2011 versus 19% in 2010), Milan (61% in 2011 versus 38% in 2010), and Johannesburg (52% in 2011 versus 30% in 2010).

* Eleven of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reporter year-over-year increases in respondents who said that roadway traffic has made them angry, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (35% in 2011 versus 14% in 2010), Los Angeles, (29% in 2011 versus 14% in 2010), and Toronto (29% in 2011 versus 14% in 2010).

* Eleven of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work or school, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (28% in 2011 versus 8% in 2010), Toronto (29% in 2011 versus 17% in 2010), Madrid (30% in 2011 versus 21% in 2010), Paris (35% in 2011 versus 26% in 2010), Milan (40% in 2011 versus 21% in 2010), Stockholm (25% in 2011 versus 14% in 2010), and Moscow (34% in 2011 versus 25% in 2010).

* When asked about the longest amount of time they have been stuck in traffic over the past three years, the mean time reported by drivers in Mexico City, Moscow, Beijing, Shenzhen and Nairobi were notable, with delays of about two hours. In Moscow, approximately three in 10 drivers (29%) say they been stuck for over three hours. By comparison, about half of the drivers surveyed in Stockholm, Singapore, Madrid and Buenos Aires reported spending less than 30 minutes or literally no time stuck in traffic.

* The percentage of New York metro area drivers who are driving to work or school alone decreased to 59% in 2011 versus 90% last year.

* If traffic didn’t take up so much time, commuters would rather devote it to personal relationships and improving their physical health. More than half of respondents (56%) would spend time won back with family/friends; while nearly half (48 percent) would exercise and 40% would spend more time on recreation. Nearly three in ten drivers (29 percent) would sleep more.

* Commuters in Nairobi seem to take traffic in stride despite the fact that they average among the longest commutes. Nearly half (48%) report that roadway traffic has not impacted their health.

* On average, drivers in Nairobi, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Beijing, Bangalore, and Moscow spend the longest amount of time (36 minutes or more) on the road to get to their workplace or school.