What do Cars Cost Society?


Taking the Con Out of Convenience: The True Cost of Transport Modes in Sydney (21 page pdf, Urban Policy and Research, Vol. 27, No. 1, 5–24, March 2009)

Also discussed here: What costs society more – cars or public transport? (The Melbourne Urbanist, Nov. 24, 2010)

And here: What Does a Car Really Cost? (Pollution Free Cities, June 7, 2010)

The article reviewed today from Australia points out that private (cars) and public (transit) are subsidized to the same extent but the external costs to society from cars is almost as much again and the largest contribution o this cost is traffic congestion or as the author suggests “we are paying heavily as a society for the convenience of cars”. This provides yet another solid reason for congestion charges and increased parking rates.

Key Quotes:

“this article examines the internal and external costs of major modes in Sydney. In terms of total costs, trains are the cheapest, followed by buses, with cars the most expensive. However, the ‘out-of-pocket costs’ paid by motorists at the time of making a trip are less than one-sixth of total costs.”

“both private and public transport modes generate significant social costs…borne generally by society, “either in the form of subsidies (e.g. rail and bus subsidies from government, or hidden parking subsidies for car users) or in the form of externalities:

  • Congestion
  • Accidents (over and above insurance premiums)
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Air pollution
  • Roads and Traffic Authority subsidies (in excess of that met by registration charges)
  • Local government expenditure on roads
  • Space used for roads
  • Subsidised or free parking
  • Noise and other impacts”

“the most significant externality associated with cars – accounting for more than half of their total social cost – is traffic congestion. Greenhouse emissions from cars cost society less than 1c/passenger-km”

“There are at least three parking spaces for every vehicle, and drivers can park free for 99 per cent of their trips. The cost of parking space has grown faster than the cost of cars in many places. The cost of ‘free’ parking at work reduces the perceived cost of automobile commuting by 71 per cent.”

“motorists tend to perceive the cost of car travel as lower than it actually is – they take account of petrol and tolls (14c/passenger-km) but neglect standing costs like depreciation and interest(34c/passenger-km)”

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One Response

  1. I think the biggest cost of autombiles is the indirect costs we pay for the lifestyle they enable.

    The increased costs of servicing huge tracts of land with longer utility pipes and wires would not exist without the sprawl the private automobile is responsible for.

    Even ignoring tailpipe emissions, the health effects of making vehicle trips ‘necessary’ for every errand are taking a toll in lack of fitness and obesity. The movie WALL-E was on CBC couple of days ago just before they started their series on our health (probably not by coincidence). It ‘humourously’ shows humans evolving into whale-like creatures that require robotic help to put us back in our chaise-lounge mobility devices when we fall out.

    Even the social costs are evident. Ever heard of ‘pedestrian rage?’

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