Comment 99266

By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 27, 2014 at 17:01:56 in reply to Comment 99262

Considering all costs and benefits of driving, both direct and indirect, and trying to come out with a net balance is extremely difficult.

However, two independent Canadian studies have shown that the direct costs of building and maintaining roads are not covered by the collection of fees and taxes by directly or indirectly by drivers (even including development charges and traffic fines). The argument that is usually put forward is that "drivers already more than pay the costs of roads through gas tax, HST and license fees". This is demonstrably not true.

No one is proposing eliminating all motor vehicle traffic, and shifting all goods and passenger movement onto rail, water, and air. Obviously even in the most extreme case, the final few kilometres would require local road access!

What people are talking about is reducing our inefficient and harmful over reliance on driving, especially for the large number of trips made by individuals that can easily be replaced by walking, cycling or transit: those trips less than 5km.

There is also an attempt to make people aware of the huge cost of building and maintaining our road network, so we can try to use it more efficiently.

A market mechanism that passed on these costs to those benefitting should (according to free market theory) allow us to use the roads more efficiently. This would mean that these costs would be paid by the drivers (perhaps based on rates of congestion). If these drivers are transporting goods, they would then pass those costs onto their customers who would then pay their fair share. There aren't really many positive externalities in driving (unlike education or health care, for example). Even if I don't drive I still benefit directly from goods transport, and so should pay my share when I purchase a product.

Right now, we don't measure the huge cost of maintaining inefficient little used road infrastructure, like that named in the City report, but we get upset and outraged about spending relatively small amounts on improvements to encourage cycling and walk that would actually lower the costs of the road network and help us us it more efficiently.

We should be aiming to keep the beneficial aspects of driving (those which truly help the economy and enhance personal freedom), while minimizing the negative aspects. These negative aspects are usually underplayed, and include, at the worst extreme thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries each year in Canada. Pollution is also another significant negative externality.

Can we do more to rebalance our transportation network to maximimize the benefits while minimizing the costs? There is huge scope to do this.

One simple example is commuting: the 30% or so who live within 5km of their work could easily cycle or take transit without damaging the economy if the options were there. Would it really damage the economy to allow more commuters in the GTAH to take transit instead of driving by themselves?

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