Wednesday, 28 July 2010

True Costs

Public transport is always being hit by the government when they need to save money and now is no exception, but if we think of the true costs of this over the past century, all those alleged savings from not keeping railways or bus services going would surely be cancelled out if we calculated the what the alternatives have cost the country.
Let's just think of a few things that are attributable to increased car use over walking, cycling or using public transport:

It is hard to argue that our roads would be congested without lots of people each driving their own private vehicle. According to CBT, "the total cost of congestion is usually estimated at £20 billion a year".

Road accidents
Whilst some proportion of the accidents on our roads may involved buses, the vast majority are caused by cars. Again from CBT's 2008 report, "Last year there were 260,000 casualties on our roads, including 3,172 fatalities [1]. Using Government figures, the cost to the economy of these accidents was £12 billion."

According to the Transport Select Committee, "Government spending on roads has almost doubled in real terms since 1999–2000." In 2005/6 it was £6.6 billion and we know that with all the damage caused by the freezing weather this winter many councils are struggling to keep roads repaired and in decent condition. With fewer cars, we could scrap all new road-building schemes and ensure that those we have suit the needs of buses, cyclists and pedestrians better.

Carbon Emissions
Passenger cars emitted 76.8 million tonnes of CO2 (or 20.9 million tonnes of carbon) in 2007, according to DEFRA. Using Stern’s figure of £190 per tonne of carbon, the carbon caused by these cars cost nearly £4 billion.

The modern disease caused by sedentary lifestyles and over-eating costs the NHS £14 billion a year. It would be unfair to blame all of this on car use over more active forms of transport, but promoting walking and cycling could certainly help to fight it and reduce these costs.

In times when we are being told to look for ways of saving money, we should certainly not see spending money on public transport as anything other than a saving to the country as a whole when we see the costs of ever more cars on the road. It looks as if the distances that people are travelling have now peaked and are no longer going to keep on rising exponentially along with economic growth (although whether that will happen is also up for debate). To save money we need to invest in safer roads for cyclists and pedestrians and taking road space away from cars to make public transport work better. The benefits in savings and quality of life for all could be huge.

Let's start with showing how many cars we can take off the road for In Town Without My Car Day 2010.

Joe Peacock

[1] From Transport Statistics Great Britain 2007, published by the Department for Transport, November 2007
Section Eight, Transport Accidents and Casualties: Table 8.1


Anonymous said...

and yet you also criticised the soon-to-be high speed rail connection between birmingham and london. i suggest there is a political agenda behind your efforts which goes beyond purely environmental issue?

i am not anonymous, i am Tim Edwards playing devils advocate :)

Birmingham Friends of the Earth said...

If you compare the benefits of investing in high speed rail with those from other forms of public transport, the benefits to most people would be far higher from local rail and bus services.
That's why I feel HS2 is the wrong way of spending a large amount of money.