Car subsidy larger than public transit subsidy

In 1993 the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) and the province of British Columbia released a report entitled "Transport 2021". One of the working papers for this report was titled "The Cost of Transporting People in the British Columbia Lower Mainland". The report can be obtained (at a cost of $5.50 Cdn each) from

GVRD Communications and Education
4330 Kingsway
Burnaby, B.C., Canada
V5H 4G8
Here is an excerpt of the report's conclusions.

Automobile transport was subsidised by $2.7 billion

Private, motorised vehicles (including motorcycles) were subsidised by about $2.7 billion in the Lower Mainland in 1991. As the full costs of auto transport are about $11.7 billion, the subsidy for cars is about 23%. ...

Total subsidy $ millions
Road construction 416
Road maintenance 144
Road land value 601
Protection services 45
Air, noise, and water pollution 515
Urban sprawl 282
Parking (commercial and government) 157
Commercial delays 97
Unaccounted accident costs 397
Total 2654

...if the costs of private motorised vehicles were fully internalised by the user, the saving in municipal taxes would be $331 per Lower Mainland resident per year. Similarly, the saving in provincial taxes would be $110 per resident per year and the saving in the general costs to society would be $867 per resident per year. In fact, all of these payers would likely save even more, because if users paid the full costs of their personal vehicle use and were aware of these costs, their use would most certainly decline. ...

Public transit is subsidised by $360 million

Public, motorised transport (all modes of transport provided by BC Transit) was subsidised by $360 million in 1991. This represents a subsidy of 37% given that total transit costs were $976 million.

A dissenting opinion

In February of 1993 the Ministry of Transportation and Highways published a document titled "Reviews of Transport 2021 Costs of Transporting People in the Lower Mainland", which estimates a much higher overall cost for "light vehicle" transport.

The Ministry report agrees with the Transport 2021 report that the total "road user + agency" cost is $10.7 billion. However, the "more realistic environmental costs" in the Ministry report differ:

In billions of 1991 dollars:

Cost Category Transport 2021 Ministry
Local Air Pollution 0.4 0.8
Global Warming 2.9
Noise 0.06 0.7
Barrier Effects ignored 0.5
Light Vehicle Total Cost 11.2 15.6
User Pay 9.0 9.0
User/Total Cost 0.80 0.58

In short: the Ministry of Transportation and Highways of the province of British Columbia says that automobile transportation in the Lower Mainland is actually subsidised by $6.6 billion per year; 42% of all automobile costs are subsidised.

The report (and many other related reports) is available free from the
Ministry of Transportation and Highways
Planning Services Branch
3B, 940 Blanshard Street
Victoria, B.C., Canada
V8W 3E6

Tel: (250) 387-5252
Fax: (250) 356-5156

James Strickland
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