Car use taxes society

December 18th, 2012 by European Cyclists Federation

(click on report cover to go to report download page)

On average, every car in Europe produces external costs of the equivalent of €1,600 per year in noise, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and accidents not covered by liability insurance.

This figure comes from a study published in the paper “The true costs of automobility: External costs of cars” that was produced and presented to the European Parliament by Professor Udo Becker, of the Institute of Traffic Planning and Road Traffic, and Chair for Transportation Ecology at the Technische Universität Dresden.

Professor Udo Becker states that the basic principle of a market economy that a polluter pays is not applied.

“These costs of car use are charged to the whole society, to other regions and to future generations,” he said.

Professor Becker’s main findings include:

  • the overall sum of uncovered costs related to car use for the 27 Member States of the European Union amounts to €373 billion per year, which is equivalent to roughly 3% of the EU’s GDP or the GDP of Belgium.
  • On average, every EU citizen pays €750 of subsidies for car use per year.
  • The EU average for external costs is €0.13 per vehicle kilometre.
  • 41% of the external costs are due to accidents; 37 % to climate change; and 22 % for air pollution, noise and other detrimental effects.

The study did not take traffic congestion or the full health costs, due to physical inactivity, into account.

Traffic negotiating the Weighbridge roundabout in St Peter Port on 6 May 2011 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

The main economic benefit of bicycling is from the health dividend due to greater physical activity.

Using WHO’s Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) for Cycling, ECF calculates a health benefit of €108 to €118 billion in reduced mortality at current levels of cycling in the 27 Members States of the European Union.

Thirty-five percent of the population in the World Health Organisation (WHO) European region is insufficiently physically active. Door to door car journeys are a major reason for sedentary lifestyles.

The WHO warns that child obesity will become one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.

In efficient societies and market economies, “prices have to provide the right signals in order to increase efficiency and avoid irrational mobility choices,” the paper’s Executive Summary states.

About 50% of all car trips in Europe are less than five kilometres, which, in many instances, is a distance that could be covered by bicycle.

The European Cyclists’ Federation supports Professor Becker’s opinion that the external costs of motorized transport should be as completely and as quickly internalized as possible.

In conclusion the report states “the results of this study advocate that the European Union should embark as soon as possible on a process that estimates external costs regularly and develops a smooth integration path of these costs into transport prices.”


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