May 11th 2010

What We Don't Pay for at the Pump
Understanding the External Costs of Driving
³Imagine houses without driveways, It¶s easy if you try. No need for pavement in our yards, And still the freedom to drive.´ -Jimmy the Intern When people think about the costs of driving, often what comes to mind are the personal monetary costs, like filling up the tank or replacing the brakes. What we sometimes forget to consider are the external costs. External costs are the tangible and intangible effects of driving, such as air pollution, environmental degradation, loss of green space, negative health effects, oil dependency, and social inequity--these are the things that are not so easily reflected in what we actually pay to drive but are a burden to society nevertheless. For each dollar a user spends operating a vehicle, it is estimated that an average of $2.55 worth of external costs are incurred related to congestion, crashes, parking and environmental degradation. This article explores some of these costs in hopes of sharing new information and increasing awareness about the broader impact of our personal transportation choices. Land use for cars is a substantial cost to society that is easily overlooked. For the most part, our towns and cities are primarily designed to prioritize personal automobiles. The infrastructure of roads and bridges that is required to accommodate all of these cars and trucks creates a major economic burden. On average, automobile user payments (tolls, registration fees, etc.) cover only 60% of this infrastructure. That means the other 40% of costs are passed on to taxpayers, whether or not they drive. In this year alone, the Burlington Department of Public Works plans to spend $3.2 million on reconstructing our local roads. On the one hand, these roads already exist and need to be maintained and repaired. On the other, the amount of funding available to support more diverse and efficient transportation modes is diminished. Another costly product of an automobile-oriented society is parking. There are at least three parking spaces for each of the more than 230 million (gulp) cars in the U.S. Valuable land in cities and towns are being paved over at the behest of automobiles. If there wasn¶t such a high demand for parking, then land in commercial districts could be developed and used for much more beneficial purposes, such as housing and commercial space. However, parking is necessary when the only means of accessing an area is by car. Parking is expensive to build. The cost to construct a single parking spot in Burlington, for example, can range from $20,000 to $25,000, and even up to $40,000. Additionally, around 10% of typical building development costs are attributed to parking. These costs reveal the true story of the ³free parking´ we encounter in commercial districts. Free parking is used by 95% of commuters who drive, thus prompting the question: who really pays for it? Although the costs are borne by businesses and government, it

Being a conscious consumer surely extends into the realm of transportation. the lake is our source of drinking water. which stem from an under-priced transportation system that does not reflect all of the external costs associated with it. if we want people to drive less we need to create a built environment that allows people to live with fewer cars without missing out on opportunities to work. an often-ignored. Motor vehicles are the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants and contribute to 65% of ozone forming pollutants in Vermont. Such burdens are the outcomes of excessive roadways and pavement. Nearly 200. The public experiences the direct effects and pays the costs for the pollution in Lake Champlain. our general preference is to maximize our investment and drive. these toxic emissions pose a serious threat to our health.000 children and elderly are frequently exposed to unhealthy levels of smog. Roadways and parking lots amount to large areas of impervious surfaces. carrying with it all the sediments. as there is not always enough time in the day to get the necessary half hour of moderate exercise recommended by health professionals. and driving less accomplishes just that. Even at low levels.is the customers and taxpayers paying the ultimate price. cars are convenient. For one. bacterial contamination. vehicle ownership deters individuals from alternative and active modes of transportation. Also. . but it is undeniable that they are costly and they are not appropriately accounted for in the current price we pay to drive. which create an additional environmental issue: storm water. socialize. in general. and other materials washed from the streets. Of course. and suspended sediments that block out vital sunlight. nonfinancial cost of driving and vehicle-ownership is the lost opportunity to pursue more healthy and active modes of transportation. Beach closures due to contamination have economic implications and inconvenience the public on nice summer days. trash. However. And we need to provide alternatives. could be vastly improved if we chose more active modes of transportation such as walking or cycling. The various substances drained into the lake can result in algal blooms. Public health. Air pollution levels from cars are fluctuating and their effects on health is difficult to quantify. The more transportation options we have. Storm water management requires expensive infrastructure to drain the local rainfall into Lake Champlain. For example. and higher levels of toxics and contaminants results in increased water-treatment costs. Driving has many substantial costs that are not considered because they are borne indirectly. Active transportation is one of the most practical and effective ways to promote public fitness. because we feel so financially invested in our vehicles. or meet everyday needs. Thus. The environmental and health effects of driving impose the most serious external costs on society. the more chances for people to drive less.

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