Transportation - Public Transit


The Cost of Car on Society
Lela Gary, Andrew Fraser
February 2006

What hope do we have to make sustainable changes in our infrastructure, let alone make a serious commitment to address climate change, considering that our province is heavily dependent on automobile industry for its economy? Hope to come to terms with our energy dependence, a serious threat to our social and economic structure, and the need for decisive and prompt action by both industry and government.

(A report released by the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation noted that Canada was far behind in its pledge to reach Kyoto accord targets. "Canada's energy policies, which include support for rapid expansion of highly greenhouse gas-intensive activities such as oil sands development, are sharply at odds with our climate policy," it said.
Ms. May, of the Sierra Club, said: "Using 1990 as the base year, Canada's emissions are now 24 percent higher, while the United States is up by 14 percent. The United States' performance is superior to Canada's, even though it is outside Kyoto", COP 11, Kyoto Protocol, Montreal 2005).

Why? Simply because car dependency has inflicted widespread damage on our health, society, economics and on our environment. Because the government's extensive investment on roads and automobile industry, when the car has been viewed as the most unsustainable mode of transportation, has been counterproductive and micromanaged.. The political argument on the benefit of employment generated by the automobile industry, does not incorporate the expenses this investment has created in all other sectors. These expenditures are hidden social costs for all taxpayers to pay while big businesses walk away with the profits. Worse still, because people do not adhere to catastrophes or social expenditures as a whole, unless they are personally affected financially as they disregard the financial burdens subsidized by the government and non-motor users.

BENEFIT ANALYSIS of Automobile Industry in Ontario:

  • 20% of Ontario's manufacturing output
  • 35% of Ontario's exports
  • 138,000 Ontarians employed directly. It has generated secondary employment from car-related services
  • $21 + billion (USD) in sales of auto parts alone
  • $4.5 billion worth of investment in Ontario Car and supporting activities account for 9% of Canada's GDP. (Government of Ontario)

COST ANALYSIS of Automobile Industry in Ontario:

(The industry made it clear that expansion and survival in Ontario will take place if sizable subsidies are offered by the government. Our government obliged.)

  • $500 million (Cdn) fund to Ontario Automotive Investment Strategy (OAIS)
  • $164 million in federal & provincial subsidies to Ford Motor Co.,
  • $ 450 million to General Motors.
  • Corporate Tax levies: 12.12% vs 36.12% tax rate to corporations. (Corporate taxes levied on automobile manufacturers in Ontario are 4% lower than in the United States, and considerably lower than in Japan and Europe.)
  • Tax incentives (fed & prov) to reduce real cost of a $100 research & development investment in the automotive sector to just $42. (The Ontario R&D tax incentive is the most generous in the world)
  • Tax incentives to Oil Industry
  • Protection Costs involved in oil shipment and motor vehicle services

Car-related costs for Ontario per year total about $ 8.3 billion: hidden car-related costs: $3.8 billion and government car-related costs: $ 4.6 billion, (David W. Crouse). The estimated cost of the car to Ontario is very high, over $ 8 billion per year, as David McRobert reported. And that does not include costs of global warming, stress due to traffic congestion, car-related court costs, car-related spending by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment or individual ownership costs.

EXTERNAL COSTS   (In addition to Tax and Oil Subsidies):

Our cities have been affected by the impacts of climate change, polluted air and water and loss of bio-diversity. Our deteriorated infrastructure and diminished quality of life that extensive road transport has imposed on individuals and society, are reflected in internal and external costs.

The greenhouse gas emissions from transportation is 34% which is equal to the industrial percentage; 77% of that is from road transportation ( Ponder Impact of Car, Air Pollution The majority of smog-induced illnesses are attributed to PM10 and ground level ozone. Air toxics like carbon monoxide are more prevalent in winter months, contrary to the popular belief that only the summer, humid weather generates smog.
Air pollution inside the car is much worse than outside pollution: benzene concentrations exceed by 4 times more than outside, and carbon-monoxide is 10 times higher than at the side of the road (In-Car Air Pollution, 2000, ICTA).

Illnesses attributed to air toxics are: asthma, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, migraine, stress, physical and mental fatigue.

Asthma rates for Canadian kids have jumped fourfold over the past 20 years, to a level where more than one in 10 have been diagnosed with the respiratory ailment, reported by the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC), a group created as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Globally, estimated deaths from urban outdoor air pollutants by the World Health Organization, is estimated to be 799,000. Emissions of greenhouse gases will increase 42% between 2000 and 2031 if we remain at status quo, (The Global Burden of Disease Due to Air Pollution)

(Ontario Medical Association, The Illness Costs of Air Pollution, 2005)

  2005 2015 2026
Premature Deaths 5,829 7,436 10,061
Hospital Admissions 16,807 20,067 24,587
Emergency Room Visits 59,696 71,548 87,963
Minor Illnesses 29,292,100 31,962,200 38,549,300

Lost Productivity, Healthcare Costs, Pain & Suffering, Loss of Life, Total:

                   2005 = $ 7,809,201,70
  Projected: 2015 = $ 9,846,522,700
                   2026 = $ 12,914,238,300

[Economic damages from air -pollution illness to the health care system, time lost from air-pollution illness, plus direct losses to employers and employees is over $ 1 billion in costs to the public.]

The impact of car has been direct and societal.


Social equity has been jeopardized by exclusion and discrimination. Approximately 20% of Canadian households do not own a car, 10% are low income and 10% are precluded from driving due to disability. Subsidization of the automobile benefits wealthy households as they own cars and drive more than poor households, who pay for the benefit of drivers through taxation (Todd Littman, Social inclusion as a Transport Planning Issue in Canada). Furthermore, firms advertise positions with the requirement of own transportation. Activities which are limited to motor vehicle transportation exclude non-drivers.

Accidents/fatalities have been considered to be the most significant social cost. The World Health Organization, reports that road safety is a Public Health issue; 1.2 million people are killed on roads every year and up to 50 million more are injured (WHO, Road Safety, 2004). Pedestrians and cyclists are particularly at risk; crashes are frequent and deaths and injuries are common. If current trends continue, the number of people killed and injured on the world's roads will rise by more than 60% between 2000 and 202O. One report estimates the global costs of road crashes is about $ 518billion US annually, (The global challenge of road traffic injuries).

In Central and Eastern Europe annual crash costs: $ 9.9 billion. Highly motorized countries: $453.3billion. (WHO, Global Burden of Disease).

In US people sustained 5.27 million nonfatal injuries that cost the public health-care services $31.7 billion. Annual U.S. costs for deaths, injuries and lost productivity: $ 200 billion. The cost of road injuries is almost 5% of GNP. [Assuming a car-free district of 12,000 people who drive 25%as many miles per year as average Americans, and incur 25% as many crash costs, the annual economic benefit for that district of avoided crash costs is: $ 6.1 million, CAFÉ CBA: Baseline Analysis 2000 to 2020]

In Canada over 3,000 drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists are victims every year. By contrast, between 1988-1997 only 3 people were killed while riding urban transit buses,
(Edmund P. Fowler). Car-crash deaths in Canada outnumber homicides by almost 5 to 1. Statistics show that 2,730 Canadians were killed in collisions in 2004, compared with 622 people slain in homicides during the same period, (Roadway carnage kills thousands, study finds).The cost of accidents in Canada was estimated to be $129.25 per year for every 1000 km traveled by car; $ 152.57 per 1000 km involving trucks, and only $ 4.40 per passenger per km traveled in commercial buses. The cost of non-severe injury is estimated to be $9,200 and for a severe injury $ 370,000 (Towards Estimating the Social and Environmental Costs of Transportation in Canada). In Ontario, the Greater Toronto Area and South West area, the cost of traffic accidents is estimated at some $3.8 billion in 2000, projected to increase to $6.3 billion per year by 2031, (Toronto-Related Region Futures Study: BAU, Neptis Foundation, 2002).

Congestion has imposed travel delays affecting individual and market costs. It threatens competitiveness and distribution of products. On a personal level the average family spends up to 20% of its income on owning and operating an automobile; this is further exacerbated by additional congestion costs, (An expensive Love Affair).
In US. total external costs total $ 558.7 billion to 1.69 trillion annually, which when added to the retail price of gasoline, it is a per gallon price: $ 5.60 to $ 15.14 (ICTA)
In Britain the cost of congestion is $14.6 billion (CDN) per year equivalent to 1% of GDP.
In Austria, including fuel costs, it is $ 9.03 billion (CDN) per year, equivalent to 3.53% of GDP, (Towards Estimating the Social and Environmental Costs of Transportation…)

Internal costs are: External costs are:
Urban peak 54% of total 46% of total transportation modes
Rural 76% 24% (The True Cost of Road Transport)

According to a recent report by the Economic Development Research Group of Boston, The Cost of Congestion to the Economy of the Portland Region, congestion will cost local economy $844 million per year by 2025 in productivity, personal and business transportation costs and market prices.

In Ontario traffic congestion will worsen the next decade as the population is expected to increase by 12 million people with immigration. Up to 5 million residents will settle in the suburban areas of the Greater Toronto Area and the South West region; if development continues at same pace, it will worsen traffic gridlock. The daily vehicle-km of automobile travel is estimated to grow by 64% between 2000 and 2031. At a conservative value, a driver's time at present is $ 10 per hour (Toronto-Related Region Futures Study, Neptis Foundation 2002).

Community/Safety has been jeopardized by the divisive and limited public space in our continuous effort to accommodate car traffic. Urban planning has developed into auto-transport planning. Pavement covers over 50% of most urban areas in the form of roads, parking, and limited choices in design of landscape. The alienating and barren suburbia and the urban car-clogged infrastructure have equally harming social impact on the community:

  1. the isolation and fragmentation of public interactions that contribute to lack of safety and social connection.
  2. the restriction of the public's rights to alternative modes of transportation, such as cycling and walking, in an expansive car-dominated urban planning. (See photos in Car-free Zones).


Pollution: Air, Water, Soil, Noise. The environmental costs imposed by pollution are both individual and public.
In Canada  in 2001 it was estimated that over 720 million tons of greenhouse gases were emitted from the transportation industry, into the atmosphere. 77% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the transportation sector is from road transport.
In US, according to a report on air pollution by the International Center for Technology Assessment, automobiles and other gasoline powered vehicles account for more than 21% of C02 emissions and over 17% of greenhouse gas emissions. Estimated cost of climate change due to gasoline cost externalities is $3.37 to $30.85 billion in 2003 dollars.
Noise pollution from road traffic is 66%, from air-craft 3%, and from railways 1% (The true cost of road transport). The external environmental costs of farmland noise and pollution for 30 hectares, is $20,000 per hectare, it totals to $300,000 that includes half of the indirect impact, (VTPI). Greenspace provides external benefits to air and water quality, agricultural production and wildlife habitat, that becomes a societal and economic cost when road expansion is developed in the area. This has become a vicious circle; pavement increases the intensity of flooding and water pollution, it reflects heat and increases demand for energy consumption which again generates air pollution and smog.

Urban Sprawl: Transportation, Road Infrastructure, Municipal Services Costs.
Suburbia is not inexpensive, in fact it is deluding to homebuyers and municipalities who continue to disregard the internal and external costs imposed by the sprawl.
Automobile travel requires 20 to 50 times more space than other modes of transport, which means that 66% to 80% of the land is devoted to roads and parking facilities in cities,
(Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis, VTPI).
In US cities, pavement covers over 50% of most urban areas in the form of roads, garages, driveways and parking,(Bicycle Transportation Alliance). Increased transportation costs range from 17% to 22% per household.
In the Greater Toronto Area and vicinity, highway capacity will increase by 40% over 2000 levels, which leads to 2.5% more vehicle-kms travelled and 1 to 2% higher emissions of nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and fuel consumption (TO-Related Futures Study, 2003, Neptis Foundation).

Land Use: Agricultural & Rural land; Greenspace; Development.
Negative land use development which creates urban sprawl has created adverse fiscal impacts as property taxes are insufficient to cover the costs of new infrastructure, services and environmental degradation.
Infrastructure costs of sprawl development are up to 25% higher than for a high-density.
Cost of providing roads is 25% higher.
Household transportation expenditure ranges from 17% to 22% increase.
Cost of providing utilities is 20% higher.
Total Household Annual Municipal Costs in Rural Sprawl density is $ 5,672 whereas in High Density is $ 3,576.

A US survey estimates that for every mile outside the urban centre, it costs the city $500 to develop the necessary infrastructure for that residence.


"Sustainability needs to become the measure for economic
achievement and public investment."
                      Clive Doucet*

The intent of this brief report is to inform and motivate the public to pressure government officials to divert investment toward sustainable and beneficial solutions.

All sectors of our lives have been affected negatively by the predominance of auto-transport. Published reports have pointed out that individual and public costs far exceed the employment benefit of the automobile industry. As well, the costs of subsidies and related services provided by the government to accommodate road transport, are far greater than the revenues from motor-vehicle users. Corporate welfare has not been distributed proportionately, in fact it has been exploitive.

The automobile industry in collaboration with oil industry have produced and sustained a mode of transportation based on profitability; the government in its political timidity and opportunism, has created car-dependency.

The government's failure to incorporate external costs to motor vehicle use and to invest in and subsidize sustainable modes of transportation, has extended, like a domino effect, the harms created by excessive motorization. At the Municipal level, the Mayor of Toronto articulates, at every opportunity, the importance of a beautiful city; but articulation has not progressed into action. This level of government has failed to make prudent use of our existing capacity and as a result Toronto has become a car-clogged, noisy and air polluted city with all the ramifications of an unsustainable infrastructure.

Although there have been debates on economics and the direction of policy, the fact remains that quality of life is not based solely on economics and marketing. Environmental degradation should be viewed as a challenge to:

  1. Create labour-intensive employment opportunities in all sectors. (Hybrid cars are a good solution according to some economists as they have 2 engines (one gasoline and one electric). But even though they offer improvement in fuel efficiency, they will offset the limited improved emissions by their sheer volume in addition to the continuation of road expansion and sprawl.)
  2. Divert investment in new technologies and create new growth sectors.
  3. Financial Services and Community Banking.
  4. Invest in green economics
  5. Support and subsidize local farmers, not corporate welfare, that will offer quality product at fair pricing without the extra cost of import and transport.
  6. Assign full cost-pricing to motor vehicle users and transfer revenues to intra and inter-city rail transport.
  7. Impose restrictions to driving and create a balance of alternative modes of transportation, such as cycling and walking.
  8. Introduce a bill into the Legislation and a by-law to the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto to curtail the barrage of car-advertising.
    1. Restrict advertising times/quota in all Media and content of message. (Car advertisements have conditioned the public, at very young age, to associate car-ownership with quality of life and absolute necessity.)
    2. Health and safety warnings should be mandatory. (The impact of the car is an important Public Health initiative, see: Ponder the impact of the car, Air Pollution, This initiative will give an impetus to health organizations, Canadian Cancer Society, Heart & Stroke Foundation, Lung Association, to discontinue the hypocritical fundraising of offering cars on their lotteries)

If we wish to have an efficient infrastructure, a cohesive community and a vibrant environment we must end the perpetual self-defeating norm of a car-dominated existence.

*Clive Doucet is a city councillor in Ottawa.