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Home Features What costs society more: cars or trains?
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TAGS Public transport, Transport, Sustainable transport, Transportation planning, Traffic congestion, Garry Glazebrook
The private cost of driving is much higher than taking public transport, but negatives like traffic congestion and road casualties mean the social cost of driving is similar to the public subsidy for trains and buses.
Two of the key issues in urban policy are the external (social) costs imposed by cars and the level of public subsidy required to keep public transport running.
Knowledge about these two closely related issues — the former is the key justification for the latter — is so fundamental to urban policy that there should be dozens and dozens of research projects in Australia on this subject. Yet it seems there are hardly any.
I last looked at this topic three years ago (see Should cars be subsidised?). I noted then how astonishingly difficult it was to find reliable, objective and independent studies.
Unfortunately, the landscape doesn’t appear to have improved; like so much in urban studies, the sorts of issues that are directly relevant to policy-formulators and decision-makers seem to be neglected by researchers.
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Alan Davies is a principal at Pollard Davies Consulting working in transport and town planning. He blogs at The Urbanist.
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The NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) released a technical paper on the external benefits of public transport in December 2014 (http://www.ipart.nsw.gov.au/Home/Industries/Transport/Reviews/External_Benefits_of_Public_Transport/16_Dec_2014_-_Draft_Report/Review_of_external_benefits_of_public_transport_-_December_2014).
Although submissions to this paper are now closed, it will inform the approach to regulating fares for buses, trains and ferries in the Sydney area. An issues paper on these fares is expected by the end of May 2015; this will be followed by a public forum to consider external benefits, the fares issues paper, and how the two processes come together. Further updates will be posted on the IPART website.
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