What costs society more: cars or trains?

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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