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The Social Costs of Driving in Vancouver, in 1 Chart

A new data tool shows society pays $9.20 for every dollar spent in a car.

Flickr/spclarke

Ballots are still rolling in for a Vancouver referendum on a plan to reduce traffic congestion 20 percent by improving car alternatives. Now, an interactive tool can help those residents that have not yet cast their vote understand all the costs and benefits associated with different modes of transport in the metro area.

The tool, created by data journalism initiative Moving Forward and transport engineer George Poulos, estimates both individual and social costs of different ways of getting around the city. One chart gleaned from their calculations summarizes these costs (below). It shows that driving is highly subsidized by society when you account for social costs such as air pollution, traffic congestion, and road safety:

This is how the creators explain the cost of driving in an accompanying blog post:

The tendency to underestimate [costs] is most striking when calculating the cost of driving. The amount we pay through taxes for direct costs like road infrastructure and indirect costs like pollution, accidents and noise is significant. But this becomes more poignant when compared to the broader costs associated with transit. Also, because busses carry far more people than automobiles, the impact per passenger of busses is much lower than of passenger vehicles.

When calculating, the tool assigns dollar value to these "broader costs" of driving and also factors in things like the cost of waiting for a bus and the benefit of exercise from walking. As Poulos says, via the blog post, people make these mental calculations every day when they decide to wait for the bus, or sit in traffic, or take a walk. "Although these costs are easy to overlook, that doesn’t make them any less real," he says.

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra
    Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.