Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Why The Government Should Pay People to Walk or Ride a Bicycle

A few years ago at the first Lost River Road Race, a man in a pickup truck yelled toward me, "Roads aren't for bicycles!  Roads are for taxpaying cars!"

It got me thinking: what are the costs of bicycles compared to the costs of cars?  Yes, cars seem to raise more revenue for the government because, in Virginia, for instance, they are taxed, and some states levy a small gas tax.  There are also licensing and other fees associated with car ownership.

But these merely direct and obvious sources of state revenue.  They are only a small part of the total picture of car ownership.

What about state expenditure?

There are the obvious costs: cars require roads and they put a lot of wear and tear on them; cars require oil that is increasingly scarce; the environmental costs of global warming and loss of habitat.  Then there are the not-so-obvious costs: the effect of sending so much U.S. currency overseas; the health effect of an hour spent merely sitting in a vehicle; the funding of Arab extremism and the cost of wars and politics in the name of oil.

Here are some rough numbers for just how much our dependence on cars costs us.

 Oil Cost: > $5-13 Trillion
The Department of Energy estimates the cost of our oil dependency between 1970 and 2005 at between $5 and 13$ trillion dollars.  Keep in mind--this is only the cost our government has paid, not the actual purchase price or any of the private-sector costs.  Annually, our Federal government spends between $14 and $52 on petroleum subsidies alone. (source)
The costs of oil go well beyond the purchase price: they are environmental, political (e.g., our money funds radical salafi mosque building in Afghanistan), and I'll go so far as to say ethical (perhaps un-ethical is more apt).

Roads: $600 Billion

Drivers only pay for 32% of the costs of American roads; the other 50% comes from general taxpayer dollars (source).  Since 1947, the amount spent on roads in the U.S. exceeding revenue raised by gas taxes and other fees is well over $600 billion, and $34 billion 2008-2012. (source)

Jobs: 3 million jobs
Because we purchase so much oil from overseas, it means we run a massive trade deficit (oil is currently 44% of our entire trade deficit) (source).  If roughly $330 million leaves the US each year to pay for oil, that's roughly 3 million jobs lost, or "three million jobs that would be created if that money stayed home." (source)

Sending so much US currency overseas to pay for oil (in the hands of, mostly, Persian Gulf Arabs) causes several, mostly bad things for us--the jobs loss being just one of many (Paul Ryan, take note: oil dependency contributes far more to our national debt than do poor people needing food).

Health: somewhere in the trillions
The US is among the least healthy countries on earth, despite being among the wealthiest.  Cars are a large reason for this.  Europeans tend to smoke more, eat worse food, and work out less, but they walk and ride bicycles enough to burn off the difference. (source) This chart shows the direct correlation between health and walking/biking as transport.

The public costs of obesity and ill-health associated with daily car commutes are immense, probably well into the trillions (source).

I won't make a monetary claim about the environmental cost, since such estimations involve a lot of guesswork (how much would you pay if we could bring back the wildlife lost because of the Gulf oil spill?).  I'll simply suggest that the costs are immense, and not only harmful to the environment--they harm us.  Life in the suburbs is a life spent in a car--the costs of walled and gated life, in terms of human capital, on society are immense.

I didn't have a chance to relate all this to the West Virginian who told us cyclists roads belong to cars, but, of course, I didn't.  I wasn't out there commuting, in fact--I'd driven a car out there just to bike race.  Not the most efficient use of resources.

And this is something to keep in mind: the difference between using a bike instead of a car, and using a bike just to putz around.  Bike racing doesn't save the world; bike riding as a form a transportation does.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do we really want the Fed subsidizing the next inane purchase of some Fred's $13,000 bi-yearly wet dream?

Or the regulation and taxation of bicycle based transportation?

Also, I would be curious to see what the total percentage of bicycle purchases in the US are of bikes that are manufactured overseas and are then transported across the worlds oceans.