Why we drive: Cars keep getting cheaper to drive while transit keeps going up in price

gardiner expressway
CC BY 2.0 Wikipedia/ Gardiner expressway in Toronto

In the Independent, Jon Stone describes what’s happening in the UK: Driving a car is getting cheaper and cheaper while trains and buses just keep getting more expensive

Despite regular warnings by car lobbyists of a ‘war on the motorist’, between 1980 and 2014 the cost of motoring fell by 14 per cent – but in the same period, bus fares increased by 58 per cent. Rail travel has also become dramatically more expensive, with comparable ticket prices rising 63 per cent.

And this is in the UK, where there actually has been massive investment in transit and high speed rail. I wondered how this would compare to North America, or in particular, the City of Toronto where I live. And in fact, the situation is far worse.

Since 2010 the price of a Metropass, the monthly transit pass, has increased from $121 to $141.50, an increase of 17 percent. Meanwhile, the price of a licence plate renewal has dropped by a net of about $34, after the cancellation of the $60 tax on plate renewal by Rob Ford the day he took office. During the same period the price of gas has dropped From $1.35 per litre to $0.96 per litre. It’s no wonder that people drive instead of trying to cram into the King Streetcar that can’t move because of the cars in front of it, or the overcrowded subway.

streetsblog graphic© Streetsblog

South of the border, in the United States, people are driving farther in bigger vehicles. According to Charles Komanoff in Streetsblog, The New Climate Villain Is Cheap Oil.

After years of steady gains, average gas mileage of new vehicles purchased in the U.S. fell last year by nearly a mile per gallon, according to data from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. Through September, total miles driven in the U.S. were up 3.5 percent — the biggest rise in decades. Cheap gas is driving both trends. The average price of gas sold in the U.S. through October 2015 was 25 percent below the 2014 price — the steepest drop in at least 70 years. Americans responded precisely as predicted in Econ 101: by driving more and dumping sedans for SUV’s and pickups.

Komanoff notes that these increases in trip length and fuel consumption will undo all of the reductions in emissions of the last ten years. That it is the equivalent of building 100 additional coal fired power plants in the USA alone. He calls for a carbon tax, or a surcharge on gasoline prices. “Cheap oil will make a mockery of just about every scenario to move the U.S. and other countries decisively off carbon fuels.”


In the UK, the USA or back in my home in Toronto, the problem is the same: people are paying less and driving more, at great cost to the environment, our carbon footprint, and our infrastructure.

Meanwhile, back in Toronto, Mayor Tory is running around, thinking of selling utilities and increasing user fees, anything to cover the cost of fixing those highways and maintaining services without raising property taxes. Perhaps he should consider a gas tax, or even, dare I say, a vehicle tax like the one Rob Ford killed. There’s no good reason to have drivers paying 25 percent less to drive and transit users paying 17 percent more; straight logic and fairness demand it.

Tags: Energy | Energy Efficiency | Toronto

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