Social Costs of Transportation

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Many of the costs associated with driving have little to do with fuel use. Traffic congestion, lost productivity, air pollution, stress, damage to roads and other properties, accidents, and health costs are among many indirect costs attributed to driving (1). In 2002 alone, Americans lost over 3.5 billion hours and wasted 5.7 billion gallons of gasoline , because of traffic delays. Furthermore, during the same year there were over six million accidents, resulting in about 43,000 deaths. The loss of productivity due to traffic delay alone is estimated at around 62 billion dollars. If costs associated with stress and health effects were included, the cost of owning a car would be much higher (2).

These costs are borne by everyone. The solution suggested by car manufacturers, politicians, and policy makers has been to promote heavier and bigger cars, pack cars with more air pollution control devices, add lanes, build more roads and parking structures, and to move many industries and large corporations away from metropolitan areas and large population centers. The solution may actually be the exact opposite. For example, it may be wiser to discourage car ownership by providing a more efficient and cheaper public transportation system and, at the same time, making personal car ownership costlier and less convenient. This may require raising automobile sales taxes, insurance fees, and maintenance costs. The revenues could then fund development of comprehensive public transportation structures. Restricting driving is also an effective way to reduce congestion and improve air quality. Some countries have enacted laws to make certain parts of large metropolitan areas off limits to passenger cars. People are to leave their cars outside the restricted zones and take public transportation to downtowns and populated city centers. Police cars, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles are exempt. In another scenario, drivers have access to certain regions during certain hours or days, and only on an as-needed basis. For example, cars with license plates that end with an odd number can travel in a city only on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, or they have to pay an extra toll charge during rush-hours.

Office managers and business owners can encourage their employees to carpool or to use public transportation by providing free parking spaces to carpools or by paying for their bus or train fares. They may also help in paying part of the home mortgages of employees who live within a short distance of the place of employment. Some companies and organizations have successfully implemented flex-hours, allowing some employees to shift their work hours or even work part of their time at home. The local city government can participate in the effort by providing bikes to the general public that can be used free of charge in central districts where most government offices are. Architects and city planners can be especially effective in this effort by designing convenient shopping centers and large office buildings to satisfy multiple needs, thus reducing the need for frequent visits.


(1) Hawkens, Paul, Lovins, A, and Lovins, L. H., “Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution,” Rocky Mountain Institute, p. 41. 1999.

(2) Schrank, D., and Lomax, T., “The 2004 Urban Mobility Report,” Texas Transportation Institute, Texas A&M University, September 2004.

(3) Toossi Reza, "Energy and the Environment:Sources, technologies, and impacts", Verve Publishers, 2005

Further Reading

Tillman, D., Fuels of Opportunity: Characteristics and Uses In Combustion Systems, Academic Press, 2004.

Sorensen, K., Hydrogen and Fuel Cells: Emerging Technologies and Applications, Academic Press, 2005.

Dhameia, S., Electric Vehicle Battery Systems, Academic Press, 2001.

Hussain, I., Electric and Hybrid Vehicles: Design Fundamentals, CRC Press, LLC. 2003.

Jefferson, C.M., and Barnard, R. H., Hybrid Vehicle Propulsion, WIT Press, 2002.

Spelberg, D. The Hydrogen Energy Transition: Moving Toward the Post Petroleum Age in Transportation, Academic Press, 2004.

Fuel, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company, Fuel focuses on primary research work in the science and technology of fuel and energy fuel science.

Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company; this journal focuses on scholarly research on development, application, and implications in the fields of transportation, control systems, and telecommunications, among others.

Fuel Cells Bulletin, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company, Fuel Cells Bulletin is the leading source of technical and business news for the fuel cells sector.

International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company, Quarterly journal covering various aspects of hydrogen energy, including production, storage, transmission, and utilization, as well as economical and environmental aspects.

External Links

US Department of Transportation (

US Department of Energy (

US Environmental Protection Agency (

National Energy Renewable Laboratory Hybrid Electric &Fuel Cell Vehicles (

FreedomCar (