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Tallying traffic's hidden costs.

Motorists frequently complain that they pay more than their fair share for the use of roads, bridges, and highways. But a new study indicates that drivers "are actually beneficiaries of immense subsidies" says energy economist Charles Komanoff, a New York City-based consultant and confirmed bicyclist.

For instance, New York State roadway expenditures in 1990 exceeded revenues collected from motorists by $1.9 billion. he reports. Prorating this and similar figures for New Jersey and Connecticut, he found that "direct fiscal subsidies to motorists amount to roughly $750 million a year in New York City proper and $850 million for the rest of the metropolitan region.| Workers and area firms pay the subsidies through various taxes on income, sales, and property.

Together with Brooklyn-based consultant Brian Ketcham, Komanoff also calculated motoring's hidden costs. Their analyses, again focusing on the New York metro area, suggest that the public at large pays almost half - $26 billion - of the estimated $55 billion in indirect costs attributable annually to motoring. Among the subsidies, they calculate, lurks the about $5.7 billion each that the public pays annually for accidents and for air pollution damage to health and property.

The researchers valued public land used by private cars at $4.9 billion annually and traffic noise in New York's metro area at $2.8 billion. The remaining $6.3 billion in public costs is paid for in congestion (time lost by bus passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists), vibration damage to various structures. increased military costs to keep foreign oil flowing, and climate change costs from burning fossil fuels.

This analysis indicates that indirect public subsidies to drivers total more than 30 times the direct government subsidies or an amount "equivalent to $3,000 taken forcibly and unawares every year out of the pockets of each man, woman, and child in the New York metropolitan area," Komanoff says.

National figures, he maintains, "are very similar to those for the New York area on a per capita basis" - although the public's share is greater in New York, where 56 percent of the city's households don't even possess a car. Komanoff and Ketcham recommend that policymakers shift more of driving's costs to motorists by phasing in new annual levies on vehicles perhaps $750 per car and $14,000 for each large truck. Such taxes would offer better equity. they argue, and provide an economic carrot for reducing both vehicles and travel.
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Title Annotation:study indicates that motorists receive indirect public subsidies
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 6, 1993
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