Monday, June 27, 2011

European Driver Stifling and and Transit Fares

This NY Times article titled "Europe Stifles Driver in Favor of Mass Transit and Walking" is getting a lot of attention around the transport blogs and communities today. The article is a nice overview of many cities' actions, and many cities in Europe certainly have a different approach to mobility than US cities. I'm glad that better parking regulations were mentioned as well as the constraints of the older built environment of the central cities. These are important pieces of the puzzle for a less auto-dominated city, lower emissions and safer streets.

However, the piece fails to talk about the cost of transit. The high cost of gas in Europe is mentioned. The article states that a gallon of gas costs over $8 per gallon, and I don't think the author means diesel which is more popular than gas. Diesel is cheaper than gas by 10-20% due to lower taxes. That said, high transit ridership, lower auto usage and more walking and cycling in Europe occur with higher transit fares than in the US. Here is one compilation of transit fares around the world, and here is another for subway fares only. Broadly speaking, the US model of low transit fares has not resulted in high levels of transit ridership but has eliminated a lot of potential revenue from transit operations. See tables of farebox recovery ratios from around the world here. High transit fares in Europe (and Asia) don't necessarily "stifle" transit ridership. Having a well-funded transit system is a critical aspect of achieving social, environmental and safety goals.

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One point unrelated to transit fares is that there is evidence that European metros are suburbanizing (or sprawling). Will anti-auto regulations inhibit or contribute to sprawl? That's a huge question and something to watch closely. Here is one piece by Wendell Cox about European sprawl. Cox responded to another piece by Michael Lewyn, and Lewyn was challenging Robert Bruegmann's idea that sprawl in inevitable.
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