Excerpt from Curb 5.3. “Are We There Yet?!”:
The upcoming transportation referendum in Metro Vancouver asks an ostensibly simple question: does expanding transit services merit the cost? Governments continue to successfully evade this question partly due to a serious gap within Canadian transportation planning research – namely, the study of comprehensive transportation costs.
It is self-evident that transportation has a number of different impacts on society, the environment, the economy, and on individuals. The study of comprehensive transportation costs is intended to capture these impacts in ways that extend beyond the typical spectrum of metrics currently used to assess transportation “costs and benefits.” These might include for example monetizing congestion costs, pollution impacts, climate change effects, health impacts, infrastructure costs, personal operating costs, etc.
The study of comprehensive costs calculates all of the costs of various modes of transportation in order to produce workable methods and metrics for practitioners to use in everyday practice. This body of research can be then applied towards policy-making and the evaluation of transportation investments; in other words, producing the inputs behind research-based policy. Several European countries are actively using these metrics today, including Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the UK. In these countries, the study of comprehensive transportation costs has been an ongoing endeavor for several decades, and constitutes and integral part of both private and government transportation practices.
Here in Canada, the absence of these metrics in our professional practice these findings suggest that transit operations (among other alternatives) deliver savings well into the billions each year…
George Poulos is a transportation engineer-in-training as well as a recent Masters graduate of the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) at UBC.
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