Thursday, June 2, 2011

How is your Driving Subsidized?

People like to point out how their taxes subsidize public transit, art, or anything that is not automobile related and that it is contributing to their high taxes.  However this is quite hypocritical, as automobiles have been heavily subsidized ever since the first rubber tires hit the road.  I would like to go over some of the ways that your societies subsidize automobiles. 

There are the more obvious and direct subsidies such as public investments in automobile infrastructure.  I am sure we have all heard of an infamously super overpriced interchanges being built in your town for 100 million bucks a pop.  The sad part is that they spend all of this money on these interchanges, and frequently you will find very little in the way for accommodations for transit, pedestrians and cyclists.  The city of Edmonton has allotted $150,000,000 for road infrastructure for the 2011 year.  Your typical road costs $400/m for a 4 lane road, with your typical block being 100 meters this means that the strip of road in front of your house cost $40,000.  You will have to repave this strip of road typically every 10 years, this is a cost of $4,000/year for a one block segment of roadway.  That is a pretty lousy return on your investment, especially since the majority of roads in Canada are free.  Most roads in Canada do not have a toll, this means that the costs of laying the asphalt are not recuperated.  To put this in perspective, there are 41,000 km of paved roads in Alberta. This means that every 10 years $16 Billion is being spent to repave all 41,000 km of roads in Alberta.

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Automobiles have to be parked somewhere when you go somewhere, so quite often parking is provided.  A surface parking stall runs for $15,000 and an underground stall for $25,000.  This is a pretty big investment just to allow a 2 tonne piece of machinery to sit there and get sweltering hot in the sun.  Parking is everywhere, just think about your local grocery store.  You probably most likely remember having to go through the large oversized parking lot in order to get to the actual store.  The fact is that these "big-box" stores seem to have an obscene amount of parking available, much more than is needed for the majority of the time.  Its most likely that this parking is free too, this means that your local businesses are subsidizing automobiles too, and quite heavily too when you consider a parking stall costs $15,000, not to mention the costs for cleaning and snow removal.  A typical parking lot of 50 stalls would cost $750,000, where as it would only cost $3,500 for bike racks enough for 50.  You local business could be investing this money by supporting the local economy, or simply making their business cooler but no they have to spend it on asphalt.

Automobiles are also subsidized whenever the snow needs to be plowed, and the roads sanded.  In 2008 Edmonton spent $15,000,000 on snow plowing, $11,000,000 on sanding, and $5,000,000 on snow storage.  This is a total of $31,000,000 being spent every winter to make your roads drivable. 

There is of course the matter of Automobile manufacturers in Eastern Canada being bailed out for $3.5 billion dollars because they did not understand that a business model of fuel heavy trucks and SUV's will not sell well these days anymore.  Not only that but, corporate greed wins again and Canadians will be on the hook for $1.7 Billion, as GM has decided not to pay back the full generous loans.  So Canadians will have to foot the bill for helping a corporation get back on its feet, feels good to help people out doesn't it.

There are of course some of the not so obvious ways that automobiles are being subsidized, the Oil Sands are being subsidized by the Canadian government by the tune of $2 Billion per year.  I will never understand why a companies that are making billions of dollars in profits, why they would require billions of dollars in help.  On top of all of this the Albertan government has been handing out millions of dollars to help the Oil Sands meet environmental standards which are required by law.

A not so obvious source of automobile subsidies happen everytime someone checks into their local hospital due to their lack of exercise.  You do not get exercise when you drive an automobile, and this lack of exercise leads to obesity, heart and cardiovascular problems, hip and bone problems, and breathing problems.  The number people leading these sedentary lifestyle is on the rise, and cars are a part of the problem.  With the rise of more hospital visits, you subsidize this through higher taxes and possibly your health.  Our health care systems are being overloaded with problems that could easily be fixed if everyone exercised more.  When you actually need to visit the hospital for something serious, you may find yourself waiting due to the other solvable problems. 

There are of course also the subsidies that you lend in the way of your climate warming.  The CO2 emissions and pollutants from automobiles are degrading your local and global environment, which leads to higher food prices, lower health and higher risks.

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