Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for November 25th, 2009

Cost Comparisons of Transportation modes

with 21 comments

The following has been circulated to a number of email list serves. I am copying it here in its entirety and without further comment from me as this issue has been frequently raised here, and I am sure that my readers will find it useful.

Free download here:

This research has been improved by inclusion of a longer list of external costs associated with each mode. Pollution costs and the value of GHG reductions are not included in these externalities. They are things like cost of road construction and upkeep, and parking charges. The biggest change here is moving away from the average cost to park a car downtown to the average cost to park a car generally, which lets the cars look better cost wise. If our focus is narrowly on trips within and to center cities this would change back.

At any rate, the Prius does slightly better than the tram per mile in this work. Buses, skytrain, and light rail behind them.

Of significance, we also have a cost per trip. Given that cars make longer trips generally than do busses or trams, in this computation trams do far better than the prius. This to us is significant as its not the distance that matters to the traveler, its the destination. In areas where there is a synergy between landuses and mode, as is the case in “streetcar city” neighborhoods generally, trips tend to be, on average, and whatever the mode, much shorter.

Finally, as we state in the work, this is not a definitive set of answers to the question of what mode is “best”. There are too many variables, too many assumptions, and too much future uncertainty. At the same time we do believe that the work help clarify a set of issues that are quite muddy, and most often dealt with in a disintegrated way.

Professor Patrick M. Condon
University of British Columbia
James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments
2357 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC – V6T 1Z4
604 822 9291

Written by Stephen Rees

November 25, 2009 at 11:12 am