Friday, June 12, 2009

Chart of the Day

When it comes to trains, President Obama says Europe is the model. Ok, but how much does Europe depend on rail, as opposed to other modes of transport? Using 2003 data, the U.K.'s Commission for Integrated Transport's Are We There Yet? A Comparison of Transport in Europe (2007) answers:

source: CfIT study, Figure 3

Sounds like passenger cars are more convenient--even "over there." And mass-transportation emissions are not as green as advocates claim. And they're rarely profitable absent massive subsidies.

(via FuturePundit)


copithorne said...

Carl, I don't know that you have demonstrated that Spain's rail project is more subsidized than car travel.

With cars, the government builds and maintains the roads -- not different from government paying the capital costs for mass transit.

There may also be a question of whether access to oil is subsidized in this country both by military commitments to maintain the supply, subsidized leases, and by externalized environmental costs.

When I lived in Europe, I thought the trains were great. But thanks for the chart. That is new information for me.

OBloodyHell said...


1) what are the equivalent numbers for the US?

2) The key problem with mass transit isn't the subsidies, it's that, except for special instances involving very high densities (i.e., large universities, sporting events, and very dense cities -- the latter of which is widely applicable to much of Europe but very little to the USA, notably NYC, Boston, Chicago, and a few other places), mass transit doesn't pay in human time. In my small-to-midsize town, it takes about 15-20 minutes to get anywhere door-to-door (25-30 during rush hour). The bus (and we have a massively subsidized local system thanks to the university) the same trip takes typically 45 minutes to an hour. Double that difference for a round trip, and add in suitable inconveniences/waits for "combining" trips which does not exist for car usage. In terms of human time, mass transit is usually a massive downcheck, not an upcheck.

suek said...

Europe is significantly smaller in area than the US. It simply isn't a realistic comparison.

suek said...

By the way...I went to college for a year in Wash DC many many years ago. We used the street trolley frequently (this was a _long_ time ago - streets in downtown were safe at night even for young women alone). Why were they eliminated if they were so much better than cars?

Carl said...


I don't have those data. In general, European road travel subsidies tend to be low, reflecting the use of toll roads to recover a large share of transport/infrastructure costs directly from users. Notwithstanding that, the gas tax is far higher in Europe. And, confirming the New York Times article in the post, European rail transit is heavily subsidized. So the chart shows that even though users bear much of the costs of traveling by vehicle, and far less when by rail, Europeans still prefer cars.


I don't have those data either, though I agree that the differences in population density between Europe and the United States makes rail transit less efficient here. Especially when you consider GHG emissions. That's why suek is right.


As you probably know, they were eliminated because buses were far more efficient.

suek said...

No...I didn't know that. I'm not even sure I know it now!

Where would someone look for such a comparison? Why are we going back to electric powered in place of gas/diesel powered if the latter is more efficient? (The trolleys were electric powered - overhead lines)

Carl said...


I'm not sure where to find such data. I'd start with the American Public Transportation Association. Or the footnotes of this CATO paper.

But don't be misled by the myth of the "streetcar conspiracy" (sometimes called the "General Motors conspiracy"). That's an urban legend--and persuasively refuted.