Could car free transit grow economies?

Yes.

Car free transit, specifically buses, trains, bikes and your own feet are often described as methods to improve overall quality of life. It’s boasted that walkable cities will make us healthier and improve mental well being, while taking cars off the roads improves air quality. This post isn’t about fitness or air quality though, we’ll be looking at how implementing car free transit could grow economies.

As discussed before, other forms of transit are incredibly energy efficient when compared to cars. In fact even heavily loaded cars are easily undercut by rail. Buses are no exception, a typical transit bus gets around 30L/100KM at 80km/h. Given 6L/100KM (39 MPG) for a car and 1.5 passengers/car is typical, buses have over taken a fuel efficient car by the time they’re carrying 8 passengers. Even an ultra efficient 1L/100KM (think smart car) is out done by a bus with 45 people in it – hardly unusual for a innercity route.

1200px-Keiseibus-twinbus-20071013.jpg
Bus in Chiba, Japan. Credit: LinearCity via Wikimedia

So how can fuel efficiency grow the economy? Economies grow due to a variety of reasons, for example improvements in technology and education keep the entire world economy booming. However on the scale of a single country a key driver of growth can be money flows, countries running significant deficits (money leaving > money entering) loose capital over time, this would contract the economy if not counterbalanced by other forces. Likewise, an economy can grow faster if more money is entering than leaving, this can be achieved by growing in-flows from exports or investment (think China) but also by reducing out flows, such as imports.

Some economies heavily tax imports to encourage local industry and discourage loss of money through payments to foreign entities, this is rarely a good idea. In a world where we rely on a global economy a government could be starving its citizens,  literally. Yet, I believe that focused modal shifts away from import heavy activities could be more positive. So let’s pick something that relies on imports (or reduces exports), damages the environment, has negative health effects and isn’t a must for a strong economy. What about cars?

imports-exports
New Zealand trade – Statistics New Zealand – stats.govt.nz

Like many countries New Zealand is heavily dependent on cars for transportation. When comparing categories the single biggest deficit (ie incoming goods or services outnumbering outgoing goods or services) is in petroleum products. We probably can’t annihilate our dependency on fossil fuels just yet, but saving a significant portion of them could be done by implementing strong non fossil alternatives. For a country like New Zealand this could be a huge help to economic growth, a single dollar redirected back into the economy can change hands many times. Even for countries that have an export surplus of fossil fuels, growing this surplus could feed more money back into the country.

New Zealand Statistics – Imports Exports

A Fuel Consumption Function for Bus Transit Operations and Energy Contingency Planning

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