Over the years, transit advocates have written tens of thousands of words on why America is so far behind on high-speed rail, has so much sprawl and pedestrian-hostile development, an obesity crisis, etc.

You could read all those words, or you could just look at The Economist‘s chart below.  This is one of those political science puzzles where the correct policy option is self-evident, but that solution is so unpopular that we construct crazy government schemes to try to achieve half as much at much higher cost.

Meanwhile in somewhat poorer countries like China and Indonesia, they’re actually directly subsidizing gasoline, so I suppose it could be worse.  Here in America, we at least have the decency to keep our subsidies nice and hidden.

Sorry the chart is measured in “euro cents per litre”.  That’s what I get for reading commie European publications.

Click to see original

16 Replies to “Chart of the Day”

  1. As much as I didn’t like the “Cash for Clunkers” program, I’d love to see the Federal gas tax raised to pay for a new and improved “Cash for Clunkers” program. It was wildly popular so raising that tax may be politically feasible. Many conservatives would love to ditch CAFE standards in favor of higher gas taxes. Many on the left would love to see cars traded in for transit passes & bikes.

    The new program would include the option to trade in virtually any car, including *really* old cars, for a higher mileage vehicle. It would also include an option to trade in for a bike, transit passes or tickets, or even cash if you don’t need a car. The argument should be made that money spent on other modes of transport is just as good for the economy, if not more so, than money spent on cars. (I’m biased, of course. That money pays my wages, not some auto worker in Michigan, Japan, or Mexico) It’s definitely better for our trade deficit/balance of payments since it helps cut back on oil consumption.

    Oh… and the Economist is *hardly* commie. The Stranger on the other hand…

  2. Nice chart, thanks.

    Turkey is revealed as having the biggest jump up in gasoline price from 1998 to 2009. A little Googling reveals the price of gasoline jumps around quite a bit in Turkey, and that demand for oil is strong and rising.

    Passenger car travel has moved as follows over time, using statistics published in the 2009 Statistical Pocketbook “EU energy and transport in figures” available on the web.

    In the 27 European Union countries, year 1995: 3863 million passenger kilometers; year 2007: 4688 mil pkmt, a growth of 21%

    In Turkey, not an EU country, year 1995: 52.65 mil pkmt; year 2007: 114.0 mil pkmt, growth of 117%

    Conclusion: car usage growth in Turkey has not been choked down by rising gasoline prices in comparison to Europe generally.

    I remember when I visited Izmir Turkey in 1972, the place seemed quite car crazy. Big old American cars from the 50s were common in those days.

    1. Izmir is also quite dense – Manhattan probably would look car crazy as well, despite the fairly low rate of car ownership. I wonder what it looks like in Turkish cities?

    2. John,

      Turkey is also a rapidly growing middle-income country, where you’d expect car ownership to be growing rapidly. Similarly, even if China slapped on a significant gas tax you’d probably see consumption there grow pretty strongly.

    3. Wow. That jump in petrol tax in Turkey is pretty sweet. I’m impressed that the government was able to pass that.

      Perhaps not coincidentally, Turkey is funding a *lot* of passenger rail.

  3. The great thing about the “cash for clunkers” problem is that it rewards people for doing something we want. At least in this way it is liberal. The marginal impact of the subsidy declines as a person’s wealth increases. This makes the policy progressive.

    Gas taxes punish people for doing something we do not want. This makes the policy illiberal. The severity of the punishment increases as a person’s wealth and income declines. This makes the policy regressive.

    I would prefer to see something that rewards people for choosing transit: a state property tax deduction if you own residential property without a garage, for instance.

    1. Yes, but you still have to raise the revenue to pay for transit. Are you suggesting raising the property tax for everyone?

      1. I think raising property taxes just to fund light rail is a bad idea, but taking a chunk from an increased property tax because of light rail wouldn’t be a bad thing. We all know that when light rail moves through a neighborhood it makes the property within a mile or so of the line more valuable. The county should try to tap the additional taxes generated from that increase to pay for the line over time.


      2. Raising property taxes will hurt a lot of people already struggling to afford their homes. I would prefer a more progressive, liberal solution.

        I believe we only over-invested so heavily in road infrastructure because of hidden subsidies on building and maintaining roads. So why not let some of those expire and add incentives to build transit?

        For example, lower property taxes for anyone operating a transit station to $1 for some number of years. Give a gas tax deduction for private bus services, etc. Reduce payroll taxes for transit operators and maintenance crews.

        This could attract a lot of capital toward mass transit.

    2. “Gas taxes punish people for doing something we do not want. This makes the policy illiberal.”

      Um, well, I think it would be more illiberal if we punished people for doing something desirable or rewarded them for doing something undesirable….

      Gas taxes are “Pigovian” taxes and are considered top-notch in environmental economics, at least when they are used to pay for the externalities, the bad side-effects which the user doesn’t pay for, of gasoline use (which they currently aren’t always).

    1. Except that the “countries our ancestors fled from” had not had the dramatic improvements in social welfare and democracy that they have now and…

      …when they arrived, the U.S.A. had not yet been completely fucked over by Detroit and the Texas oilmen.

    2. So Sam, are you convinced that they way they do things here in the USA is the best way to do things, and in no case does another country do it better?

      And I really hope the US doesn’t become more like my mother’s native Vietnam.

  4. Does that take into account state gas taxes. We are at 56 cents in Washington which is about 40 euro cents. That puts us much higher up on the list.

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