As cities and regions around the world begin to shape their transport systems for a socially distanced future, the hidden costs that cars impose on society should not be forgotten. Now is the time to envision car less streets, towns, villages and cities.

I am minded to share the following quotation, which is attributed to Rudiger Dornbusch:

“In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”

After years of campaigners pointing to cycling success stories in the Netherlands and Denmark in the hope that their local area could have space for cycling, lots of people are waking up to find that their politicians have finally answered this call.

Interestingly in these areas which are often held up as having the apex of cycling infrastructure, their local politicians are calling for even higher levels of cycling, to facilitate socially distanced mobility.

In all this, we should not forget the hidden costs that cars impose on society. Car less cities and rural areas are a good idea with or without a highly infectious virus.

The figures that I will go through can be found here.

In this European Commission study, the following externalities were taken into account: accidents, air pollution, climate change, noise, congestion, well-to-tank emissions, and habitat damage.


The total external costs of transport in the EU are estimated at €987 billion.

These are significant costs and it is important to look at the differences between transport modes.


As we can see in the table, passenger cars is the largest contributor to external costs, making up 57% of the total costs, at €565 billion.

This is a significant burden placed upon society, so it is only right that this is called into question as to whether this is a desirable long-term solution.

What you need to know

This article looked into the hidden costs of cars.

It was based on a 2019 European Commission report that showed that transport is responsible for almost €1 Trillion of external costs on society, with passenger cars making up the vast majority of that number.

It is only fair that these hidden costs are taken into account as cities and regions look to remodel their transport systems to facilitate socially distanced mobility.

Whilst the study is purely academic, the costs imposed on society by the excessive and unnecessary use of passenger cars are real.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to communicate the hidden costs of cars?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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