Causes of Roads
Large amounts of public money go towards supporting the car and subsidising private transport. For example in Vancouver, Canada, it is estimated that $27,000 is spent per year subsidising each car, primarily through road construction. With millions of cars in the city, this amounts to a lot of money.
The revenue generated from traffic cameras, parking fines and other traffic fines worldwide is billions of dollars. This is a massive income for governments and yet another disincentive for governments to move away from private transport to the public arena.
There is a belief by politicians and town planners that we can build our own way out of the traffic congestion problem by building more roads. It has been shown this does not work - If you build more roads, people buy more cars and so you have to build more roads - there is a never-ending cycle of building because the vacuum always gets filled. If we plan for more cars, the obvious result will be more cars and more car use. Rather than locking us into further car dependence, we need to be developing a positive vision for the city’s future transport needs.
Market forces driving change
Governments face a continuing uphill battle to pay for roads and infrastructure. Market forces will inevitably drive change, but social and environmental forces can also influence the direction of change.
Electronic road tolling will be introduced in more countries over the next few years. Other ways of increasing revenue and limiting traffic growth is to increase the number of metered parking spaces, licence fees and fines for motor offences.
The problem with increasing charges is they will hit the rich and poor equally and create greater inequality, as the poor become unable to afford to run a car. It does nothing to improve public transport.
The two issues, cars and urbanisation, are linked. More roads are constructed to keep up with the cars pouring out of the factories. Urban sprawl increases car demand, ownership and use by creating greater travelling distances between the home and places of activity such as work. Shopping centres are built far away from suburbs making car ownership a virtual necessity especially as they are surrounded by huge car-parks. As cities spread, the more uneconomical it becomes to expand public transport systems, and thus, citizens become increasingly dependent on cars.
The road lobby
The road lobby is a formidable force pressuring government for more money collected from taxes to be spent on roads. The road lobby consists of the oil industry, road building companies and motor vehicle interests including the car industry, car sales companies, car repair industry and car service industry such as American Automobile Association (AAA), Automobile Association (AA) and Royal Automobile Club (RAC).
In some countries even government departments, which are meant to be the servants of the government, lobby for more money to be expended on roads. For example in 1997 in Perth, Western Australia the Department of Main Roads WA successfully forced the State government to spend an extra A$1 billion to build more roads. This was a government roads department setting transport policy. A separate department within government dedicated to roads is counter-productive to a modern integrated transport system - the departments of roads and transport should be combined.
The number of cars that are being built is endless. Car makers are only constrained by the number which can be sold, but there are limits to the amount of roads which can be built.