Sustainable Transport Saves New Yorkers $19 Billion Per Year

New York City residents save at least $19 billion each year by driving less than other Americans, according to a new report from the non-profit CEOs for Cities. "New York City’s Green Dividend" [PDF] makes the case that investing in transit, walking, and cycling isn’t just better for the environment, it’s great for our wallets and essential for the local economy. 

CEOs_for_Cities.pngGraphic: CEOs for Cities.

As Pete Donohue reported in the Daily News, the report also shows how New York City simply doesn’t have the space for car-dependency. To match the car-ownership rates of the average American urban area — not even the worst of the worst — New York would require room for 4.5 million more cars. If each car was given only one very small parking space — and cars demand more than one parking space each — we would have to construct 25 square miles of new parking. That’s the size of Manhattan. 

CEOs for Cities is broadcasting the benefits of sustainable transportation to public and private sector executives in order to bring the message to a new audience. "Janette [Sadik-Khan]’s office has made large strides in a quick amount of time, but congestion pricing didn’t get through the state and there are other initiatives they’re now pushing," said Julia Klaiber, the director of external affairs for CEOs for Cities. "Getting the economic development folks behind these policy arguments" would greatly strengthen the green transportation coalition, she added. That would certainly help in New York City, where the economic development corporation is a leading promoter of car-centric growth and our state representatives block transit improvements that pay for themselves. 

After CEOs for Cities produced similar reports for Portland and Chicago, Sadik-Khan requested one for New York, said Carol Coletta, the organization’s president. Both Sadik-Khan and Mayor Bloomberg "intend to use it," she added.

At CEOs for Cities’ national conference yesterday, the NYCDOT commissioner told the crowd that the $19 billion in annual savings are a reminder of why we need to keep up our investment in non-automotive modes of transportation. 

The $19 billion number is a quick, conservative estimate that almost surely understates the savings New Yorkers reap by not driving. The study estimates that, per capita, New Yorkers drive nine miles per day. It then multiplies that figure by the national average cost of operating a vehicle, 40 cents per mile. Compare that total — how much New Yorkers spend on driving, per capita — to the national average, and you get $19 billion in savings.

Here’s why that’s a conservative estimate. The study calculated average VMT rates in New York City by distributing the average daily distance driven in the entire metropolitan region according to the city’s vehicle ownership rates. If New York City car owners drive less often than their Suffolk County counterparts, or drive shorter distances when they do — both reasonable assumptions — then nine miles per day overshoots the mark. Moreover, the cost of driving is almost certainly higher in New York than it is nationally, due to elevated costs for parking, insurance, and gasoline. In other words, it’s likely that New Yorkers save much more than $19 billion.

Whatever the number may be, New York’s transportation choices make living here more affordable and provide a boon to the local economy. As the report notes, spending on cars and gas ends up in Detroit or Dallas; the money saved gets reinvested in Dumbo or Ditmas Park. In Coletta’s words, "continued investment in alternative transportation makes great economic sense for the city of New York."

  • This is the answer I give when people ask me how I afford to live in New York City. In fact, have been able to other great cities precisely because I don’t own a car.

  • east sider

    This study looks pretty one-sided. Sure, we save lots of money on local transportation by not owning cars, but the same infrastructural features of NYC that make non-car-ownership desirable/feasible also make some other things more expensive for us. Two examples off the top of my head would be intercity travel (gotta rent a car, take Amtrak, etc., which is especially expensive for a family with kids) and groceries (even if you don’t pay to have them delivered to your home, you pay more at the store because it costs distributors more to get them there than in sprawlville).

    No doubt the study is right that we save money on balance by not owning cars, but omitting the economic downsides limits its credibility.

  • This just in: Paterson, Silver, and whatsisname are now looking for ways to reduce appropriations for NYC by $19 billion per year.

  • Bolwerk

    This study looks pretty one-sided. Sure, we save lots of money on local transportation by not owning cars, but the same infrastructural features of NYC that make non-car-ownership desirable/feasible also make some other things more expensive for us. Two examples off the top of my head would be intercity travel (gotta rent a car, take Amtrak, etc., which is especially expensive for a family with kids)

    You think renting a car when you need it is cheaper than owning one for the rare times you travel intercity? Same for Amtrak?

    and groceries (even if you don’t pay to have them delivered to your home, you pay more at the store because it costs distributors more to get them there than in sprawlville).

    If that’s true, it’s an accident of planning. Of course, under the current system, every non-driver is partly subsidizing drivers by paying higher costs for such goods. With a less-clogged street network, such goods could be delivered without burning so much fuel and wasting so much time sitting in traffic (=hourly wages for the delivery crew).

    We could probably save billions more with smarter traffic patterns that would speed up deliveries. Don’t forget: a medium-sized truck burns much more fuel than a private automobile.

  • East sider: the main tradeoff is between transportation and housing costs. Add the two together, and Greater New York ranks in the middle among US metro areas. But in fact this middle rating is an average of city and suburbs. Despite the stereotype, New York is actually cheaper than its suburbs. The housing costs are about the same, but transportation costs are much lower.

    Groceries are pretty expensive in New York, but it has nothing to do with cars versus transit. It has more to do with the fact that the Hudson is a major choke point, especially for freight rail, which is the cheapest way of moving goods. When everything has to be trucked over the bridges from Jersey, groceries get more expensive. Transit has nothing to do with it. If anything, it removes passenger cars from the road, saving space for trucks; according to the Texas Transportation Institute, public transit is saving $7 billion a year in reduced congestion in Greater New York.

  • J. Mork

    You think renting a car when you need it is cheaper than owning one for the rare times you travel intercity?

    I do. (Is that what you meant to say?)

  • J:Lai

    J. Mork – you should re-examine your information.

    You would have be renting a car very frequently for the cost of your rentals to reach the expense of owning a vehicle (insurance, registration, parking, and the payments to own or lease the vehicle.)

    Even if you make intercity trips by car every week, it’s not clear cut that owning a car costs less.

  • J. Mork

    Right — that’s why I was agreeing with the notion that “renting a car is cheaper”.

  • Robo

    It’s telling that many real estate companies are posting the Walkscore.com ratings on ads for dwellings, and that having a high walk score makes real estate more desirable, ergo, more expensive.

    Even though part of all of savings you reap by not owning and maintaining a car may be eaten up by higher mortgages and rents, I feel it’s impossible to put a price on the convenience and freedom to walk, bike, and take transit to most services, and the proximity of great cultural events and the diversity found in most urbanized environments.

  • Steve123

    Robo,
    I definitely agree with you, but have to say that pricing apartments and homes through walkscore is just insane (I know they do it, but I have to disagree with the real estate people, not you), I looked at some places I lived where I could walk everywhere and they recieve just a few points higher then the place where I lived for a year in the D.C. suburbs and could not walk anywhere except a 7-11. I think those walk scores are a little skewed or just plain wrong sometimes.

  • boston

    This sounds good and all, but this data is just based on vehicle ownership, so it doesn’t take into account the obscene number of taxis driving around 24/7. I wonder how their inefficient driving and idling affects everything. Just a thought.

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