The cost to society and individuals is six times greater for cars than it is for bicycles, according to new research out of Sweden’s Lund University and the University of Queensland – the first time a price has been put on car use compared with cycling, according to the researchers.

Using Copenhagen as a case study, Stefan Gössling from Lund and Andy Choi from UQ investigated the cost–benefit analysis the city uses to determine whether new cycling infrastructure should be built.

The analysis, published in Ecological Economics, considers how much cars cost society and how they compare to bicycles in terms of air pollution, climate change, travel route, noise, road wear, health and congestion.

The study concluded that if the costs to private individuals and society were added together, the impact of the car was €0.50 ($AU0.70) a kilometre and for bicycles it was €0.08 (AU$0.11) a kilometre.

If only societal cost/benefits were considered, one kilometre by car cost €0.15 (AU$0.21), whereas society earned €0.16 (AU$0.22) for every kilometre cycled.

The main reason cycling incurred a small penalty when personal costs were factored in was due to cycling being a slower mode of transport, with time being the largest cycling-related cost.

“The cost–benefit analysis in Copenhagen shows that investments in cycling infrastructure and bike-friendly policies are economically sustainable and give high returns,” Professor Gössling said.

Copenhagen appeared to be the only example of a city where comparative, comprehensive, externality-focused CBA assessments were used to guide and implement policy, the researchers said.

“The case of Copenhagen… suggests that where CBA frameworks are used, the high cost of car driving in comparison to the cost of cycling becomes more obvious, a result that also needs to be seen in the light of the fact that many assumptions in the Copenhagen CBA appear to favour cars.”

For example, most bicycle accidents are attributable to cars, however the cost is born by bicycles in the CBA – the largest cost after time.

“Overall, there is evidence that economic advantages of cycling far outweigh car travel, and despite limitations, CBA can thus be an important tool to provide an economic justification for investments,” the researchers concluded.

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