Stephen Leahy interviewed me about transport subsidies and their effect on demand. He wound up writing this article for China Dialogue: US fossil fuel subsidies a brake on sustainable transport (which doesn’t cite me), so I will post the interview questions and my answers:
Sources report the US oil industry gets approx $20 billion in production subsidies annually. This keeps many high-cost operations like fracking profitable.1. Do these subsidies have an impact on mass transit use?
136,510,000,000 gallons per year, which is about $ 273,020,000,000 ($273B) per year at $2/gallon. So if your estimate of subsidy is right, that is about 10% of the price. The price of fuel varies that much on weekly basis.
2. How does such subsidies impair efforts to improve/expand mass transit systems?
3. How does low gas prices affect political priorities given to transit
In 2015 it was 10,609,605,000. According to APTA.
Which is a 0.1% increase. Over the same period, US population increased about 5%. (320M in 2015, 304.09 million in 2008) So if fuel prices were the same as 2008, one would expect transit ridership would have at least kept pace with population (say 5% higher). Obviously that would increase the political pressure for more transit service, but that’s a more than 100% increase the price of fuel gets you a 5% increase in ridership. A 10% increase in fuel prices (the magnitude of the subsidy) might get you a tenth of that increase (in the neighborhood of 0.5%). Of course there is no guarantee that eliminating the subsidy would increase the price of fuel by the same amount, since the price of fuel at the pump is determined by global market forces, and the US is one player among many, and not the low cost producer.
4. Any impacts on greening transit systems?
5. What are the main barriers to greater transit use and better transit systems?
6. Also if the US taxed gasoline as much as most European countries would the EV market take off?