Balancing car accessibility and good urban environment

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This paper has been produced as part of the research project “Optimal balance between access by private car and the environment in town and cities”. The background to the project is the increasing use of cars in towns and cities, which has been a major problem for town planners and politicians during the whole post-war period. The increasing use of private cars threatens the safety of other road users, for example pedestrians and cyclists. It is also related to a reduction in the number of people using public transport systems which, as a consequence, forces the operators to raise fares, run fewer routes, reduce frequencies and so on. There is no doubt that the increasing volume of motorised traffic has negative impacts on the environment in towns and cities. Important, but analytically difficult, values such as “beauty, comfort, and safety” are under constant pressure from the space-consuming private car in urban settings. The underlying objective for the entire research project is to investigate if the documented development in this area is in line with the public interest, or if there is an imbalance between the actual outcome and the inhabitants’ preferences.

The central issue concerns the balance between the benefits to an individual of car-access and the public benefit of a good urban environment. There is no functioning market where this balance can be effectively settled because “urban environment” is an example of a public good that can not be purchased in desired quantities on a traditional market. Problems of non-rivalry in consumption and free riders hamper the functioning of the market as an efficient mechanism for allocating scarce resources. The isolated behaviour of an individual, or a household, has a negligible impact on the total outcome, which in turn influences the behaviour in certain directions.

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