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Is motorcycling expensive?

According to a recently published study for the European Commission, motorcycles are by far the most expensive way of road transport for our society. FEMA’s Dolf Willigers questions the research.

So if we ask ‘is motorcycling expensive?’, don’t look at your own motorcycle and your own wallet now. This is not about depreciation, maintenance and repair costs. This is about the cost to society.

What did they look at? – Some parties are looking at what they call the ‘real costs’, meaning the costs to society. These costs are called the external costs. And now I have some bad news for you: according to a recently published study from CE Delft for the European Commission, motorcycles are – per driven kilometre – by far the most expensive way of road transport for society. To calculate this, they looked at seven categories of costs: accidents, congestion, air pollution, climate, noise, well-to-tank and habitat damage. What exactly did they look at? What about the costs for parking, the space that is claimed by cars, the costs of wear to the road surface? In this article I will zoom in on these external costs of motorcycling, or what they are supposed to be according to CE Delft, compared to other means of road transport.

Why this study? – Let’s start with this study from CE Delft. The preliminary results were presented on 17 December 2018 at the conference ‘Multimodal Sustainable Transport: which role for the internalisation of external costs?’. This report will be the base for later calculations of tolls and taxes. The final report was published early June, but from the presentation of the preliminary results other stakeholders use the figures to attack motorcycling. What exactly was investigated? As said, the report identifies 7 categories of costs: accidents, congestion, air pollution, climate, noise, well-to-tank and habitat damage. The high costs per kilometre for motorcycles were caused mainly by two items: accidents and noise.

Accidents & costs – The costs for accidents with motorcycles are three times as high as those for cars. This is caused by the fact that many more motorcyclists are injured or even killed in road accidents than car drivers. The researches use the so-called allocation method, because that is the easiest way to allocate costs: you are injured, so we allocate the costs to you and don’t bother to find out how or by who these costs are inflicted. But hey, according to studies like MAIDS, ROSPA, HURT et cetera in the majority of the accidents the motorcyclist is not at fault. So why should the rider bear the costs and not the car drivers that kill or hurt other road users? Not only motorcyclists are afflicted by car-, bus- and lorry drivers, also pedestrians and cyclists. Who bears these costs? In the Netherlands for example, more cyclists than car drivers are killed in road accidents, but you will not see them back in this externalization of costs. Also, in the Netherlands in 2018. 33.2% of the casualties were in crashes with cars and vans, 13.8% were in crashes with trucks or busses. Accidents with trucks causes large, long-term traffic jams, even road closures for a long part of the day and therefore huge costs for society. We don’t see this in the calculations. This allocation of costs to the victims is not a good idea, easy as it may be.

FEMA’s Dolf Willigers: ‘The fact that costs are allocated to victims instead of the perpetrators is strange and wrong in our view.’

Noise & costs – Then the other cause of high costs for motorcycling: the noise. According to a study by CE Delft of 2011 (External Costs of Transport in Europe), the costs per vehicle-kilometre for motorcycles and mopeds would be 8.47 times as high as for cars. We tried to find out where that came by, but although there are many references to other reports, it is not clear where the tables are based on. Nevertheless, some studies are mentioned quite often: a study by CE Delft from 2004 (The price of transport), a study by INFRAS/IWW from 2004 (External costs of transport: update study) and another study by CE Delft and other organizations from 2008 (Handbook on estimation of external costs in the transport sector Internalisation Measures and Policies for All external Cost of Transport (IMPACT)). In this latest report we find om page 68 a table with weighing factors for different vehicle classes. Passenger cars on petrol are taken as base and other vehicles are related to the cars. The weight factor of motorcycles compared to cars is according to this table 13.2 that of cars on urban roads and 4.2 of that of cars on other roads. Source: a study of CE Delft from 2004 (Marginal costs of Infrastructure use – towards a simplified approach). Here we find the same table with as sources reports from INFRAS/IWW from 1995 and from VROM from 2003. However, the figures for motorcycles and mopeds are ‘based on our own expert guess’. This same table we find on page 45 of the other CE Delft study from 2004, ‘The price of transport’, with the same sources, only here they didn’t bother to mention that the factors for motorcycles and mopeds are their own fantasy. Finally, we look at the third report, the study by INFRAS/IWW from 2004 (External costs of transport: update study). Here we find some tables with costs allocations per vehicle in total and per person/weight per kilometre. Again, the motorcycle scores on the table on page 12 about three times as high as the car (but only half as high as large goods vehicles) and again the sources are not very clear. As remark is mentioned “The modal differences in noise costs are directly related to the national noise exposure databases used and thus might be subject to different ways of noise exposure measurement”.

Conclusions – The figures about accident costs can be right or not, it is something we cannot check, and we will not challenge them as such. However, the fact that costs are allocated to victims instead of the perpetrators is strange and wrong in our view, the fact that motorcyclists ‘choose’ this way of transportation doesn’t matter. Cyclists and pedestrians also choose to cycle or walk but are not allocated any costs. This is an inconsistency we cannot accept. The figures about noise prove to be made up by the author of the report. He refers to other reports, which were written by himself and others of his own organisation and in the end the source of the figures is ‘our own expert guess’. The European institutions are supposed to base their policy in these reports. The least you might expect is that this kind of reports are factual correct and not based on ‘expert guesses’.

Written by Dolf Willigers


By the way, CE Delft was also responsible for a study from 2016, paid for by FIA region 1, where they calculated that owners of cars and especially motorcycles pay far more on taxes and charges than they get back

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