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The International Yearbook of Environmental and Resource Economics 2003/2004

A Survey of Current Issues

Edited by Henk Folmer and Tom Tietenberg

This major annual publication provides a state-of-the-art survey of contemporary research on environmental and resource economics by some of the leading experts in the field.
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Chapter 5: Motor vehicles and the environment

Winston Harrington and Virginia McConnell


Winston Harrington and Virginia McConnell 1. INTRODUCTION One hundred years ago the new horseless carriage was hailed as a clean technology for urban transportation. And so it was, at least compared to the technology it eventually replaced, namely horses and horse-drawn carriages (Bettman, 1988). Since then, the growth in the number and use of motor vehicles, together with the ramifications of that growth, has been among the most conspicuous features of the modern industrial economy, as well as one of the most influential forces on the natural and built environment. It is easy to understand why motor vehicles are so popular: they bring rapid, reliable and convenient mobility on demand to those lucky enough to have access to them. And increasingly, even in some developing and transitional economies, the lucky ones are not just the élites. The automobile is truly a mass transportation medium, in precisely the same way radio or television is a mass communication medium. And yet, as one acute observer wrote a generation ago, ‘Today, everyone who values cities is disturbed by automobiles’ (Jacobs, 1961). Throughout the world motor vehicles are a major source of pollution, especially in urbanized areas, where most vehicles are found and where pollution from all sources is most severe. They cause congestion and accidents, although, compared with their predecessor technology, it is not clear that motor vehicles are any less safe. Certainly there are more traffic deaths today than a century ago, but there is vastly more traffic....

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