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‘Hidden’ costs of transport total CHF14 billion

Cars in Zurich. From the point of view of the environment and climate alone, transport caused an estimated CHF6 billion of damage in 2019 © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Negative costs on third parties caused by transport in Switzerland amounted to CHF14 billion ($14.7 billion) in 2019. The damage mainly affects the environment and climate, but also health.

The Federal Office for Spatial Development said in a reportExternal link on Tuesday that traffic in Switzerland generated an average of CHF1,600 in so-called external costs per inhabitant.

“Transport and mobility result in a range of costs and benefits. Some of these are felt directly by transport users: the costs of petrol or a rail ticket, or the benefit of getting to work conveniently by car or train. By paying for fuel or a ticket, transport users assume a share of the costs that they cause,” the office explained.

“There are other costs, however. Although these are caused by mobility, they are not reflected in its price. These are known as external costs, and they are environmental and accident and health-related in nature. These costs are borne by third parties, by the general public, or by future generations.”

According to the office’s latest calculations, these costs came to CHF14 billion in 2019, 1.4% more than the previous year. Around CHF9.8 billion of this is attributable to private motorised traffic. This is followed by air traffic, rail traffic and walking and cycling. Since 2010, external costs have increased by 16%.

From the point of view of the environment and climate alone, transport caused an estimated CHF6 billion of damage in 2019, the federal office says. This figure also includes the impact on forests and biodiversity. External health costs amount to CHF5.2 billion. Other costs, such as damage to buildings, are also included.

A wide range of damage

The damage caused by transport is very diverse. For example, the federal office puts the impact of transport on climate change at around CHF2.9 billion. Habitats for fauna and flora are also lost or fragmented due to roads, railways or airports, at an estimated cost of CHF1.2 billion a year.

Traffic has also caused an annual crop loss of 94,000 tonnes of cereals and 139,000 tonnes of vegetables and fruit. The corresponding costs amount to CHF56 million. Finally, polluted air resulted in 39,300 days of asthma suffered by children. Some 17,500 years of life were lost due to diseases caused by traffic noise and pollution.

Walking and cycling also generate external costs, for example due to accidents or the energy needed to produce bicycles. However, they are the only means of transport with social benefits, for example on health costs. The Federal Office for Spatial Development estimates these benefits to be CHF318 million.

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