Huge city subsidies for autos, trucks

Stanley Hart

Cities provide services for motorists and truckers; but the payment received for providing these services have not been covered by user payments. What are these services and how much do they cost? A study for the City of Pasadena is probably typical for most cities.

Police Department

The Pasadena Police Department is organized into a number of special "details" for control of the automobile/truck population. These include the motorcycle patrol, details for auto theft, manslaughter, and parking enforcement. The largest category is the patrol personnel whose duties include traffic control, accident investigation, auto theft, etc. An analysis of personnel time and salaries indicates that 40% of Police Department costs are incurred in auto-related activities.

Fire Department, Paramedics, City Prosecutor

Automobile/truck accidents, fires, and garage fires comprise about 14% of Fire Department alarms. 16.4% of Paramedic calls are automobile-related. The City Prosecutor estimates that about one-third of his staff time is occupied with auto/truck cases.

Public Works

The Public Works Department includes the offices of the City Engineer, the Traffic Engineer, the Road Department, Sewers, Sanitation and others. Each office is budgeted separately; thus auto-related costs are easily segregated. Capital and debt service expenditures are identified readily as well.

Administrative, Public Service Charges

Staff studies have recently determined the proportion of administrative costs to be 13.45%. This proportion was added to the total of auto-related expenditures.

Since the Pasadena study included all costs associated with streets it is appropriate to subtract an amount for the estimated annual cost of constructing and maintaining an alternative system for public service vehicle access - fire and police protection, garbage collection, freight delivery, etc.

Motorist Contributions

Motorist contributions originate from two principal sources - the fuel and the in-lieu taxes - and a third, much smaller source, the combined traffic/ parking fines, off-road vehicle fees and other special fees.

Financial Summary

The table lists results of this allocation of City expenditures for FY 1982-1983. (The 1983 population was 123,000.) Depending on the nature and the relevance of the available records (which, of course, were not intended for this purpose) these figures are variously accurate, but they are always conservative.

The magnitude of the shortfall (or subsidy), when county government shortfalls are added, is probably equivalent to 40 to 50 cents per gallon of fuel. If Pasadena is not atypical, the nationwide subsidy derived from local government is $60 billion annually or about 2% of the gross national product.

Nor is this all; there are huge subsidies for free parking, corporate automobiles and tax deductible perquisites furnished by businesses. The total must amount to hundreds of billions annually; $2000 to $5000 per vehicle. Additional costs to society include lost property taxes when land is converted to freeways and the damage resulting from pollution.

Our love affair with the automobile --it's not passion, but cash, that plays the critical role.

A more detailed and technical web page by Stanley Hart is also available.

FY 1982-1983, City of Pasedena, CA

Portion of department's auto-related costs


Portion of department's auto-related costs

% of department budget

Police Dept.



Fire Dept.






Public Works



Debt Service



Capital Projects










Public Service


Motorist contribution


Shortfall (1982-1983)



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