(Funny) EU Study Says Motorbikes Have the Highest Social Cost

According to a study, riding a motorcycle bears the highest social cost to the EU

Hearing that a motorcycle is the worst from of transportation from a social cost standpoint sounds funny, doesn’t it?

A study released recently by the European Commission says that motorcycles are the least desirable form of transportation when taking into account the social costs. The conclusions of this study called "Sustainable Transport Infrastructure Charging and Internalisation of Transport Externalities," deem motorcycles the least desirable method for getting from point A to point B, with several other transportation forms also evaluated, such as passenger cars, busses and coaches, high-speed trains, electric and diesel trains, and aircraft.

The main idea of this study was to determine in which way each form of transportation impacts the EU economy. However, there is a catch to this. The study is aimed at finding a hierarchy in external costs for various transportation methods. Putting it in simpler terms, the social researchers evaluated the costs pe person-kilometer that are not directly linked to the various vehicles.

While infrastructure costs are rather internal than external and easily identifiable, it’s the social and environmental costs that the researchers were after. Crashes, climate change, noise and air pollution are some of the variables in this study. When linked to the fact that motorcycle riders usually travel alone, the biking world no longer looks so bright in the European Commission’s study.

In fact, this seems to be the main thing that tips the scales. Motorcycles do incur the smallest costs for infrastructure and they pollute less in absolute terms, but the fact that we only find one or two persons traveling by bike at any given moment throws away the benefits, the study says.

When measured on a “per-person-per-kilometer” basis, all the quantified variables are not in favor of motorcycle riders. In absolute terms, however, motorcycles fare quite well in this analysis.

The one thing that stood out from this study was noise pollution. The study cites the World Health Organization in saying that noise-related illness is real. Prolonged exposure to excessive noise can cause heart disease, stokes, hypertension, dementia and more, according WHO.

So the European Commission’s study went on in this direction, finding that the “noise cost” caused by motorcycles is €0.09 per passenger-kilometer, a staggering 10 times higher than the figure for cars, albeit the much higher numer of cars accounts for higher costs altogether. And having swapped my no-dB killer Akrapovic-equipped KTM 990 Adventure as my daily ride for an almost dead-silent BMW R1200RT a couple of years ago, I can say that noise caused by motorbikes can indeed be an issue…

As for the other main concern, accident costs, things are a bit iffy. The study simply associates all the accident costs with motorcycles when a motorcycle is involved in a crash. And this is a most unfair business, Federation of European Motorcyclists’ Associations’ General Secretary Dolf Willigers points out.

Willigers says that more than half of the motorcycle crashes in Europe are cause by other drivers, so placing the accident costs with the riders makes no sense whatsoever, in absolute or in person-kilometer terms.

Finally, the study misses out on the traffic decongestion bikes ARE accountable for. Motorcycles are usually not affected by traffic congestions as riders would often ride between the lanes even during standstills, “filtering” ahead. Also, bikes are not known for contributing to traffic jams, save for the jams caused by an accident involving a motorbike. And, as mentioned earlier, less than half of the crashes are caused by riders…

The study estimates the costs incurred by delays in traffic, in terms of both productivity and health impact through prolonged exposure to exhaust fumes/ pollutants, but bikes are absent from that chart. In actuality, they should get solid credit.

As for the fun factor commonly and rightfully associated with riding a motorcycle, the study doesn’t make any remark, as expected. We’re talking blunt figures and corporate-like tenth-of-a-cent-counting bureaucracy, rather than including the fact that riding a motorcycle is a glorious way to maintain, replenish and even improve mental health.

Wondering what echoes this study will generate and if the European motorcycling scene will change after it. There’s plenty of holes in this study, so you shouldn’t be too scared. Anyway, if you feel like delving deeper into the European Commission papers on the matter, knock yourselves out following this link.

Photo credit Angela Murray.

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