Are Car Drivers In Alberta Subsidizing Bike Riders? No.

With the roll out this summer of Edmonton’s dreamy new downtown bike grid, some old chestnuts of the bike lane debate having been appearing. One is the assertion that car and truck drivers are subsidizing bike riders if cities use tax dollars to install dedicated bike infrastructure.

I’ve seen a couple of analyses that emphatically reject the notion (here and here for example), but do they apply to Edmonton, Alberta? Let’s find out. *

*caveat: It would take days to write a scientifically-valid argument either way on this. How our three orders of government collect and spend taxes is very complex, and divided into many documents. I have done an overview, and I have explained my generalizations and rationalizations along the way.

How much money per year is collected in Alberta via fuel and carbon taxes, plus vehicle registration?

Short answer: $3.5 billion. (long answer here)

How much money do our governments spend per year in Alberta on vehicles?

Short answer: $4.2 billion. (long answer here)


I’m not saying that cars are evil or that we shouldn’t have any or anything like that. However, we need to be honest if a mode of transportation is getting subsidized. Even though the gas tax is substantial, Albertans are heavily subsidizing vehicle driving. Never mind the fact that most of the federal gas tax is whisked away and spent on federal priorities in Ottawa.

Although these calculations are back-of-the-napkin at best, especially the municipal spending side, I wouldn’t doubt if they significantly underestimate how much we subsidize car driving. I left out massive costs, like the societal costs of sedentarism, days of productivity lost from collision injuries, pollution, and significant vehicle-oriented policing costs.

All this to say that, people who ride bikes in Edmonton are not being subsidized by drivers. In fact, the subsidy is going the other way.

Money Collected, The Long Answer:

  • Carbon Tax:
    • Litres of gas sold in AB, 2015: 6.6 billion ()
    • Litres of diesel sold in AB, 2015: 4 billion (source<span)
    • Carbon levy on diesel, 0.0535/litre, Carbon levy on gasoline 0.0449/litre
    • Total carbon tax paid by drivers: $510,340,000 = 6600000000 * 0.0449 + 4000000000* 0.0535
  • Fuel Tax
    • Federal diesel tax (fed): $0.04/litre (source)
    • Federal gas tax (fed): $0.10/litre (source)
    • Estimated GST: $0.05/litre
    • Total federal tax paid by drivers: $1,350,000,000 = 6600000000 * 0.10 + 4000000000* 0.04 + 10600000000 * 0.05
    • Total provincial fuel tax by Alberta drivers: $1,360,000,000 (government budget document)
    • Total fuel tax by Alberta drivers:$2,710,000,000
  • Vehicle Registrations
    • Registration fee for passenger vehicles is $85 per year (source)
    • Number of registered motor vehicles in Alberta under 4500 kg is 3,074,733 (source)
    • For simplicity, I’ll just ignore the considerable cut that registries retail locations must take off each registration.
    • Total registrations paid by Alberta drivers: $261,352,305
  • $3.481  billion is collected in Alberta via fuel and carbon taxes, plus vehicle registration

 Money Spent, The Long Answer

I’m not going to pretend that this number is super rigorous. I used the sources that I could find, and I extrapolated where it was convenient. I’m confident though, that in a very general, hand-wave-y kind of way, the number is relevant and illustrative of the point of this article.

Federal Money:$216 millionThis website lists federal capital money spent in Alberta over the past 15 years, and states that 54% was spent on “Highways and Roads”. I took the number an divided by 15.

Provincial Money: $2.1 billion – The amount of money the province is spending on “Roads and Bridges” in 2017

Municipal Money: $1.735 billion

  • This one is especially hard. The money spent is massive and it is hidden within many budget line items. Furthermore, Calgary’s budget docs are really hard to find. Everyone lives in a municipality though right? So I figured out Edmonton’s per capita expenditure on roads and stuff, and multiplied Alberta’s population by that number. I know, not exactly PHD-quality rigour here.
  • Per Person, Edmonton, $403
    • Total Spent Annually, Edmonton, $378 million:
      • 115 million (Edmonton capital budget, 2015-2018 of 511 million, active transportation taken out to make it 462, divided by four) (source)
      • 143 million (Neighbourhood Renewal Budget of 673 million, estimating 100 million for sidewalks taken out, divided by four) (source)
      • 120 million (Edmonton operating budget of 1.5 billion for 2016 – roads and traffic management is 8% – page 41 here)
    • Population of Edmonton, 2016: 932,546
  • Population of Alberta: 4,280,127

Other costs (mostly provincial and municipal): $145 million

  • This 2010 study by the Capital Region Intersection Safety Partnership heroically attempted to put a costs on collisions. I’ve gone through it and tried to tease some of the cost per injury collision and cost per fatal collision to governments only
    • Injury collision cost: $8,053 (police response $537, fire/rescue $278, emergency department $348, ICU $2,489, Acute care
      hospital costs $775, rehab $1,101, long-term care $2,525)
    • Fatal collision cost: $91,433 (police response $5,884, fire/rescue $626, coroner/medical $1,844, emergency department $1,064, ICU $46,970, Acute care
      hospital costs $9,374, rehab $6,571, long-term care $19,100)
    • Injury collisions in Alberta 2014: 14,244
    • Fatal collisions in Alberta 2014: 328
    • Rough yearly government expenditures, for car collisions: 144,768,176 = 14,244* 8,058 + 328*91,433