The Great Big Picture Of American Transportation

By Micheline Maynard

Americans spend more on transportation than any other household item except housing. Now, The Brookings Institution has quantified the massive size of what Americans, and government officials spend on transportation.

Writing in the Journal of Economic Literature, Clifford Winston, a Senior Fellow of Economic Studies, sums in up in terms of both money and time.

“Consumers spent $1.1 trillion on gasoline and vehicles commuting to work, traveling to perform household chores and to access entertainment, and traveling for business and vacations, and spent an astronomical 175 billion hours in transit,” he writes.

This averages out to about 100 minutes per day for each and every American (or a little over an hour and a half), valued at some $760 billion.

Meanwhile, companies spent $1 trillion shipping products using their own and for-hire transportation, while the commodities that were shipped were valued at roughly $2.2 trillion. Local, state, and federal government spending on transportation infrastructure and services contributed an additional $260 billion, bringing total pecuniary spending on transportation up to $2.4 trillion, or 17 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2007.

This is as much as Americans spent on health care, and with the total spending on everything transportation related amounting to $5 trillion. To put that in perspective, do you remember the $5 trillion tax cut that Mitt Romney supposedly talked about in last year’s election? Another way to think of it: this is what academics say has spent on the entire war on terror since the September 2011 attacks.

Winston says the inefficiencies in the American transportation add up to more than $100 billion a year, and offers many recommendations for improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure, but we thought this big numbers were pretty significant.

You can read the entire report here.


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