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Benefits of transport

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Complete with results
Project Acronym
D10 (NRP 41)
STRIA Roadmaps
Network and traffic management systems (NTM)
Infrastructure (INF)
Transport policies
Societal/Economic issues


Background & Policy context

The NRP 41 was launched by the Federal Council at the end of 1995 to improve the scientific basis on which Switzerland's traffic problems might be solved, taking into account the growing interconnection with Europe, ecological limits, and economic and social needs.

The NRP 41 aimed to become a think-tank for sustainable transport policy. Each one of the 54 projects belongs to one of the following six modules:

  • A Mobility: Socio-institutional Aspects
  • B Mobility: Socio-economical Aspects
  • C Environment: Tools and Models for Impact Assessments
  • D Political and Economic Strategies and Prerequisites
  • E Traffic Management: Potentials and Impacts
  • F Technologies: Potentials and Impacts
  • M Materials
  • S Synthesis Projects

The benefits of transport represent an important issue in the political debate in many European countries. It is presented as an argument in a context of infrastructure extension, pricing of transport and environmental policy.

A decision on a specific transport infrastructure investment raises big hopes with respect to the resulting benefits for a region. External benefits are often presented as an argument to countervail proposals to internalise external costs of transport via tariffs.

More generally, the benefit of transport issue, which has several dimensions, has gained importance in the context of the sustainable transport debate.

Swiss transport research has focused for some time now on transport externalities.

Ecoplan (1993) stated in a National Science Foundation Programme (NRP 25) that it is essential to distinguish between benefits from transport infrastructure and benefits deriving from transport as such. The benefits of transport are huge but mainly internal. Important external benefits do not exist.

So far, overall benefits of transport have hardly been analysed in Switzerland. The automobile associations have sponsored most research on the issue. A recent study by Baum (2000) for the VSAI finds additional benefits from Swiss transport activities (excluding transit) of 57.9 billion Swiss Francs. According to the project coordinator, 14.9 Billion Francs of these have to be considered external benefits.

The present study attempts to bring some light into the discussion by proposing, on the one hand, a theoretically sound overview on the state of the international discussion of the issue and by presenting, on the other hand, empirical estimates in selected fields in order to fill existing knowledge gaps.


The overview on the state of the international discussion of the issue is mainly based on an analysis of foreign literature that has been discussed with international experts during a workshop jointly organised with the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) in Bern.

The works undertaken in the UK by the SACTRA committee (1999) played a key role. The empirical research for Switzerland looks at the macroeconomic and microeconomic benefits of transport.

From a macroeconomic perspective value added in the transport sector is a valid and periodically available indicator for utility. An investigation of the input-output matrix permits to identify the value chains in transport and to indicate the interactions between transport and the other sectors of the economy.

On the microeconomic level this study concentrates on transport benefits in the short run. The benefits of specific mobility have been estimated based on detailed empirical enquiries.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
Swiss National Science Foundation SNF
Type of funding
Public (national/regional/local)


High Value Added by Transport:

With approximately CHF 30 billion, the transport industry generates nearly 8% of Switzerland's GDP. Almost half of this is generated by private road transport.


However, it is the additional benefits of individual projects, and not the overall benefits, that are the relevant factors in decision making for expansion of transport capacity. High overall benefits do not provide a basis to argue that transport should not carry its full costs, as these benefits of transport favour passengers, or are redistributed via the market.


These are the conclusions of a study providing a systematic survey and new findings about this controversial issue.


The first section, prepared in co-operation with an expert group of the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT), shows that in many cases the transport sector's contribution to economic growth and regional economic developments has been overestimated.


The second section analyses the value added, and the interdependence of industry sectors, by means of a more detailed input/output table showing the transport cost shares of various sectors, and the multiplier effects from increased demand.


The third section determines the benefits enjoyed by car users and rail travellers by using sophisticated questionnaires. A leisure trip from Bern to Zurich, for example, provides a benefit of CHF 63.

Policy implications

The results presented in this study could give new impulses to the debate on transport policy in Switzerland. Selected aspects of the relationship between transport and the economy have been inquired and translated into quantitative results. The deliberate renunciation to try and measure the total benefits of transport permits to direct the debate towards specific issues.


A first and implicit conclusion therefore is that the total benefit of transport is a theoretical construct, and that the attempt to measure it will necessarily create confusion.

As a valid reference situation for an economy without transport is empirically not feasible, attempts to isolate the role of the transport system in economic development are doomed to fail. Such research would have to admit that an economy without transport is not imaginable and that hence the whole GDP is 'generated' by transport.


A second conclusion regards the discussion about internal and external benefits. This discussion risks ending up in a dead end street.

On the one hand real external benefits are theoretically not plausible (who has an interest not to be compensated to the benefits he or she creates?) and empirically irrelevant.

On the other hand eventual evidence for external benefits is not needed for justifying the internalisation of existing external costs of transport – an economy in which decision makers to not have to incur all costs they are creating is necessarily inefficient and leads to a waste of resources.


The empirical research on the value added in transport helps to get rid of a misunderstanding in the debate on internal and external benefits. The input output analysis permits to calculate the direct contribution of transport for the economy (net value added). This is the correct measure of the direct contribution of this sector to the GDP. It represents obviously an internal benefit.


In addition, the transport sector creates the realisation of profits in other sectors of the economy, increases their competitiveness at specific locations etc. These effects are not captured by the value-added figures. It might be attempted to evaluate these effects too in further analyses.

It should however be kept in mind that such an undertaking would have to define precise context (reference) in order to isolate the transport effects.


In any case such additional impacts of transport would not represent e


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