Background The physical and social environment influences access to a healthy lifestyle, of which transport is one determining factor. This paper estimates the cost of transport on the island of Ireland. Methods Budget standards were developed on the basis of costs of baskets of core goods and services required for daily living. The transport budget was based on the needs of an urban living family. Financial capacity of the family relative to transport basket costs was determined. Results Transport costs vary depending on family type and car ownership. The motoring costs for a family with two unemployed adults, with a weekly financial capacity of 388.28€ and 427.70€, respectively, for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, amount to 94.78€ and 74.68€, representing 18 and 10 of the family's weekly income. Conclusion The prohibitive costs of private transport present an opportunity for policy makers to consider creating supportive environments incorporating the more cost-effective and environmentally friendly options of public transport. Without such measures, dependence on private transport will exacerbate the incidence of food poverty and the health inequalities consequent upon it.