Public transit: $12k cheaper than a car.

Fiscal Concerns Eased by Riding Public Transportation

  1. New York - $13,962
  2. Boston - $12,826
  3. San Francisco - $12,641
  4. Chicago - $11,533
  5. Seattle - $11,350

APTA calculates the average cost of taking public transit by determining the average monthly transit pass of local public transit agencies across the country [...] then compares the average monthly transit fare to the average cost of driving.  The cost of driving is calculated using the 2010 AAA average cost of driving formula.  AAA cost of driving formula is based on variable costs and fixed costs.  The variable costs include the cost of gas, maintenance and tires.  The fixed costs include insurance, license registration, depreciation and finance charges.  The comparison also uses the average mileage of a mid-size auto at 23.4 miles per gallon and the price for self-serve regular unleaded gasoline as recorded by AAA on November 8, 2010 at $2.85 per gallon.  The analysis also assumes that a person will drive an average of 15,000 miles per year.  The savings assume a person in two-person household lives with one less car.

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24 Responses:

  1. justinmm2 says:

    I'm in an unusual situation where it's actually both faster AND cheaper for me to drive to work than use public transit.

    Why? Because I chose to live close to work.

    I specifically chose where to live based on proximity to both my current work, potential future workplaces, friends, grocery stores, etc. It seems to me a lot of people choose where to live based on $/sq ft.

    I pay more, but I think I'm happier not sitting in traffic, walking to my grocery store, walking to sporting events, never driving drunk, etc.

    This is, perhaps, another argument I'm veering into, but it's all I could think about. And I just now noticed the tags on this post as I wrote that last sentence..

  2. mackys says:

    > he analysis also assumes that a person will drive an average of 15,000 miles per year.

    1250 miles a month?? Sounds high to me. I'm not saying that *nobody* drives that much... but does the average person? Not sure I buy it.

    > Monthly Savings: Denver: $813

    Not sure what this is taking into account. Assuming I drove 1250 miles a month: My Civic gets 38 MPG. So 1250 / 38 = 32.9 gallons. Times $2.85/gal = ~$94. My insurance is $580/6mo, just call it $100/mo. Add those two together, round up to $200. Even throwing in that unbelievable $161/mo parking fee, we're still only at $360/mo.

    Is that more expensive than a bus pass? Freakin' absolutely! But it's not even half of the claimed $800.

    Maybe they're factoring in car payment? Most people's car payment is between $200-$400/mo, that would get it closer. (My car's paid off, so I'm just lucky there.)

    Hm, reading the fine print, they say 23.4 MPG. 1250 / 23.4 = 53.4 gallons. * 2.85 = $152. + $100 insurance + $161 parking still comes out to about $400.

    I don't know, man.


    Disclaimer: Not bagging on public transportation here, just saying their numbers don't feel right to me. Also, I'm totally anti-commuting and believe people who drive an hour each way to their jobs every day are utterly insane. I refuse to do it, and I believe everyone should refuse to do it. I also agree with the main point of the article, which is that you can save a lot of money by giving up your car, especially if you're part of a two-car household. Just maybe not as much money as they're claiming...

    • baconmonkey says:

      1250 miles a month
      20 days of work a month
      2 trips per day
      31.25 miles per trip

      so a 31 mile commute and no other use of car makes for 1250 miles easily.

      or 15 mile commute, and 15 miles for soccer practice, etc.

      • fuhchee says:

        I wonder how many of the urban centers for which this advocacy group collected transit costs even cover a 30-mile radius, let alone servicing that length trip in a timely manner. For the apples/apples comparison, they'd have to compare the options of the average suburbanite, not those few that happen to live/work at tra

    • ctd says:

      I drive about that much per month and, using the transit calculator they link to, came up with $-4111 savings from using transit (35mpg, 90mi round trip commute, $30 round trip transit cost).

      Of course that doesn't take into account the extra 4hrs/day I'd have to spend commuting in order to spend the extra money. Or the lost travel flexibility...

    • netik says:

      For the most part I am anti-car, but I have a wife who goes to the east bay often, to a location far away from public transit and I like having the car around to transport equipment and groceries. E gets way more use of the car than I do, mainly because she drives to work and class. I take my bicycle to nearly every destination that I go to, with limited exceptions.

      I'm going to take a guess here and say that what this study is trying to say is that "if you get rid of one car and take public transportation, this is what you can save." They are not saying "This is what it costs to have a car in these cities."

      I purchased a brand new VW Golf. It was an $22k car, which we got for $18k, minus $3700 from the insurance company. That left us with around a $230/month car payment (0% APR, 6 years.)

      I am driver in good standing with my insurance company with the car registered as a "commute car", so my insurance for a new 2010 car is a whopping $53/month. Gas is around $35 to fill the tank and their standard of 1250 miles/month would need five refuels a month in this car, so that's another $140.

      That's $423 total for us. I don't think they include garaging in this average, so as far as I can tell, we're way below the national average. If I have to buy tires or whatnot, that's going to go up, but for the next three years, that's the dealer's problem, not mine.

      • tramp32123 says:

        You don't even have to guess... the bit quoted by jwz ends with the statement "The savings assume a person in two-person household lives with one less car."

        Cheers, Liam

      • lilmissnever says:

        You don't actually need me to point out that between the two of us, we do not drive anywhere near 1250 miles a month, but I'm doing it anyway. We put approximately 500 miles on the car in the last month, 100 of which was a very nice weekend trip to Napa/Sonoma. We could probably get away with not owning a car if I did not go to the East Bay to train quite so often, but I have to admit that I am willing to pay for the convenience of hopping in the car and getting to practice in 15 min instead of spending 1.5 hours on public transportation.

        • netik says:

          Well, yeah. We barely did 450 miles; it was bought with 53 on it.

          I just wanted to compare their estimated cost numbers to our actual costs based on the same usage.

  3. fuhchee says:

    Such a calculation would be more weighty if it included trip-time and subsidy costs. Assuming that even with those cars would be more expensive, so then we have a quantitative estimate of the value so many people perceive in their convenience / autonomy / whatever.

  4. mooflyfoof says:

    As someone who used to drive to work and now takes public transit, I did the math and figured out that I save about $150 a month by not driving to work. This accounts for gas, bridge toll, and parking only - not fixed/maintenance costs (since I'm not willing to give up my car). Yep, it's definitely cheaper to not drive every day.

    • cow says:

      Not sure if this is true everywhere, but I know that here, you also get a huge break on insurance if you tell them you only use it for leisure and never commute. So that's even more savings for people that choose to keep a car for weekends and shopping and whatnot but are willing to use transit to work.

      • netik says:

        Absolutely true. Been saving money that way for years.

        • I agree with threads above re: living close to work, and valuing non-commute time. I much prefer walkability and living close to my favorite activities over "square footage".

          That said, I still like *having* a car. It's nice to have wheels when the bus or the cold or the dark just don't appeal.

          My ideal situation would be to work/live in the city. I do have to commute outside the city, but not very far, and not every day. Once I'm inside the city I usually walk. I'm a little nutty with the walking but San Francisco is remarkably small, fairly safe (in the places I care about), and warm. Our public transit is terrible compared to (say) Boston's, but the weather kicks butt.

          It is true that if you can claim your car as not a commute car you get a significant discount on insurance. I would like to have that status someday again!

      • elusis says:

        Having just started working from home, thanks for this info.

  5. cow says:

    It'd be damn near impossible to calculate, but it'd be fun to also factor in reduced costs on things like medical bills due to someone actually going outside and walking/cycling once in a while.

    I know I'm way, way healthier since moving to a Real City where I can live without a car and walk ~10 km/day -- 20-25 minutes each way to work, plus anywhere else I want to go. (I generally use transit when the weather sucks or when it's late and I'm tired.)

  6. terpsichoros says:

    When I lived in East Oakland (just off 580) and worked in Potrero Hill/Dogpatch, I tried driving in, and taking transit. Taking transit took a *minimum* of 60 minutes; there were times it took 75 or more. Even when I didn't pick up casual carpoolers, driving almost never took as much as 60 minutes, and usually took less than 45. (Each way.)

    Driving 32 miles (round trip) cost $16 at the IRS rate, but had a marginal cost closer to $5, plus $4 bridge toll (if I didn't pick up casual carpoolers). Since I would have had a car anyway, marginal cost is the appropriate consideration, and my commute cost $9/day unless I picked up carpoolers. BART and Muni fares ran about that much each day, too, but I had to have either a BART ticket or cash to buy one, and had to have cash for the bus, while buying gas and doing routine maintenance on my car can be paid for by credit or debit cards or cash.

    When I've had jobs in downtown San Francisco, the cost of parking would massively outweigh the costs of public transit commuting, so I'd take BART. But I've spent more time working at jobs where there was *no* public transit option than in downtown SF, all the while working in the Bay Area. Public transit is great for getting people into and out of congested high-density areas, but not so much for the more dispersed pattern of job distribution which results from NIMBY policies and high taxes in the core.

  7. It cost about $2,200/yr to own, license, insure (liability only), and park my car in Chicago. If I chose to drive into work, it's another $22/day to drive the 3mi downtown, assuming I drive every day and get the monthly plan at the garage across from the office.

    To take a cab both ways costs me $20-21 (and, of course, is faster since I don't have to park), and has no fixed yearly cost.

    Bus/train are $5/day, no fixed costs.

    Of course, every hardcore commute-driver I know is suburb-to-suburb, so they're kind of screwed on the public transportation side.

    • antabakalj says:

      > It cost about $2,200/yr to own, license, insure
      > (liability only), and park my car in Chicago.

      I'd love that rate. I pay $2,940/year on parking alone. I live downtown and usually drive 19-24 Miles to the northern suburbs. Driving takes 45-60 minutes (I don't even bother with the I90/I94). Metra would take about 60 minutes as well, but would strand me in the middle of nowhere, adding another 15-20 minutes walk/cab drive (depending on which suburb).

      Metra is clearly the cheaper option, but for me public transport always seems to have the problem to drop off at inconvenient places, adding extra time to the trip since I have to get from my home to the Metra and from the Metra to the workplace.

      That aside from the fact that a car is fun to have and makes shopping and visiting friends so much easier