People love their cars. Still, in a recession, changing the way you commute can save you a lot of money. More drivers are finding new ways to get to work.
“We saw the largest quarterly increase in the number of people taking transportation in 25 years and we realized that people are actually changing their behavior,” says Virginia Miller, a spokesperson for the American Public Transportation Association.
Pushed to the Limit
Though Americans had been leaning toward public transportation, last summer’s $4 a gallon price tag put more people on busses and trains than at any time since before 1957.
For the first time in recent memory, the total number of miles traveled on highways across the country fell by 4.6% in the third quarter of 2008, compared to the same period in 2007. At the same time, ridership on the nation’s commuter busses and trains increased by an average of 6.5%.
The news surprised experts who had grown accustomed to seeing the number of cars on the road increase by 2 to 3% every year for the last 50 years.
“It was like we were going back to the future,” says Miller.
What Your Car Commute Really Costs
Even though the cost of gasoline has dropped by around $1.37 per gallon in the last year, driving is still expensive. According to data from AAA, the average driver pays 17 cents a mile for gas, maintenance and tires. So a measly 20 mile round-trip commute will cost about $6.80 a day, at least five days a week.
If you factor in the cost of full-coverage insurance, your license, registration, taxes, finance charges and depreciation, say goodbye to another $15.28 each day.
Once you add little trips to the market, or the movies, or even shuttling the kids to school, you could be looking at a cost of $7,000 a year or more.
Savings Can Add Up
Deb Hubsmith, director of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, got rid of her car 13 years ago. She says she put a down payment on her house with the money she saved from biking to work. Still, that doesn’t mean that everyone can just get rid of their cars.
“Sure, there are economic, health and environmental costs associated with driving,” says Carl Sundstrom, a program specialist with the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. “But cars may be more convenient and cheaper for some people…depending on where they live.”
You don’t have to scrap your car, but you can do an analysis of how much you can save if you start using alternative methods of transportation.
Here are some hard figures compiled by the Canadian Victoria Transportation Institute to help you decide whether driving is for you. The figures, converted to U.S. dollars, are based on a 20 mile round-trip commute.
Estimated on-peak savings: $0.56 per mile
Estimated weekly savings: $56
Estimated annual savings: $2,912
Estimated on-peak savings: $0.20 per mile
Estimated weekly savings: $20
Estimated annual savings: $1,040
Estimated on-peak savings: $0.17 per mile
Estimated weekly savings: $17
Estimated annual savings: $884
Estimated on-peak savings: $0.69 per mile
Estimated weekly savings: $69
Estimated annual savings: $3,588
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