There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The price of commuting to work (cont.)

Looking over the AAA Your Driving Costs brochure I noticed that when AAA first published its Your Driving Costs in 1950, driving a car 10,000 miles cost 9 cents a mile. That says a lot about what helped fuel the great suburban expansion. But it also says something about why people still commute by car.

According to the Federal Reserve inflation adjustment calculator, it is actually cheaper today to operate a car. The 2007 AAA estimate of the average cost to drive 10,000 miles is just 62.1 cents a mile. If the cost had kept pace with inflation, that 9 cents would be 77 cents today.

On the other hand, the price of a bus ticket has kept pace with inflation. I know from reading William Burg's book on Sacramento's Southside Park that the fare in 1870 for the first trolley in Sacramento was 5 cents, which was the price of a loaf of bread at the time. If we assume the fare was 10 cents in 1913, the earliest year the inflation calculator can use, that's $2.08 in 2007 and that's close to RT's $2 charge for a one-way ticket without a transfer. And, of course, the cheapest bread is still about the price of a bus ticket.

From a transitarian perspective, I can take some comfort in the fact that the price of gas has finally started to outpace inflation. The AAA brochure said gas prices in 1950 were 27 cents a gallon.  Adjusted for inflation, that would be $2.31 today.  Maybe today's $3.40-plus price will move some people to give transit a try.

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