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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The price of commuting to work

"Pump price near record," declares The Sacramento Bee in the biggest, blackest headline on the front page of today's Business section.

The average price of gasoline has increased 32 cents in the last month and 50 cents over the last two months, according to AAA of Northern California. The U.S. Department of Energy says the price could rise another 20 cents a gallon by December, according to The Bee's Dale Kasler.

That's a hefty increase in the cost of driving to work in Sacramento, where the Census Bureau says the mean travel time to work is 25.7 minutes.

Compare that with the increase in the price of my commute: Zero. Nada. Zilch.

It’s not like I don’t know the pain of filling up a car. The other day, I took my 1999 Dodge Caravan to get gas. This is the car I used to drive to work. Total cost to fill the tank: $57.94. Thankfully, I now only do this about once a month. I used to fill it up at least once a week.

My commute back when I drove was more than 22 miles roundtrip. If I were to go back to driving, here’s what it would cost me:

Five days a week of 22 miles roundtrip: 110 miles. I get four weeks of vacation and another week’s worth of paid holidays, so I’m driving at least 47 weeks a year: 5,170 miles.

According to the 2006 edition of AAA's Your Driving Costs, a source guaranteed to be friendly to automobile owners, the overall average cost of owning and operating a passenger vehicle is 52.2 cents per mile. This estimate of driving costs is based on what AAA describes as an extensive list of factors including the price of gas (and this, remember, is the price in 2006), maintenance, tires, depreciation and insurance. So the cost of just my commute of 5,170 miles would be expected to total a minimum $2,698.74 a year.

Regional Transit monthly passes are $85. I can ride as often as I want, including on the weekend, holidays, when I’m on vacation. Show the pass; get on the bus. It’s that easy. The annual cost: $1,020.

Not a bad deal -- even when you are talking about RT's limited service.

POSTSCRIPT: After I finished this post, I discovered that the 2007 Your Driving Cost is available and even includes the specific cost per mile for minivans.

According to the 2007 edition of AAA's Your Driving Costs, the total cost per mile for owning and operating a minivan and driving less than 10,000 miles is 69.2 cents per mile. So just my commute of 5,170 miles would be expected to cost at a minimum $3,577.64 a year -- three times more than year's monthly passes.

RT needs to do a better job of selling the benefits of riding transit.


qofd said...

When they run light rail and more buses to my little corner of the world I am tempted to garage my car near-permanently and do like you.

John said...

The SACOG dream for 2035 calls for light rail to reach Elk Grove. I don't recommend holding your breath, but keeping good thoughts about transit always help.

Joel McDonald said...

When buying a new home, taking these commuting costs can be a huge savings. Sometimes, that more expensive home 5 minutes from work isn't actually as costly as a less expensive home 30 minutes away.

Check out the cost-of-commuting calculator at the bottom of this Colorado real estate site & see for yourself.