I live in southern California, where everyone drives, lives, and breathes (literally) car. The public transportation system isn’t that good out here; there’s no subway in my city, and trains are spotty unless you happen to be going at exactly commuter hours (how I miss you, 24/7 NYC subway!) I try to bike to nearby places if possible, and use the car on the weekend for errands. I know that the car costs more, but it covers more miles; while the bike costs less, but also travels less distance. I wondered, what’s the cost per mile, based on data from a year of usage?
I usually bike to work, but I am also a regular human being who drives her car because there’s no way I’m lugging my Costco haul back home on a bike. (Side note: tried it, never again. These roads are *not* made for biking.) I drive about once per week to the grocery store. About once a month, I drive to a nearby city an hour away for some fun.
Calculating costs: I dug through my credit card statements and Amazon orders from Feb. 2017 to Feb. 2018. I didn’t include the cost of purchasing the bike or car (which are both paid off anyway), or the cost of any accessories that I already own. I also didn’t count parking fees, since I wanted to calculate the transportation cost, not the storage cost. (Side note 2: The parking ended up being fairly hefty, $300 for the year, mostly from parking at the airport before they started allowing Uber/Lyft.)
Mileage: I drove 7500 miles during the year. Compared to the national average of 12,000 miles, this seems reasonable. To calculate my bike mileage, I estimated that I biked to work 75% of the time, leading to the calculation: 4.4 miles/day * 260 working days/year * 0.75 = 858 miles/year. WOW, that’s almost 1000 miles!
So given that the driving mileage is more than 8x the biking mileage, does the car cost 8x more than the bike? Let the numbers speak:
|Registration||DMV ($100), smog check ($40)||free on-campus|
|Regular maintenance||gas ($600), oil changes ($100)||pump tire and lube chain ($0)|
|Unexpected events||traffic ticket ($250)||flat ($7)|
|Upgrades||none||mirror, bell, and reflective vest ($50)|
|COST PER MILE||$0.23||$0.07|
Cost comparison: Overall, the car costs 30x more than the bike in terms of dollars spent! In terms of cost per mile, every mile spent in the driver’s seat costs 3x more than sitting on the bicycle seat. The car’s cost per mile of $0.23 is actually quite a bit lower than the standard reimbursement amount of $0.535, which is interesting. Perhaps that’s because my insurance costs are low, since I don’t cover damage to my own vehicle, and I’m in a lower-risk demographic (female, above 25).
Fuel me up: One surprising thing to me was the gas cost, which is about $600 (~2 tanks per month). And this is given that US gas prices are amongst the lowest in the world. Seeing as I occasionally drive short trips in-town or long distances on the highway, and fewer miles than the average American driver, I didn’t expect the gas costs to be so high. I suspect that upgrading to a more gas-efficient car would help there. I currently drive a 2005 Pontiac Vibe (basically a hatchback version of a Toyota Corolla), which doesn’t have the best gas mileage due to its age.
Final thoughts: I would never be able to give up my car. Although I admire people who can live car-free, the value of being able to drive to nearby cities on my own time is incredible. California doesn’t have great public transportation options, compared to NJ/NY where I used to live. Although I used to complain non-stop about New Jersey Transit 😛 , I would take it in a heartbeat if there was a similar option in California. Out here, the car is invaluable for the ability to travel long distances = time saved.
Do you usually drive, walk, bike, or bus/subway? How much do you spend on car maintenance?