Thursday, October 13, 2011

Crunching the Numbers: Public Transit

I took the bus to work today, since I had to leave the car at the shop for an oil change. It was a lovely change of pace for my morning commute (an extra half hour of reading time!) and I considered switching to that for nice day commuting. But then I wondered if it's really cheaper.

First of all, the time commitment.

Driving takes me about 10 minutes to get to work, 12 if I hit all the stoplights wrong, and 20 if I hit mega-traffic. I leave at 8:40 most days, and get to work a bit before 9.

The bus took exactly 40 minutes - I left my apartment at 8:05 and was at my desk at 8:45. That was a little earlier than I'd need to be, but that's the latest bus I can catch and not be actually late for work.

Coming home, the drive takes significantly longer - 20 minutes is a great day, 30 is normal, and 45 isn't unusual.

My return bus schedule wasn't quite accurate since I didn't go directly home, but I've driven through the downtown traffic to imagine that it would add 30-45 minutes to my normal commuting schedule. Thus, it lengthens my commute by nearly an hour total.

And this doesn't take into consideration the fact that I do our grocery shopping with the car on the way home from work one evening a week. Presumably I could work that out by bus also, but I would be one unhappy person when I got home.

Now for the cost.

The bus is pretty simple: $2.25 each way, since I'm going at rush hour. $4.50 total, per day. That would be $22.50 per week, although if you buy the weekly pass, it's an even $22.

Driving is a little more complicated. How to amortize the cost of maintenance, the original purchase price, etc? I can't even begin to fathom it. We got the car for reasons other than commuting (like grocery shopping, going to visit family, etc.), so it doesn't seem fair to build the entire cost of the car into my weekly commute calculations. I'm okay with leaving them out, at least until I've got a better sense of what they'd be. Instead, I'll just do the math for gas and insurance.

We have filled up eight times since buying the car at the beginning of June, at an average of $55 per fill-up. That's $440, divided by the 18 weeks we've owned the car is about $24.50 per week. However, my commute is only a few miles (~30 miles per week), so probably close to half of that gas usage is attributed to driving to other places in the evenings and weekends. So let's say $15 a week for gas exclusively for my commute.

Insurance is $447 per year, so $8.60 per week. That gives us a weekly cost of driving at $23.60 per week - $1.60 more than taking the bus.

Going back to the time commitment, that means I would be spending hour of my life to "earn" a $1.60 savings. Adding in the purchase cost and eventual maintenance costs of the car would likely increase that savings by a few dollars, but probably not enough to make it worth waiting for the bus in sub-zero temperatures. (Also adding in the environmental cost is not something I am capable of figuring out, but it's something that is in my mind. I'd be happy to join or start a carpool if I lived near any of my coworkers, and when we start house-hunting, we plan to look for places on bus routes.)

Now that I know that it's really quite easy and fairly cheap to take the bus to work, I don't mind doing it sometimes when the weather's nice or when Peanut needs the car, but it doesn't make sense from a financial/time perspective to do it on a regular basis. I can save way more than $1.60 by spending that extra hour at home cooking dinner (actively or via crockpot!) instead of ordering takeout because I'm too tired and cranky from commuting to cook.

One thing this whole exercise has done has opened my eyes as to how much it really costs to own something, though. Before sitting down to do the math, I wouldn't have guessed that our car costs us as least $20 per week just to own it. (Our apartment costs us $28 PER DAY!)

Have you ever sat down and figured the savings for public transportation? Or figured out what the big things in your life cost you per day to own?


  1. I pondered this a while ago (, but I don't really get a true choice as we have only one car and motorbike between two people. I take the longer bus route because it's half the price (that's worth it to me) and I try to walk to or from work a couple of times a week (that is more a fitness decision than a time or money decision, because it takes the better part of an hour and only saves me $1.50).

  2. It would cost me at least $100/month just to park (well, $75 if I got uncovered parking a mile away), plus gas and such...and only 60 cents/bus ride. I don't even have to do any real calculations to realize that the bus is cheaper than parking!

    The bus ride is only about 15 minutes, and it takes about that long to drive, so even figuring in the 5-10 minutes of walking to the bus stop and waiting for the bus, there isn't much time difference (unless the bus is really late or doesn't show up). Walking takes about 35 minutes, so I do that sometimes when the weather is nice.

    I haven't calculated how much our car costs us per week, but it mostly sits in the parking lot during the week, so I'm not sure I even want to know!

  3. I guess it all depends where you live. If you live that close to your workplace, it definitely makes sense to drive (especially since you do groceries on the way home).

    Out of curiousity, would a monthly bus pass reduced the cost of your trip (assuming you became a full time commuter)?


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