Dec 2011. Can it actually save you money to take transit? Obviously that depends on a lot of things, and varies by person, but a lot of research finds that yes, on some trips, transit is the cheaper option. What can you do to reap some of these rewards?

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics estimates that in 2005, the average annual cost of owning and operating a car driven 15,000 miles a year was about $7,800, or 52 cents a mile. Compare that to the median, after-tax, household income, which was under $40,000 per year. The BTS suggests that for a two-car household, about 40 percent of disposable income is spent on car travel.

At 52 cents a mile, the out-of-pocket expense for a 20-mile, round trip commute is $10.40 – assuming free parking at home and work, and no tolls. This works out to about $230 per month. Owning and insuring a car makes up 71% of the costs, the remaining costs (fuel and maintenance) vary. So if you’re considering carsharing, you have the potential to save a lot of money.  But if you just can’t get rid of your car but want to scale back the use of it, transit may be a cost-effective hybrid commute alternative.

Let’s pick an example: Walnut Creek to San Francisco.

By BART, this trip costs $4.75 each way. You might need to pay $1 for parking. Two trips and parking total $10.50.

To drive that 26 miles, pay the toll, and park (about $8 a day), someone driving alone during rush hour would end up paying $14 each day in tolls and parking alone. If you add in fuel and maintenance the real cost of the trip is $22.

And BART doesn’t even offer monthly or weekly passes. Check out these deals in Contra Costa County.

  • Unlimited rides on the County Connection cost only $60 a month.
  • A monthly local pass on AC Transit is $80, and a monthly Transbay+Local pass is $151.
  • The East Bay Value Pass offers unlimited rides on WestCat Lynx, County Connection, and Tri Delta Transit’s fixed routes for $60 a month.

Have you done the math for your household commute costs? Try this transit savings calculator from the American Public Transportation Association:

So basically commuting alone in your car isn’t cheap, but you knew that.  But did you know that there are options that can save you money? Carpool, take transit, or bicycle (the cheapest choice of all)!

How do your commute choices break down? Share in the comments or tweet them at us.

Note: The image up top is from Tom Otterness’ installation “Life Underground” in the 14th Street Station of the New York Subway.

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We welcome comments that are on topic, refrain from obscenities and personal attacks. Comments that do not comply will not be approved and may be removed. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 Responses to “Breaking down the costs of driving vs. transit”

  1. I do not believe that you only spend $ 850 per year on Bart from walnut creek to San Francisco. Lets say you have 4 weeks per month x 5 days = 20x 10.50 per day =210 per month x12 months = 2520. Please correct me if I am wrong and I was not including other days 5 th week which would add up to 3000

  2. Good catch – we updated our image with commute data based on the post (BART from walnut creek).

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