Design, Finance, Sustainability

The True Cost of Commuting

I recently had a brief and glorious hiatus from the world of commuting – no frustrating rush hour traffic, no scraping off my frost-covered car at 7am – but alas, with my new office job I’m right back in it, and therefore right back into thinking how to make the best of my daily voyage to-and-from work.

I’m lucky enough to have a diverse arsenal of commuting options: I can drive, ride my bike, run or take the bus.  The bus is great, albeit time consuming (1 hour each way) but it’s at least time reading a book or taking a nap, so I can chalk it up as reasonably productive. Compare this to my drive, which is about 30 minutes each way, but it’s 30 minutes of relatively unproductive time sitting in rush hour stop-and-go traffic. Yes, podcasts and talk radio are great and all, but it’s just not the same relaxation when you’re behind the wheel. I consider myself a very patient person in most situations, but sitting in traffic, idling my car and breathing in fumes certainly tests that patience.

bike to work

The hands-down winner however is riding my bike to work. It seems like an absolute no-brainer to me: it’s cheap, fun, good exercise, fresh air…and best of all, there’s little to no traffic. I’ve discovered my greatest pleasure in my work day comes from joyously riding past seemingly endless lines of smoggy traffic stuck in rush hour.

Of course not everyone has the luxury of multiple methods of commuting easily accessible from their house. In some cases this might just be an excuse: as long as you live within reasonable proximity to your work within a city, there’s bound to be at least some quiet side roads to bike or a bus to catch. But, that being said, there are those who simply claim that the train, bus, or buying a bike is too expensive.

This got me thinking…what is the true cost of commuting?  So I whipped up this chart:


To sum it up, I estimated the daily cost of each method of transportation (based on what I consider to be average fuel economy, distance of commute, and 240 work days). This resulted in a daily cost of $1.70 per day to bike, $6.00 per day to ride the train and whopping $10.85 per day to drive!  It also doesn’t take into account the long-term savings like the numerous health benefits from riding your bike and the stress reduced from taking the train as opposed to driving a car in rush hour.

The car commuting system is inefficient, polluting, dangerous and expensive, and it’s only going to get worse as the mass influx of people from rural to cities continues. The most forward-thinking cities will focus on building strong transit systems and pedestrian path networks in high density communities, rather than building far-reaching, sprawling roads to distant suburbs. Imagine if all these people in these pictures were each driving a car, how packed it would get on the roads:


And wait! I can’t end a blog post on this topic without the obligatory mention of the effects on the planet. If you bike even half the year, that’s roughly 250 liters of gas that you’re not burning into the atmosphere and later breathing in. It is said that 5% of gas burned moves the person and the remaining 95% moves the car.  Why is such an inefficient mode of transportation so widely used? There must be other ways!

And lastly, study upon study has shown that more time spent in a car translates into poor cardiovascular health, an expanding waistline, a rise in blood pressure and increased stress. So tomorrow morning after your coffee, dust off the bike or find some change under the sofa for bus fare and leave the car at home.

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