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The bumpy road to financial independence. . . .


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Frugal transportation. . . .

As I gazed out the window of the bus this morning, watching frustrated drivers jockeying for position on the road, I wondered to myself: "What's stopping these people from jumping on a bus or the light rail system? Don't they know how much money they could be saving"? Then I stopped to consider: I actually don't know whether I'm saving any money at all by taking public transportation to work---it's just something I've assumed.

I don't really question whether I'm saving money---I must be---I just don't know how much. And I want to know! So, I set about using my limited math skills to work out how much I'm saving by NOT driving my car in to work each day.

According to Yahoo maps, I live about 10 miles from work, so my daily round trip mileage would be in the 20 mile range. My car gets around 20 mpg in the city. Not great, but not bad either, especially for a 13 year old sedan. So basically, I'd be using one gallon of gas each day I drove to and from work. That would equal 20 gallons a month (1 gallon per day, five days per week, assuming four weeks in the month). At around $3.75 for a gallon of gas, I'd be spending a minimum of $75 a month just to gas up my car to get to work!

And I'm not done yet! Incredibly, a parking pass at my university costs $93 a month! A month!!! Now, that's just ridiculous. I'm up to $168 a month just for the privilege of fighting morning and afternoon traffic (also ridiculous) to get to work. This doesn't include money spent on auto maintenance associated with putting more miles on a car: tire replacement, more frequent oil changes and tuneups, for example. I can't even begin to estimate those costs.

And guess how much my monthly pass for the TriMet system costs me? $31. And, get this: it's taken out of my check pre-tax!! So, really, it probably costs me less than that when the tax savings is added in. Now, granted, my pass is subsidized by the university. For a comparable pass without an employer discount, a commuter would pay $76 a month. Still a great deal!

I have to admit, I do drive to the transit center closest to my house to park. This is about four miles roundtrip. So that's 20 miles (or one gallon of gas) a week. Which means that I should add $15 to my TriMet pass cost (4 gallons of gas for the month times $3.75 per gallon of gas) for a grand total of $46.

So, in summary, the "inconvenience" of taking public transportation (which really isn't much of an inconvenience at all) is saving me a grand total of $122 a month! More, if I were willing to add auto maintenance costs into the equation (I'm not). Even a driver paying the full $76 for a TriMet pass would save $92, assuming they also drive 10 miles each way in a vehicle that gets around 20 miles to the gallon.

Again, I'm no math whiz, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of my addition and subtraction (we won't even go into multiplication and division). If you see a glaring error, please let me know! If not, consider your own transportation costs---is there a way you could realize substantial savings by taking the bus, walking, or biking to work?


L@SpillingBuckets said...

wow, I thought our school had pricey parking, but my rate is "only" $349/year or $28/mo.

The most expensive ('Zone 1) is $789 for the year, but that's still cheaper than where you are.

I would take public transportation if I could, but there are no bus routes that are quick. I live about 8 miles from my job but would have to transfer buses twice and the commute would jump from 15 minutes to over an hour. :(

Anonymous said...

You did not include in the calculation wear and tear on the car. Let's say average price of a car is $20,000 and you get 100,000 mile life out of it. Then, the cost per mile to drive the car is $0.20 cents. Driving it 20 miles a day would add extra savings $4 for this.
Also, by driving less, you only save on gasoline, but you will have lower maintenance costs and may be able to get lower insurance rates.
I take public transportation daily for my 35 mile commute each way (70 miles a day) and for me, having time to read and think out the day is well worth some $10 spent daily on bus/train tickets.

Anonymous said...

In my case, I'd have to walk .6 miles then take a bus, or take two buses (one .6 miles, one the rest of the way). I only live 4 miles from work and parking is free. I would save money, but ~$8 a week to drive myself is still worth it. A bus pass, with a work deal, is $15. Without, it is $30 which would save me a whopping $2!

But in your case it makes a lot of sense. In a lot of people's case it makes a lot of sense. And it is much better for the environment. I suppose I could bike, which would save money but I don't own a bike yet.

Finally Frugal said...

Yes, I simply can't believe what people are paying for parking! Amazing.

My commute (driving) would probably take 15-20 minutes in traffic, while public transportation takes a good hour, door to door (with one transfer). But, like the commenter who takes the bus 35 miles each way, it's incredibly peaceful and relaxing to sit in the bus or the train and watch the world, other people, and honking cars go by while I read a book or magazine, or listen to music (or an electronic book) on my mp3 player. . . .

For me, it's so worth it, for more than the cash I'm saving (although that's a great incentive!)

overcoming overspending said...

It may be practical for some, but for me it just is NOT and believe me, I wish it were..I am a teacher. I have to be at work at 8am and I live 35 mintues from my school. Add in the 15 or so mintues I need in order to get my son dropped off at daycare and we are almost at 50 mintues door to door. Taking the bus is just not practical or feasible. Not to mention lugging my computer, purse, gym clothes, book bag and lunch on the bus. I don't even know if there is a public bus from the town I live in to the town where the daycae is located and then on to the town my school is. Round trip, I am driving about 53 miles per day. I am spending $300+ dollars a month just to get to and from work. Guess what I had to buy just today? A new tire as the old one was worn practically bald from so much driving. It is depressing....just depressing and the cost of gas is not going down anytime soon. At least I do not pay for parking at work. THAT is ridiculous.

Finally Frugal said...

I definitely feel for you! I have a coworker who would love to take public transportation, but faces the same childcare issues that you do. We've talked about a flex time schedule for her to make it possible, but haven't proposed this to our director yet. Could that be an option for you?

And believe me, with food, school supplies, work stuff, and other necessities for the day, sometimes I feel like a pack mule boarding the Max or lightrail.

Gas is not going to get cheaper; we all have some adapting to do in the future as a result. I hope you can find a way to whittle down that $300 bill!

Anonymous said...

I think it's funny how you put yourself down so much about your math skills. I look at your spreadsheets that you share and all your budgeting numbers and think you're pretty awesome with numbers myself!

Finally Frugal said...

Why, thank you for that comment!!! What I haven't shared is that I am often caught counting using my fingers, a frown of concentration upon my brow.

Maybe my math skills are fine, and I just need to improve my attitude! (-:

Rachel @ Master Your Card said...

I think that public transport does seem expensive. Most people do not count parking and maintenance on their car when calculating the cost of driving - they just look at the cost of the fuel. I wonder how many people have actually done the maths and calculated whether they will save money travelling by public transport.

Debbie M said...

To L@SpillingBuckets: I also hate transfers. I am willing to walk quite a distance to avoid having to transfer. Is there any single bus you could use by adding just a mile or two of walking?

To Finally Frugal: My situation is similar to yours, but with smaller numbers (shorter distance, better gas mileage, cheaper parking, cheaper bus pass).

You could estimate the cost of wear and tear using IRS deductions. I think the one for charity purposes doesn't include the cost of buying the car and the one for business purposes does.

My bus commute takes 45 minutes each way, during which time I do some walking and some reading. I live only 3.5 miles away, so that's ridiculous, but it includes walking to and from the bus stops and waiting for the bus. I've thought of bicycling, but I'd be all sweaty and it's kind of dangerous, etc. Walking would take me a full hour, if I didn't stop to smell the flowers, which I would. Jogging would mean I could carry as much stuff with me, and I'd still have the sweatiness problem.

Yes, we have showers, but they require a gym membership, and that's expensive.

Advantages I get from taking the bus include:
* saving piles of money
* less stress because I don't have to drive in rush hour traffic and I don't have to drive around hoping to find a parking place in a decent amount of time
* not worrying when my car breaks down--I can still get to work while the car is in the shop
* getting at least a small amount of exercise in every day, no matter what
* getting in some reading every day
* adding less pollution

Funny about Money said...

Darn! I sure wish we had decent public transportation! At $3.50 a gallon, it costs me about $8 per round trip to my university campus. Luckily, with a disabled sticker you can park in any metered city parking--since the university jacked up the cost of disabled parking to the premium rate, which is now at $880/year.

The university worked a deal with the local metro bus service whereby we can get free bus passes.

HowEVER... On the bus, the 25-minute drive from here to campus takes TWO HOURS going and TWO HOURS TEN MINUTES coming back. There are no express buses from my central-city location to the suburb where the university is located.

They drop you off about three-quarters of a mile from my office...not very practical in 115-degree heat.

The buses have no springs, and so you're bumped and thwacked every inch of the way, making it impossible to work on a laptop and pretty uncomfortable trying to read. For obvious reasons, most of the riders are homeless mentally ill, so you get to listen to them yelling at their voices all the way. They panhandle you and pester you at the bus stops, where you may wait as much as 45 minutes for a bus to show up.

And a week after my experimental trip, a woman was abducted from my local bus stop and raped.

Last time I tried it was the LAST time. Even if I had to pay for parking, I wouldn't do that again. ;-)

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