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Cost of commuting(12 posts)

Cost of commutingtommyb
May 18, 2001 11:39 AM
With all of the talk of rising gas prices, my co-workers are commenting on how much money I save by commuting by bike to work several times per week. Most of them are amazed when I claim that it actually costs more to ride than drive. It's 60 miles round trip. That's less than 2 gallons of gas in my Honda Civic. It's about 1500 calories on my bike. If I'm buying food in our cafeteria, that's about $4 - $5 more than I would normally spend. A more expensive option is 5 PowerBars. I suppose I could bring in a 25 lb bag of rice, and boil it in the microwave, but I'm not that dedicated. So, looking at just fuel costs, gas needs to get up to $2.50 per gallon for commuting by bike to be a break-even proposition. If you include maintenance costs, I probably spend as much on bike tires, chains, handlebar tape, etc as I do on oil changes for the car.

Has anyone else done an economic analysis of commuting by bike? Or am I the only one who thinks a well designed internal combustion engine is more efficient than a human on a bicycle?
Depends on legth of commuteShelley
May 18, 2001 11:52 AM
I only have about an 8 mile roundtrip commute to work. While I also have a Honda Civic, I still find it saves in the long run to ride my bike. I also pack my lunch everyday (whether riding or driving) and that certainly saves over buying cafeteria food or going out to lunch.

I have to say, if I had a 60 mile commute round trip I probably would not do it. My commute is so short I can bike it in almost the same time as driving it. 60 miles biking I am sure takes much longer that driving, so you are also taking more time, but then you also get your biking in that way instead of doing it after or before work.

I can see your point in your situation. In mine though biking is an easy choice. It is also short enough that I don't feel like I need a shower when I get to work, I hardly break a sweat unless it is really hot.
Hmmm....Greg Taylor
May 18, 2001 12:06 PM
I guess that where I would question your conclusion as a general "truth" is

1. That you eat $4-$5 more food as a result of your commute. That's almost a whole extra meal! Granted, 60 miles is a good distance, but are you really that hungry? Five Power Bars? At that distance I make do with banannas or a Pop Tart on the bike, and eat normally for the rest of the day. In terms of cost per calorie expended in food vs. gasoline, I think that the outcome of that debate depends on the cost of what you are fueling yourself with. Peanutbutter & Jelly is cheaper than filet mingon (and 2 gallons of gas). The bike CAN be cheaper and, in most circumstances, probably will be cheaper.

2. You don't appear to have additional costs like parking, etc. It costs me $10 a day to park in my building (Downtown D.C.). Metro (the subway) is about $7.00 a day, with parking. This doesn't include gas, or wear and tear on the car. My car commute is a crawl through traffic, so I don't get nearly the milage that you do, even with a small car. Bike commuting (30 miles round trip) is easier and way cheaper for me.

3. I'd agree generally that the maintenace costs on the car MIGHT be roughly equivalent to costs for the bike. I get about 3k out of a set of tires and a chain, and I can go a year with bar tape, cables, etc. Grease is cheap, and I do my own work.

Interesting question!
VW did ads on this. But what about health benefits?Cory
May 18, 2001 12:31 PM
Volkswagen did some ads like this in about the mid-'70s, comparing the price of driving a VW 26.2 miles to the cost of food to fuel a runner in a marathon. A gallon of gas was about 45 cents at the time, I think, while 2600 calories from a fast-food place came to $1.50 or so.
Don't forget to factor in the indirect benefits, though, from your potential reduced risk of heart disease to lessened pollution (no clean-up costs; less asthma in kids, which reduces your health insurance rates, etc.).
re: Cost of commutingGregJ
May 18, 2001 1:00 PM
You need to factor in depreciation to your vehicle as well. My Edmunds guide depreciates a Honda Civic at an additional 8 cents per mile above normal usage. If you ride 9000 per year instead of driving you will save 720 per year on depreciation cost alone. Bicycle depreciation is negligible in regards to mileage and is much more age sensitive. In addition the 9000 miles you would put on your Civic would add substantial maintenance cost above and beyond oil changes, your bike maintenance cost would not even begin to approach the extra cost of brakes, clutch etc that you WILL incur over time. If you brought your lunch and just made the portions larger you could probably compensate for the extra calories on 50 cents per day plus maybe a Power Bar for the ride home. My opinion, you are saving a lot more than you think and more power to ya!!
May 18, 2001 1:37 PM
have done the analysis but don't have the data available.

new car replacement cost incl tax & license; old car trade in; insurance; warranty maintenance; non-warranty maintenance; gas; routine service; non-routine service; yearly license fee; battery; tires; brakes; car-warsh?, water, polish, chamois, stereo upgrades, alarm system, any special toolz, gotta-haves like the little air
freshner [dual cat backs, 4WD off road pkg., leather seats, what else? :)],etc.,... add it all up, every nickel and dime ...over the life of the car. divide by miles driven or maybe weeks owned or ?? proportion that part you deem for the commute & separate it out ...tricky business.

cost of the bike; tires; tubes; chain; pump; patch kit; extra tubes; lock set, & other recurring items. other got have stuff ...if not a Sears beater bike, etc.

varies and is a delta cost as you got eat,but you could bag it, cup-o-noodles, costco "power" energy bars, animal cookies, etc.

health benefits:
figure it out based on your mind set and assign plus and minus values and mebee try & assign proportional medical or lack of cost.

one can not typically do with out the family car but it is possible one could do without the "extra" car if is mostly commuter dedicated.

good subject but need individual hard numbers.

and how much was the intital outlayclimbo
May 18, 2001 2:49 PM
of that very efficient engine? Even if your "commute" bike cost $2,000 it'll last a long time and no dependent vehicle is even close to that cheap. Over 10 years your $20,000 car is worth nothing, a $2,000 bike, close to nothing, but you saved a whopping $18,000 up front.

What about road taxes, car insurance etc.
re: Cost of commutingblue bayou
May 18, 2001 3:57 PM
Examine the multiple types of "cost". You must decide how each "value" plays in your life. Opportunity cost, dollar cost, risk, and depreciation. The relative value of each varies from person to person. I found the simple loss of time, due to the length of my commute was the deciding factor. Point being, economic value plays a big role in the equation. Make yourself a formula.
I guess it's really a moot pointtommyb
May 18, 2001 4:12 PM
I guess in the final analysis, it's really a wash. As far as fixed capital investment, I'm going to own a relatively cheap car and a few relatively expensive bikes either way, so commuting doesn't save or cost anything. Pretty much the same applies to ongoing maintenance costs. When I think about it, if I wasn't commuting by bike, I'd be trying to get in the same mileage anyway, so I'd still have to eat the extra calories, and buy the gas for the car anyway. So, I'm ahead a bit there. As far as eating cheaper food, I don't think so. I ride this much so that I can eat what I want. All I know is, when I ride to and from work more than twice a week, I eat a LOT. It's a good thing there's an ATM in the cafeteria, or I'd be in big trouble by noon.

Although the ride to work can be very monotonous, it does let me get in the miles without destroying my entire family time. I guess that's the best justification. No amount of gas money or food money can offset that.

Happy riding.
re: Cost of commutingBrianOR
May 18, 2001 4:23 PM
One of the most significant factors to consider is parking cost. Even if you don't pay directly for parking, your employer is actually subsidizing those that drive. A lot of places are now requiring to employers to adopt "cash-out" systems where they pay employees the equivalent of their parking subsidy to encourage them to use alternative modes. That's neither here nor there, but something to definitely factor in.

Salem, OR
re: Cost of commutingphil2
May 18, 2001 6:51 PM
This site has a commute cost calculator:
I agree with youalacritter
May 19, 2001 11:45 AM
I figured out my costs in this issue when I was doing it about 4 years ago at school. My car was a Honda Prelude, so I threw out initial purchase price of both the car and the bike, but did include depreciation costs. I also included car insurance and all maintenance costs. The parking fee was only about $100 per year. My bike was a purpose-built commuter. My commute was 4-8 miles round trip, which was all short downtown blocks. I sprinted pretty often because I used to be a hammerhead. I was wearing out tires, drivetrains right down to the crank/bb interface, and even handlebars at a regular rate. I was also had a ferocious appetite. I also had to buy different clothes to commute in all 4 seasons. Like you, I found that I was spending more money to bike instead of drive. I biked as a matter of convenience, since parking was guaranteed not to be close to my destination.

Only when I threw in orginal purchase price of both the car and the bike did the comparison tip in favor of the bike. I couldn't live without some kind of car, of course.

Speaking of costs, I wonder if it's relevant that I'm the only bike commuter I knew at the time who had not been hit by a car.