Money, Money, Money, Money

A new report out from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) confirms what we already knew: ditching a car can save you thousands of dollars per year. According to the report, the average savings for public transit users who eliminate a car is $724 per month ($8,691 per year), based on the cost of parking and the 5/5/09 average gas price of $2.079 as reported by AAA.

Here’s their methodology:

APTA calculates the average cost of taking public transit by determining the average monthly transit pass of local public transit agencies across the country. This information is based on the annual APTA fare collection survey and is weighted based on ridership (unlinked passenger trips). The assumption is that a person making a switch to public transportation would likely purchase an unlimited pass on the local transit agency, typically available on a monthly basis. 

APTA then compares the average monthly transit fare to the average cost of driving. The cost of driving is calculated using the 2009 AAA average cost of driving formula. AAA cost of driving formula is based on variable costs and fixed costs. The variable costs include the cost of gas, maintenance and tires. The fixed costs include insurance, license registration, depreciation and finance charges. The comparison also uses the average mileage of a mid-size auto at 23.4 miles per gallon and the price for self-serve regular unleaded as recorded by AAA on May 5 at $2.079 per gallon. The analysis also assumes that a person will drive an average of 15,000 miles per year. The savings assume a household gives up one car.

In determining the cost of parking, APTA uses the data from the 2008 Colliers International Parking Rate Study for monthly unreserved parking rates for the United States.

Point-to-point bike commuters can take the transit pass expense out of the equation and see even more savings. And, more importantly, the many mental and physical benefits provided by bicycling are nearly priceless.

You can calculate your own savings by trying out the Savings Calculator at


[via Car Free Days]

33 Responses to “Money, Money, Money, Money”

  • Perry says:

    I am very doubtful of these numbers…or that they actually mean anything to many Americans because most don’t have the option of mass transit. Even if they do, they may need that second car for other chores (kids driving themselves to college, part time job, etc). Having worked in and around large cities, what I have found is that people use a combination of cars and mass transit to patch together commutes. The closer to the city (or within the city) the more there is a chance that the commute is 100% via mass transit.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Perry,

    In our case the numbers are surprisingly accurate; my rough calculations suggest we saved at least $8000 this last year by eliminating one car.


  • Duncan Watson says:

    Many American’s claim that they don’t have the option for going without a car. It is surprising what you can do in many cities when you try.

    I went car-free for 8 years in Portland and Seattle suburbs. For 5 of those years I had let my license expire but still traveled for business. I was able to use a bike box to transport my bike to Eastern Washington, to Boston suburbs and to Columbia, Tenn and avoid a rental car. Other trips I had co-workers with me with rental cars.

    I found it pretty easy in a number of areas that I suspect others would say require a car. Necessity is the mother of invention.

  • Perry says:

    @Duncan: The operative word is “cities.” Many, many Americans live outside cities and many cities do not have the public transportation options that Portland and Seattle have.

    @Alan: That’s great news. Thanks for the personal confirmation for the costs. That should inspire some folks to try, I hope.

  • Lewis says:

    Your preaching to the converted. I gave up driving recently (in a Montana town with a population of 50,000) and am expecting to save $3,400 just on insurance. Not to mention being able to sell my cehicle for about $2,000. Based on 10,000 vehicle miles from last year, I’ll also save about $1,300 in fuel and another few nuhdered in maintanence.

    It is easier than many people think, you just have to make a determined effort to change your lifestyle.

  • Alan says:


    “Your preaching to the converted.”

    LOL. Yeah, I know. But you never know who might drop in quietly and sit down in the back row… :-)


    PS – Congrats on ditching your car!

  • Duncan Watson says:

    @Perry, go look up Columbia, Tenn on google maps. It isn’t a city. Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, WA are not big cities either.

    I should change my line to say “it is amazing what you can do to get around when you try”, because I found myself able to get around in many places that others would be surprised at. Tulsa, OK was not bad at all by bike for what I had to do.

    Making it easier to go car-free should be a goal for every community in the US but it is surprising how well it can be done already.

  • Perry says:

    @Duncan: It can be done by some, and it will be done by even less than some, but it will not be and cannot be done by most, as things stand. Massive infrastructure and social changes must take place beforehand. Not even $5/gal. gas, in an of itself, will cause it to happen. Under that scenario, what will change are the types of cars we drive here in the US (more European-type diesels, hybrids, etc). But I won’t get into it further because this discussion is rather involved. It would be best done over a beer or cup of coffee. :)

    @Lewis: $3,400 for insuring a $2000 car? Perhaps you are very young with a bad driving record? I have an old Accord. Maybe it’s worth a little less than $2000. I pay $525.72 per year for me and my wife. I think that is more in line with the average person.

  • Michael says:

    I can’t ditch my car, but I can get around in the ‘burbs just fine on my bike and cut my gas costs in about half. Most of what I need can be found inside of a 5 mile radius of my house.

  • Alan says:

    It would help immensely if transit organizations did more public outreach. It took a surprising amount of digging and effort to figure out that it was possible to make my 60-mile-round-trip multi-modal commute, and I consider myself fairly web-savvy. I practically needed a spreadsheet and visualization software to figure it out… LOL. I actually went a couple of years thinking it wasn’t possible before eventually figuring it out.

    When I first started making the commute, I had a number of people at my workplace approach me about how I was able to get from the suburb in which I live to downtown, what kind of passes they needed, where they could buy the passes, what kind of resident ID was required, etc., etc., etc. You’d swear the darned transit companies were conspiring to keep away new riders, which isn’t as far-fetched as it seems considering our buses are standing room only everyday, yet they’re having trouble with funding more buses.

    The good news is that it was possible; all it took was a bit of tenacity and a strong desire to make it happen.

  • Perry says:

    @Alan: Jo Ellen and I were talking about your commute just yesterday. Kudos to you! You are really walking the walk.

  • Mr RcGuy says:

    This is a great idea until you have to juggle wife, husband both with jobs. Getting kids to and from separate schools, sports, etc.

    The idea in this article only works in very, very few circumstances. The number of cities in the US that have an infrastructure advanced enough to allow a family of 4 to function efficiently without a car (or more specifically riding a bike) are remarkably few.

    I could currently ride my bike to work. But I wouldn’t be able to get to a friends house to pick up the kids after school when mom works. Bus ride for mom would be close to two hours each way in optimal conditions, but she works off shift which means no buses at the end of her day.

    The conditions in the article just don’t warrant the attention they are getting.

  • Alan says:

    @Mr RcGuy

    I acknowledge that it’s difficult for many people, but it’s also working for an awful of of people in and around Sacramento, CA, where we have commuter buses and trains overflowing with people, every hour of every day. And now that it’s springtime, Amtrak is going to have to add a dedicated train car for bikes or we’re going to have them stacked in the aisles like we did last year.


  • Alan says:

    PS – We’re a family of 5 with one car, but only one of us works outside the home, which simplifies our situation…

  • Michael says:


    I know quite a few people in the situation you’re describing who managed to go from 2 cars to one. I can’t think of any that went to zero.

    One of the things this is showing is how we should change and develop in the future. Currently about 5% of trips in the Puget Sound region are done by bike and walking. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to up that percentage of bike/walkers as our regions grows than it is to increase capacity on the road ways (where that’s even possible). The study shows that there’s an economic benefit to families as well when you develop in bike/walking friendly manner.

  • Mr RcGuy says:

    I’m not saying it won’t or can’t work. Just that the circumstances have to be there for it to work.

    Unless you are in an area with an advanced infrastructure it would be nearly impossible. We live in a burb of Seattle and the bus/train commute schedule is not robust enough for it to work for us. Or any of my Seattle commuting friends actually. Now if you live closer to Seattle and only work standard hours then it’s possible.

    So working in Sacramento great. But what about commuting from Yuba, Olivehurst, or someplace else about 50 miles from the city. Seattle is too expensive for us to live within their public transportation infrastructure.

    I know those are negative statements but people who can make biking and public transportation work often discount (as do politicians, especially in Seattle) those who cannot. It’s not that we don’t want to. I’m glad it works for you though and kudos for sticking with it.

  • Mr RcGuy says:


    I’d like to hear their stories then because I know none. Seriously in the area I live. A bike to the train station takes about an hr (on a bike UN-friendly major highway). Not surprisingly the bus time to get to the train station is 40 minutes or so. Then the train to Seattle which (if you live in the area you know) runs on a very limited schedule, basically core business hours. A bus ride home after core hours is at least 2hrs long. A person working a 12 hr shift getting off at 12:30am? Not happening. Most people think of “bank” business hrs. But if you (or both of you) work in health care then your hours differ from the average commuter. Something the Seattle area (seattle, tacoma, mountlake terrace, everett, arlington) does not do well at all.

    As I’ve said … there a quite a number of people that can make this work. There are many times more who won’t be able to.

  • Alan says:


    “I’m not saying it won’t or can’t work. Just that the circumstances have to be there for it to work.”

    I hear you and understand completely. What I’m hoping, is that as more people realize what an advantage it would be for them to use some form of alternative transportation (both financially as stated in the OP and in regards to their daily stress levels), they’ll put pressure on those politicians who are discounting them.

    Of course, the underlying problem is sprawl. In this day and age, it’s a legitimate question to ask what is a responsible commute distance? Personally, I’m not at all proud of making a 60-mile-round-trip commute 4 days a week. For the time being we have to stay where we’re at, but a top priority when we move again will be reducing my commute distance.


  • Mr RcGuy says:

    I hear you on the commute. Mine is pretty short at around 7 miles. I consciously took a job at about $15k less a year to lessen my commute and give me more family time (45 miles vs. 7 miles = 2hrs minimum to 20 minutes maximum(figures are one way trip)). My wife though hasn’t had that opportunity. She is stuck with a huge commute into Seattle.

  • Michael says:

    The people I know live much closer to work than you do. But, they manage to get kids to school, get the shopping done and so on.

    As the Puget Sound region fills in, we’re seeing more people like me who live and work in the ‘burbs.

    I think that’s really the point: to make it so that in the future we’re less dependent on cars. This study’ gives us one more reason why that’s a good idea.

  • Ryan says:

    I can’t wait to cut back on a car. But…2 years ago we bought a car that we make payments on and we can’t get rid of that. I don’t want to get rid of the other one because it is paid for.. I commute to work about 85% by bike but I have a Honda XR600R and a 50 cc Honda Scooter (bought for the wife that she doesn’t ride anymore) to make up the difference. It hurts to pay the car payment and the insurance when I use the car once a week. I am also trying to get rid of the motos because I ride my bike over them too. Don’t even get me started on the wife who has a 2 mile commute but drives….

    The issue of going car-free or car-lite varies varies for so many reasons. Even with short commute distances some people just don’t feel comfortable on the road. I have ridden thousands of miles on the roads with cars and my wife hasn’t. So her 2 mile commute seems like a leisurely 10 minute bike ride to me but is a cause of fear for her due to the busy roads. I will quit rambling, it is almost time for my commute home…

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Just some clarification.

    Some are saying “nearly impossible to do without a car” and then others “most don’t have the option of mass transit”. I don’t claim that everyone can go car-free, or even most people. But it is surprisingly possible even in this current hostile environment.

    My point is that many people greatly underestimate how much they can do in their situation if they are willing to make life changes to be car-lite or car-free. Additionally the % of people that live in cities is often underestimated. Over half of the world population lives in urban areas, in the US that percentage is over 80% –

    I strongly support improvement to our mass transit options and cycling infrastructure throughout the US.

  • Adrienne says:

    I am with Duncan on a lot of this. When you drive everywhere, all you see is how cars get places. When you get on a bike, you suddenly see side streets and paths you have never noticed before that make getting from A to B a lot easier.

    Most people seem to think it is an all or nothing proposition to introduce a bike into their lives. For me it started as one commute to work a week. Granted, at this point i have to think about starting my car once a week to make sure the battery doesn’t die on me, but I remember how hard it was in the beginning.

    There is always someplace you can go to on a bike instead of a car. You can go to the grocery store or the dentist or a friend’s house. I know someone who lives way too far away from work to be able to ride, but he keeps a bike at work so he can use it to run errands at lunch time.

    As to having a family- I have three children. They all ride bikes or take the bus to get where they need to get to. There are things they do not do because I refuse to be the Mom in the car driving from practice to rehearsal to recital… if they can not get there themselves, then they have to find something else to do. As a result they have time for homework before dinner, time to learn to cook, time to read for pleasure… Sometimes a bike can help you find that life you lost along the way : )

    Oh, and to be true to the thread topic- Because I do not drive, my lay off 2 months ago has not had the economic impact it might have had. I don’t remember the last time I put gas in my tank and with the less than 100 miles I drive a month, I have reduced my insurance to the minimum.

  • Ted says:

    My daughter, 2 years out of college, chose to live in Boston (most expensive to own a car and to work for a non-profit. She has relied on walking and transit since she’s lived there. She called this weekend just over the moon with excitement because she found a vehicle that would give her huge amounts of freedom to get where she wants to go, when she wants to go and not have to be dependent on the whims of bus drivers. She was positively thrilled that she has so much more freedom now with the 40 year old BSA bicycle she found.

  • Alan says:

    That’s awesome, Ted. Thanks for sharing…


  • Karen P-V says:

    @Adrienne: I wholeheartedly second your comments. If I were a mom, I’d be just like you, not shuttling the kids around :-)

  • veganlinda says:

    When we lived in the DC area pre-kids, we made sure we lived near a Metro stop and owned 1 car we used primarily to go climbing in WV on the weekends. Then we moved to a small college town in IL and everyone thought we were crazy to only have 1 car with 1 then 2 children. Now we have 3 children and are completely car-free. It only took us 14 years to take the plunge. I’m not sure how much we save in money, but we are definitely enjoying the ride.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Some facts:

    In the USA, 40% of all trips are made within two miles of the home, and 50% of the working population commutes five miles or less to work. Source:

  • andy parmentier says:

    time is money and the faster you go the slower time goes. if you could travel at the speed of shaded light (on a bicycle) time would stand still and you would be transported to the 19th century (in your imagination on yer 2 wheeled time machine)

  • evan says:

    Alot of the discussion on this post has been on the feasability of giving up a car here and now… I have not commuted by car in about 3 years, but I have lived in major cities and am young and childless, not to mention stoic about weather. I think bikes are wonderful but no panacea. The point is: bikes can be one component in an evolving transportation future. But the fact of the matter is we have infrastructure and culture based on a century of automobile-centrism. The momentum there is enormous. I think a certain pragmatism about this is necessary… things change slowly. Technology & public policy & all kinds of paradigms about how we live need to shift. This discussion isn’t really about bikes, it’s about demography and geography.
    Anyways, I think the APTA study is great, money is the great motivator, and bikes are cheap. So is walking.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Evan, But the fact of the matter is we have infrastructure and culture based on a century of automobile-centrism.

    I’d say a half-century. The interstate highway system didn’t start until 1956. The Ford Model T was built starting 1908, but I think large-scale freeway construction is a better measure of when mass daily car use became the norm.

    And look at long-distance travel in the past 20 years. I’d say it’s shifted from car-centric to plane-centric, as airfares have come down. In Europe and Asia, and in the Washington-New York-Boston corridor, many choose to travel by high-speed train. Since 50% of the working population commutes five miles or less to work, short journeys might easily shift away from cars too. I think society is closer to a large-scale shift in car use than many imagine.

  • Robert says:

    I have watched Alan and Michael make the “conversion” over the last several years and the simple reality is it is doable for a LOT of people. It simply requires significant commitment (maybe move even) and a lot of work; two things I am not willing to do right now (which is the other reality for most of us). But as soon as Alan post the cap and trade donation link, I will start buying carbon credits so Michael can get her Pete’s coffee fix.

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