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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Get Rich Quick: Ditch Your Car!

posted by on January 10 at 15:01 PM

A new report by the American Public Transit Association finds that the average two-person household can save more than $6,200 a year by ditching one car and using public transportation—more than the $5,781 the average household spends on food each year. Most of the savings (around $5,800) comes from not paying for maintenance, insurance, and loan payments. Doubling transit use nationwide, meanwhile, would increase fuel savings to 2.8 billion gallons a year—the equivalent of 216 million tanks of fuel, 68 oil tankers from the Middle East, or 7.8 million gallons of gas a day.

That’s just one car. The survey didn’t look at savings experienced by households, like mine, with no cars at all. I gave up my car about a year ago because, among other reasons, I had pretty much stopped using it. (I hate driving in the city). Since then I’ve traded gas, insurance, maintenance, car payments, tickets, and tow fees (from the several times a year the city towed my car because I didn’t move it around enough) for biking, busing, walking, FlexCar, cab rides and the charity of my friends. I’m not saying everybody can get by without a car; but if you want to save money and have access to a bus route, it’s worth trying out.

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This is a sound plan for someone who has a compatible lifestyle, but you lose me at "charity of my friends".

It's a cheapskate move to ditch the car and expect your friends to give you rides because you decided to sell your car.

It's similar to a friend of mine who doesn't have a cell phone "because I can just borrow someone else's". He's cheap too.

In both cases, one person is paying someone else's fare (be it car fees or cell phone fees) because the someone has decided not to pay.

Posted by PA Native | January 10, 2007 3:16 PM

@1 - I think you are mis-representing "charity of my friends". I don't have a car anymore either and often get rides from friends, but it's not mooching, or being cheap. It's car pooling, and on long trips i always offer gas money, pay for parking, etc. Maybe you are friends with a bunch of pricks, but my friends all share things. Some have cars, some have large houses that are good for hosting events, some have lake cabins, or trampolines, or sticky weed, but everyone brings something to the table.

Posted by longball | January 10, 2007 3:28 PM

The average household has convenient public transportation?

Posted by pox | January 10, 2007 3:28 PM

since my car became a windstorm casualty, i've been debating going carless. i'm not sure how compatible my lifestyle is, but it seems like flexcar, cabs, walking, and perhaps the bus would come out far cheaper. i wasn't willing to sell my car to try this out, but now that it's been thrust upon me by God's wrathful hand, i might as well give it a shot.

Posted by donte | January 10, 2007 3:29 PM

Horsefeathers. I pay about $50/month for insurance ($71 since I added a truck to my policy, but we'll leave that aside for the moment), and about $150 per month for gas because I drive a lot regionally. So that's about $2400 per year. Throw another $500 or so per year in for repairs (I drive old cars, and that figure would be an average - some years would be higher, some lower) and $71 for AAA plus and the total is still less than $3000.00. A metro bus pass is $45/month, so my net savings would be about $2500.

Factor in the reality that my time is worth something. My current work commute is about 20-25 minutes each way 5x per week, or a little over 4 hours per week/16 hours a month/192 hours per year. Now let's assume I'm on a bus. My commute time goes up to well over an hour each way, or 10 hours per week/40 hours per month/480 hours per year. The net annual difference in time is about 288 hours. If my time is worth say $10 per hour (and it's actually worth more to me, as I make more than that), and all of the savings you cite from riding the bus are gone - poof.

To recap - the cost of driving for me vs. taking a bus, about equal if you assume that my time has some sort of value to me. The freedom to go where I want when I want? Priceless.

Posted by Mr. X | January 10, 2007 3:29 PM

Also, what is the offset cost of living in an area with convenient public transport, reasonable biking and walking distances?

Posted by pox | January 10, 2007 3:32 PM

Mr. X. -- There's the real Seattle math. Nice.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | January 10, 2007 3:36 PM

Mr.X @ No.5

As ECB mentions, it's not for everyone. It works for some of us and not for you. Okay.

By the way, be sure to factor in depreciation cost, capital cost (these are probably small for you driving old cars, but they're not for a lot of people), parking, tickets, risk of damage not covered by insurance, etc. in your cost.

Posted by Steve | January 10, 2007 3:39 PM

Mr. X: Was your car free? Even if it's old, it depreciates and someday you'll have to buy another one. But your math does prove something: Gas is too cheap.

Posted by DOUG. | January 10, 2007 3:42 PM

I am pretty sure ECB isn't saying this is right for everyone. The savings for me were over 4000$ per year. These savings actually made it affordable for me to live in a neighborhhod that does have good transit.

Posted by longball | January 10, 2007 3:44 PM

I paid $700 for it, and have driven it for 1.5 years so far. I'll drive it until it explodes and buy another. Worth every penny...

And $3 per gallon is hardly cheap, except to self-righteous autophobes who don't give a damn about the plight of real working folks who've got no choice but to pay it.

Posted by Mr. X | January 10, 2007 3:51 PM

I think Mr. X hit one point on the head: Seattle doesn't have real mass transit. Real mass transit is *quicker* at commuting time than driving. It would save you hours a week.

That's what we lost by killing the monorail and dragging our feet on light rail.

Just one quibble with your math: Don't forget to include to cost of the roads. You should pay for it with tolls, but instead we all pay for it through taxes.

Posted by golob | January 10, 2007 3:52 PM

Good thing you don't have to report on stuff in Olympia, E.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 10, 2007 4:03 PM

I find myself right in the middle of erica and mr. x -- kind of weird, but this is how I see it: I bus to work five days a week only using my car on the weekends.

It takes approx 45 min via bus compared to 15-20 by car. Monthly parking at work can be anywhere between 75-100+ bones a month, plus the cost of gas (when i drive every day I need to fill up about every ten days w/ a 13 gallon tank--usually between $28 and $33).

A reserved spot at my apt complex is $50 a month, which is added to my rent. By taking the bus I save myself the need to pay for not one but TWO parking spaces, plus I reduce my mileage and can get away with filling my car approx every three weeks.

I also reduce the odds that I'll get involved in an accident and have the relatively stress free job of being a passenger (I get to read about 1 250 page book a week).

This all has value to me.

Futhermore, by only using my car on the weekends or for the odd trip out of town (or to the mountains), my insurance rate is reduced due to the fact that I only put 10k miles on my car per year. This helps offset depreciation a little, but not a whole lot.

So in the end, by my calculus overall I benefit from taking the bus, but only a little. Were my commute longer than 45 min via bus, as Mr. X points out, the bus loses value because getting up earlier and getting home later doesn't exactly make my quality of life meter perk. Add to this the fact that I am only able to reasonably take the bus due to the fact that I live relatively close to work which makes my rent nearly double that of some friends who live in mountlake terrace. Were I to live where they do and drive every day, my savings in rent would most likely offset increased gas/parking fees. I might even be able to save money. The only reason I don't do that is living in the city itself has value to me so I don't mind the extra cost. It is complicated but both erica and mr. x make valid points.

In the end the solution to traffic congestion in the city is going to come down to what makes sense for individual people. Which is why telling people they're idiots for owning a car or by trying to reduce traffic capacity to FORCE people to change their habits isn't going to win people over. Making it easier to not use their cares AS MUCH is a smarter way of addressing the problem. In short: make the "right" thing a better alternative instead of making the "wrong" thing painful. more carrot, less stick and condescension.

p.s. golob re: road taxes. don't forget the several hundred dollars per year you're liable to get socked with for monorails that never get built. that's a cost that erica didn't include in her post.

Posted by charles | January 10, 2007 4:04 PM

MR X: If it's cheaper to drive than to take mass transit, then gas is too cheap. It should be taxed to all hell and THAT'S how roads should be paid for, NOT through property and sales taxes. That would provide tax relief that would help real working folks. Your money is lining the pockets of Exxon/Mobil execs and Middle Eastern facists. Congratulations.

Posted by DOUG. | January 10, 2007 4:05 PM


You are one of those self-righteous pricks I was talking about. I could be running domestic biodiesel and you still wouldn't be happy. Blow me.

Posted by Mr. X | January 10, 2007 4:13 PM

But you're not.

Posted by DOUG. | January 10, 2007 4:17 PM

doug just can't put the stick down.

Posted by charles | January 10, 2007 4:18 PM


I didn't put the monorail tax in my post because it isn't being collected anymore.

Posted by ECB | January 10, 2007 4:27 PM

Good post, Charles. Situations do differ (if I worked downtown and didn't have multiple destinations over the course of a day, I'd probably be about where you are).

Posted by Mr. X | January 10, 2007 4:57 PM

Charles: I have a similar situation. Monday through Friday, I am a law abiding citizen who follows all the rules at my job so that I can get ahead in life. On the weekends, I kill prostitutes and take their money.

This lifestyle benefits me because killing prostitutes during the week could possibly get me fired or cost me a promotion -- due to stress, lack of sleep, someone catching me with a prostitute corpse at the workplace, etc. On the weekends, killing prostitutes helps me de-stress, adds a helpful second revenue stream, and releases my sexual tension.

(I forgot to mention I am a necrophiliac)

This is an expression of my freedom. I have an active lifestyle.

Wait, there's not another reason to not own a ca--I mean to not kill a prostitute, is there?

Posted by jamier | January 10, 2007 6:07 PM

PS if you give up killing prostitutes, the city of Seattle will give you $620 in flexwhore credits.

Posted by jamier | January 10, 2007 6:11 PM

i understand--i wasn't implying that you were being dishonest. i actually think this is one of the better posts you've written in a really long time so i'm kind of enjoying the change of pace.

I mentioned the monorail tax because I got to pay that fucker three times. it definitely impacted my budget because having to come up with that kind of cash can be difficult if you're not a high roller.

and while the tax isn't currently being assessed (thank god), it isn't unusual for people to play the "cars are the problem anyway so we should tax just them to pay for {x}" card during discussions about transportation in this city.

so since we've already seen such a tax be put in place once it is pretty reasonable to assume that it very well could happen again. the viaduct and 520 aren't going to pay for themselves so the money is going to have to come from somewhere. and while a lot of people couch their calls for taxing cars in a snooty "cars are the problem", I think that a lot of that comes from "I dont want to pay for it" angst.

it's a pretty cherry argument because you can be pro environment, not have to pay anything yourself, and then take the moral high ground and bash anyone who questions it with the "you're part of the problem you dirty car owner" stick. so another "cost" of owning a car in this town is that your wallet a target for anyone with a poorly planned pet project. just a thought.

Posted by charles | January 10, 2007 6:28 PM

I've been car-free for 3 years. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I ride my bike 90% of the time and the rest is walking, bus, Flexcar or rides from friends. I have saved a ton of money, I feel really good about the gasoline I haven't used and the pollution I haven't created, I've saved myself a lot of the stress of car ownership and driving, I am so much happier on my bike than I ever was behind the wheel of a car, and I am in the best shape I've been in in many years. When I see people in their cars, enjoying their "freedom," I feel kinda sorry for them.

Posted by gb | January 10, 2007 6:55 PM

Counting on your friends for rides is like going out to dinner with a group and not ordering anything for yourself because you plan to just pick off everyone else's plates. It's cheap in the worst sense of the word.

And how fair or environmentally-friendly is it to make people drive extra trips that they wouldn't be taking, just to cart your lazy carless butt around? It's not fair or noble at all. You've saved yourself some time, money and stress by passing hardship and responsibility on to the people closest to you. What a pal.

Posted by Do You Walk on Water, Too? | January 10, 2007 11:14 PM

It works great if you're in city limits, or more accurately, within the dense city core.

It works sort of like dick if you live in one of the surrounding reasonably priced bedroom communities.

That being said, I take the bus to work nowadays, but that's only practical because I now work in the ID instead of in Factoria or Overlake.

You can't shop for furniture, appliances, or groceries on the bus. And only a few places in city limits have a Flexcar spot (and dude, that Flexcar stuff ain't cheap, unless you intend to use it frequently.)

Posted by K | January 11, 2007 1:24 AM

Yes, there's "Mr. X" (Greg Nickels?) enjoying his freedom of movement on those highways that grew out of the naked earth without costing anyone a dime, not happy until the last polar bear drowns in the melted Arctic. Your 'freedom' is actually a drag, Greg, I mean X. It's moving through the world like it was a TV show (now someone will accuse me of making the stupid assertion that cars aren't neccessary, which they are, just not so damn many of them so much of the time!), buying your precious freedom on the blood of our soldiers. Putting chemical runoff into the rivers and sea where it kills aquatic life. Get out in the real speed of life as it has been lived for thousands of years. SEE your neighbors. Smell the air. And lose a little weight, G! But I know, you live in Seattle, where transit is sloooooww. I'm in L.A. right now, which is not so much a city as a region. And though it came at an exorbitant cost that reduced the number and frequency of buses for decades to come, the combo of a bicycle and the subway here is amazing. The buses almost all run on natural gas, and the air on the street (if not cumulatively in the atmosphere) smells a lot better than it does in Seattle because of emissions controls. I worked today on a film set that used a bunch of vehicles with Washington registration (the show was set in Seattle) and people were remarking on how bad the exhaust stunk. These weren't beaters, they were Seattle police cars! Why is the town that invented smog and sprawl doing way, way better on these counts than Seattle? Because they are looking into the future, while Seattle is of the same mindset as L.A. fifty years ago, which all but wrecked itself subsequently thanks to that very ignorance and bullheaded stupidity.

Tunnel or rebuild? Duh.....

Posted by Grant Cogswell | January 11, 2007 7:02 PM

OK, let me get this straight.

I'm being lectured by a former cab driver (a perfectly honorable profession, but most cabs are poorly maintained older eight-cylinder Ford Crown Vics or Chevy Caprices. You know, like those evil evil fake cop cars you're whining about?) from LA (which, despite the sprawl, is potentially a better bike city than Seattle in some ways, given that it's a) warm and b) flat), from a single person with few enough business and/or family ties that he who had luxury to move to Mexico City in a hissy fit because Seattle disappointed him so.

Don't hate the player, Grant, hate the game. Let's talk about doable things like raising CAFE standards and moving away from fossil fuels instead of calling names and casting aspersions on people's motives.

I'm going to go drown a few polar bears now....

Posted by Mr. X | January 11, 2007 10:38 PM

K has a point about population density and public transportation. I live in Redmond and work in South Kirkland. At home I park in my driveway or garage; my employer provides free plentiful parking at work. Timewise, my driving rountrip commute averages 35 minutes.

A bus route runs 2 blocks away from my house. It would take me to a park-and-ride where I could wait for another bus to get me to work. This would take .75-1 hour one way, easily tripling or quadrupling my round trip commute. Or I could drive to the park-and-ride I'd transfer at and and take one bus, which would only double my commute time. Or I could drive to the park-and-ride .5 miles from work and walk from, I don't think so.

Dollarwise? The car is paid for; no additional cost to driving it beyond taxes, insurance, and maintenance. I average 40 MPG, topping off the tank about once a week. (Unless I do social things in Seattle I drive about 100 miles per week or less.)

Frankly, the thing that makes the most sense for me to improve commuting is to telecommute at least one day a week - which I do.

Posted by JenK | January 11, 2007 10:54 PM

Cogswell's spot on regarding your blind spot to the societal costs of driving, Mr X. As for calling names, I guess "self-righteous prick" doesn't qualify in your book, eh?

Posted by DOUG. | January 12, 2007 9:48 AM

Hey, compared to being called Greg Nickels, self-righteous prick is hardly an insult.

Posted by Mr. X | January 12, 2007 11:26 AM

Let's talk about doable things like raising CAFE standards and moving away from fossil fuels instead of calling names and casting aspersions on people's motives.

Yeah, 'cause driving your car less is definitely not doable.

Posted by Andrew Hitchcock | January 15, 2007 8:16 AM

Nice, i really like what you're saying here. It's already bookmarked.

Posted by Milo taitel | January 16, 2007 4:15 PM

Erica has finally come out of the closet about her hatred of cars. I wish she would be honest all of time and begin every Viaduct piece she writes with "I hate cars and hope to eliminate them entirely from Seattle." Then I could actually have some modicum of respect for her.

Posted by montex | January 17, 2007 10:27 PM

I do hate the game, X, and I lovingly call to terms the folks who feed the game. As far as Mexico City goes, am I to be envied because I am broke, single and heartsick?

Posted by Grant Cogswell | January 26, 2007 3:30 PM

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