The true cost of commuting

There is a positive story over on Unsuckdcmetro written by a guy named Chad who got so fed up with Metro that he decided to begin biking to work.  He ended up losing 50 lbs and just completed an IronMan distance triathalon.

I read through the comments and there were some that came up several times:

1) How do you deal with showering and changing clothes before work?

2) I’d like to walk/bike to work but I live too far away.

Most of those that live far away do so because they think they are saving money (rents are higher in D.C. than in the suburbs).

This got me thinking about the cost of commuting.  Most people talk in terms of how much the gasoline costs, but of course the true cost is much more than that.  I posted the following comment:

Does living far from the city really save money?
I can understand people who grew up in the suburbs or exurbs (or moved there years ago) deciding to ‘grin and bear it’ (the commute) — they might have family in the area, kids in school, ties to the community, etc — what I really don’t understand are people who take a job in the D.C. area and then buy or rent a place in say Frederick County, MD, or points north and west –Washington County, MD, or even PA or WV, knowing they are going to have an epic 3 to 4+ hour round-trip commute every day. That’s insanity. They may think they’re saving money, but by the time one figures the cost of commuting, not to mention whatever value they place on their time away from their spouse and/or family, and the stress and risk involved, there’s just no way it’s worth it. Not even close. Most people apparently do not value their time much at all (unless they are at work, then of course they want to be paid for every minute) and they think the cost of driving is just the cost of gas. That’s not even half of the cost! The April 2011 CR Auto Issue lists the cost per mile of a range of cars. The _cheapest_ is the Honda Fit at $0.44/mile. The most expensive is the BMW 750Li @ $1.81/mile! An ordinary Chevy Impala is $0.69/mile. That’s for the first 5 years when there is a lot of depreciation, so it’s possible that the cost/mile would go down some if a person kept their car until it had say 250K miles on it. Then again, while older cars don’t depreciate as much as new cars they need more repairs and maintenance. In any case, let’s say it’s $0.50/mile (IIRC, that’s about what the IRS allows in some cases). For many people who live in outlying areas, it’s common to drive 100 miles per day. 100 miles a day = $50 per day! With 22 work days per month that’s $1,100 per month — in after tax money. It’s even more if they ride Metro, which can easily cost $12-$14+ per day for parking and a round-trip ride. So that “cheap” house or apartment miles from the city isn’t so cheap after all. $1,100 after taxes is the equivalent of at least $1,500 before taxes. That means that if a homeowner has a newer mortgage that is almost entirely deductible interest, they could afford to spend $1,500 more per month for a house near where they work! $1,500/month!! A renter would have $1,100 extra per month. That is counting _nothing_ for their time. Nothing for the reduced stress, aggravation, and risk to their life of commuting.
Something to think about.


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3 Responses to The true cost of commuting

  1. midmented says:

    Stirring up a pot again? LOL I totally agree. I was once offered a job in Baltimore for 15k more a year. This was previous to the high increase of fuel. After calculations (IE:car maintenance, payment, fuel, time, parking fees, taxes etc) I would have lost money. To calculate time, I deducted 10 hours (the commute time) from each work week and used an hourly wage.

  2. No doubt about it: it is expensive to live anywhere. I drive 100 miles to go to WalMart. (Did I say that?)

  3. gippgig says:

    The really ridiculous thing is that much – probably most – commuting is unnecessary. With broadband internet many people could work at home – saves money, saves time, saves the environment, saves lives. The resistance of people to change is mind boggling. Eventually transportation will simply price itself out of the market & force people to change or the internet generation will grow up. Of course, if people didn’t have such extravagant lifestyles many of them wouldn’t need to work in the first place…

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