For the past two months, I’ve been conducting an informal experiment looking at commuting costs. Spurred by the high cost of gas — $4 per gallon to fill my Mini!?! — I decided to use alternate transportation: my feet. In May, I walked over 200 miles. In June, I’ve walked less but biked more.
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Walking and biking takes more time, it’s true, but not as much as I’d feared. Besides, walking and biking give me additional exercise, so there’s a cost benefit there (both in terms of time and money). Plus, I’ve discovered that I’m pretty good at multitasking while walking. Sometimes I just relax and enjoy the journey, but other times I’m able to read as I walk or even write rough drafts of blog posts.
For longer trips (such as the 8-1/2 mile jaunt into downtown Portland), I’ve been using my bike. Portland has one of the country’s best biking cultures, so this is easy to do. And fun. And it’s cost effective.
How cost effective? That’s the real question, isn’t it? Bike advocates often point out how much people can save by driving less, but their general numbers are tough to translate to a personal level. Well, Michael Bluejay, who runs the outstanding Saving Electricity site that I’ve mentioned many times before, has come up with a biking vs. driving calculator that lets folks plug in the numbers for their personal situation.
Bluejay’s calculator takes into account commuting costs, including gas, insurance, maintenance, and depreciation. On the “not driving” side, it includes the cost of a bicycle, as well as costs for buses, taxis, and carsharing. It also allows you to change your assumptions about how much you’ll earn on the money you save by not driving. (This is nice. Instead of just assuming an 8% return, you can opt to assume a 1% return.)
At his site, Bluejay writes:
Riding your bike can make you a millionaire! You’re paying more for your car than you think. A typical American who goes car-free for 35 years can save nearly a million dollars, even adjusted for inflation, and even if they pay for taxi, bus, and car-share trips often. Use the calculator to find how much you can save in your particular situation.
Now, I’m an advocate of walking and biking, but I think Bluejays’s claims are a little unrealistic. Yes, driving is expensive. Yes, biking (or walking) can save you money. But it’s unlikely that the average person has the ability to simply give up their car.
Instead, I think it’s more practical to do what I’ve done: find ways to drive less. I don’t have the ability (or desire) to give up my Mini completely, but I’ve enjoyed looking for ways to drive it less. It’s fun to walk to the gym and the grocery store. I enjoy biking into Portland or over to my friends’ houses. These things are liberating, and they save me money.
But biking isn’t going to make me a millionaire.
[Bicycle Universe: Biking vs. driving calculator]