Using & Owning a Car
First things first, let’s talk about how much out of pocket costs it is to use a car to commute to work. The way most average US Citizens travel to and from work.
||Lowest 20% of Income Earners
||Second 20% of Income Earners
||Third 20% of Income Earners
||Fourth 20% of Income Earners
||Highest 20% of Income Earners
|Figure 1: 2006 household cost of owning a vehicle per quintiles of income.
|Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
…and just a few more stats about how insanely expensive it is to drive.
||10,000 Miles per Year
||15,000 Miles per Year
||20,000 Miles per Year
|Figure 2: Yearly cost per mile of various vehicles based on number of miles driven
|Source: American Automobile Association
Even though we won’t talk about the other costs of driving remember that you’re only paying for about 30-50% of the cost of your driving to and from work. The rest of the cost of driving, maintaining the Interstates, Highways and roadways, plus free parking, subsidies and oil region stabilization adds a tremendous cost that isn’t taken out of pocket at the time one actually drives to and from work – or wherever they’re driving to. Nor does it cover the cost of the 35-50k killed per year, the 90-130k injured per year and the $100’s of billions of dollars in medical cost. I’ve also not added in the hundreds of billions of dollars in debt incurred by the Government to pay for infrastructure such as bridges and roads or the write offs that oil companies take for oil exploration and discovery. If one wants to get idealogical and talk about other costs like the ways and blowback from terrorists that is largely due to our over utilization of foreign energy sources for this, you can put the percentage you’re actually paying at 20-40%. But as I said, I digress, let’s just talk about what we pay out of pocket on a daily basis to own, maintain and pay at the pump to drive.
Suffice it to say, that $0.55 cents of “recovery” cost the Government allows one to write off is purely the average cost they grant you take based on out of pocket expenses. So now that we’ve clarified these very real costs of having automobile infrastructure let’s think about what the daily costs of NOT using a car are.
Let’s work with the lowest cost auto option, that of the poorest income earners in the United States. That’s 2,856 + 987 + 991 + 879 which equals $5,713 per year, equating to an average per day cost of $15.65. So we’ll use that baseline as the average cost of a resident of the United States to get around everyday for their costs. This is an EXTREMELY low cost estimate, the actual cost upon society is closer to 3-5x that much, but we won’t use that. I’ll only be using this low number to do the calculations on. Keep in mind also, that the lowest income bracket, that 20% of the population earns is less than $20k per year. After taxes $20k is about 17600 in hand. In most states, keep in mind another 6%-21% is taken out via sales taxes and other costs, lowering this amount even more. Putting the actual cash income of the lowest 20% of the population somewhere around $16,600 (I rounded up a few bucks just to make it more obvious that this is a big deal). Now take that amount and let’s figure out how much cash this family has in hand to pay for these automobile expenses. That’s $16,500 in cash split between 365 days giving the family $45.20. Take away the average cost of transit, $42.50 – $15.65 gives you $29.55 to live on per day and you see why the bottom 20% have almost zero chance at changing their circumstances based on this horrifying juxtaposition of suburban American lifestyles. The only saving grace, is the median household size is 1.96 people for this income. But take that as you will, it’s still a horrible situation to be in, and owning a car will pretty much guarantee that you will be damned to this income bracket for the rest of your life. In other words, this automobile dependent lifestyle that the US has created (and trust me, it has been “created”, it is absolutely NOT a market driven or free-market driven choice that people have made of their own cognition, it’s systematic policy throughout the United States).
Let’s Talk Transit
Alright, now we’re talking business. I wrote all of the above and did all of the research to get that information so that we’d have context for the costs of transit compared to living an automobile dependent lifestyle. Let’s take a look at out of pocket fares. This is the only real cost, such as those I’ve detailed in the above automobile section, that the end user of transit has to pay. So here’s a collection of large and small transit agencies throughout the United States.
San Francisco MTA
Single Ride (i.e. no transfer) $2.00 (Subsidies are easily 60-70 cents per dollar, transfers are allowed for 90 minutes after purchase)
Cable Car $6.00 (Which is net operationally and capital sustainable – i.e. subsidies amount to a few cents per dollar) During the hours of 9pm to 7am the cable cars are $3.00.
Muni Only: $66.00 (does not include any of the other agencies in the Bay area)
Muni & BART: $76.00 (does not include any of the other agencies in the Bay area)
Seattle’s King County Metro
All-Zone Regular Fare: $2.25, Rush Hour $2.50, All-Zone Rush Hour $3.00 (Transfers are allowed only on Metro buses, you must pay each transit system you board, you must pay transfer cost associated with this, etc – example: transfer to Sound Transit express bus, Metro fare listed plus 25 cents. Also note this does include Washington State Ferries or Sounder Commuter Rail – additional costs apply to each of these systems)
A monthly pass, which has an odd structure – see here: https://www.orcacard.com/ERG-Seattle/common/images/ORCA%20Card%20Order_Value%20Form.pdf – ranges from $81 for regular fare inside Seattle King County area to $189 dollars, which covers all rides up to $5.25 each (ferry & commuter rail riders usually need this). It’s a tricky system that takes some explanation to understand.
New York MTA
Single Ride Fare: $2.75 Minimum Purchase on a Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard is $5.00 w/ a 5% bonus. i.e. $20 purchase gets you $21 dollars toward fares. New Fare Card fee for new MetroCard is $1.00 for each card purchased.
7-day Unlimited Fare Card: $30 Unlimited rides until midnight, after that regular fares apply.
30-day Unlimited Fare Cards: $112 Unlimited rides until midnight, after that regular fares apply.
Los Angeles Metro
Base Fare, Every Boarding: $1.50
Metro-to-Muni Transfer: $0.35 cents
Freeway Express Add-Ons: $0.70 Zone 1, $1.40 Zone 2
Metro Silver Line: $2.45 (Connects South Bay, San Grabriel Valley & Downtown LA via a pseudo BRT style route http://www.metro.net/projects/silverline/overview/)
Day Pass: $5.00
7-day Pass: $20.00
30-day Pass: $75.00
Vancouver Canada’s Translink
Single Ride Fare
Day Pass $9.75
Monthly 1 Zone $91
Monthly 2 Zone $124
Monthly 3 Zone $170
Single Fare, good for all transfers for 2 hours $2.50
Day Pass: $5.00
7-day Pass: $26.00
14-day Pass: $51.00
30-day Pass: $100.00
Half Price at The Worst!
Ok, this now makes it simple to compare transit to auto ownership and usage. If we take the most expensive transit option, living and commuting into Seattle from the far metro area of Tacoma or ferry trip from Bremerton, at a monthly fare cost of $189 dollars that gives us a yearly cost of $2268 dollars. Comparing that to the auto cost of $5,713 really shows how much damage we do to the poor in this country by forcing ourselves into an auto dependent culture. Remember also if you aren’t poor, that just means you’re screwing yourself out of THAT MUCH MORE MONEY! Because transit is still the same cost for you, so if you’re auto-dependent that means you’re spending several thousand dollars per year, minimum, on JUST DRIVING ALONE. That is money that can’t be spent on video games, food, health insurance, entertainment, travel, seeing other countries and other things that actually make life better for you. Just think about that for a minute and let it stew in your gray matter. That’s some SERIOUS cash that’s being burned. There ARE indeed alternatives, but you have to find them instead of living the average life of an american. You have to take the lead in getting more out of your life. You only live once, are you sure you want to spend such a huge amount of money on something that actually doesn’t improve your life in any dramatic way except to shackle you to a single, set, limited lifestyle?
Want Even Lower Costs & More Cash in Your Pocket?
If you’re lucky enough, or strive a little and work yourself into the situation, you can live without a car and without transit. You can go the walking and biking route. Human powered transportation is the cheapest by orders of magnitude. We’re talking about less than half the cost of the cheapest yearly transit. A few hundred dollars per year of costs, often even less. All this and living without the dependencies of automobiles or transit will make you stronger, mentally quicker (yes, there are studies), your children will learn better and faster, you’re breath better and have more energy. On top of all that it’s proven that when healthier you will be able to taste food, wine, beer and chocolates better than any soul that isn’t healthy. Is there any greater argument for moving to a truly healthy lifestyle as being able to truly taste food in every way? I don’t know about you, but truly being able to enjoy food, sweets, wine beer and the finest things in life is a huge argument for me to stay as healthy as possible. Living a human powered lifestyle is one huge step toward living that way at just a few hundred bucks a year!
I could go on for days about how excellent this lifestyle is, but I have a few other quick topics to broach. So I’ll leave this topic with this spectacular video.
Trimet Fare or so high!
First off, that statement is patently fales. Sometimes Trimet fares are higher than other cities, sometimes Trimet fares are lower than other cities. The fact is though, Trimet fairs pretty well in comparison to most other agencies, especially compared to other agencies of larger cities and similar sized cities. No city is completely cheaper than Trimet in every way. When looking at these fare costs, be sure to actually look at the cost in an apples to apples comparison. Such as Los Angeles might seem cheaper at first glance, it’s only a $1.50 to get on a bus (or light rail vehicle). That’s great, but likely you’ll have to come back to where you started, which means another $1.50. If you do that in less than 2 hours, it’s more expensive than Trimet, as you can make a round trip in 2 hours on a $2.50 ticket. However, if you start in the morning and come back in the evening it’s actually cheaper, because with Trimet it will cost you $5.00 for an early morning trip in and a later trip out exceeding 2 hours.
The day passes are also often argued and fussed about here in Portland, which is patently absurd too. Our day passes are ridiculously cheap. No other system out there has an actual unlimited day card for $5.00 that includes an entire metropolitan area. Los Angeles, again seems like it might, but keep in mind that day pass only includes the LA Metro, if you go to most of the locations outside of that, Newport Beach for instance, you’ll be adding on addition fares to cover the trip. Seattle’s King County Metro I believe cuts off the cost at a certain amount during the day, but their site is so horribly organized I couldn’t find out what the limit is. (still one of the worst sites on the Internet, they obviously didn’t hire an information architect – I’m sure there is some idiot bureaucrat as I’ve heard sitting around making poor decisions)
Monthly passes also vary, as do 7-day, 30-day or monthly passes. Some places are a bit higher, some are lower, but none offer a comparable monthly pass that covers all transit except Seattle. However Seattle’s monthly pass for the entire metropolitan area is $189 dollars. A slightly larger amount over Trimet’s $100 amount.
So simply, just shush about this whole notion that fares are out of control. They’re nothing remotely close to out of control. Hidden auto-costs, and auto-costs in general are something that’s out of control. If you want to argue that point, I’m all for collecting information and finding out ways to get rid of our destructive dependence by so many americans on the automobile. I’m even happier to collect information and put information together on how people can improve their lives. So drop the silly “fares are too high” nonsense and let’s do something constructive.
A Last Note
I didn’t write this blog entry to say that I support Trimet’s fare structure, nor any other agencies. Personally I think they’re all too low and kind of a mess. Trimet’s recent move to centralize the cost structure on a single price for a single ticket, single day, 7-day, 14-day or 30-day fares are a welcome relief compared to the previous structure. I do look forward to the day when we can more easily just charge people an amount based on our phones, usage and other metrics. If anything I wrote this as something to fire up anyone and everyone who has thought about dropping their car and improving their lives. But in the end, I had to point out that transit costs are absurdly low, even for the poor.
So get out there, live your life the best you can, and I wish you all the best; auto-dependent, bikers, cyclists, transit users, walkers and everybody! Cheers!
- Want to improve your life? Get rid of your automobile dependence. Sell your car, if you need a car once in a while, get a ZipCar, rental car or borrow something. No need to own a car. Owning makes you dependent, it draws out cash for gas, insurance, break downs and other maintenance.
- Want real options for a rich life? Get a transit pass. Take a train. Buy a bike. Slow down. Find ways to live by walking around your community or walking to work!
I promise any option besides car dependence will open up a world, a massive world with more options, more things to see, more art, more time with your children, more time to live, more time to be healthy, alive and in this adventure we call life. It will improve your community, your community connections, your options for a house, an apartment, living options and more. You’ll have the choice to travel, even on median or lower incomes, you could see parts of the world you never imagined. You could even see the city or town and the heart of what makes those places exciting more often, or even just see them for the first time by dropping auto-dependence.
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