Let’s Talk About Cost of Commute, Transit & Trimet Fares

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.

Item 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
Total $2,856 $5,058 $7,310 $9,571 $15,198
Purchase $987 $1,954 $2,940 $3,774 $7,442
Gasoline/Oil $991 $1,624 $2,182 $2,829 $3,508
Other $879 $1,489 $2,188 $2,968 $4,248
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.

2007 Model 10,000 Miles per Year 15,000 Miles per Year 20,000 Miles per Year
Small Sedan 50.5 cents 41.4 cents 37.4 cents
Medium Sedan 61.8 cents 52.5 cents 48.2 cents
Large Sedan 74.2 cents 62.5 cents 56.8 cents
4WD SUV 81.5 cents 66.6 cents 59.6 cents
Minivan 69.2 cents 57.6 cents 52.2 cents
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

http://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/transit/fares-passes
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

http://metro.kingcounty.gov/fares/index.html
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

http://web.mta.info/metrocard/mcgtreng.htm
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

http://www.metro.net/riding/fares/
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

http://www.translink.ca/
Single Ride Fare
Day Pass $9.75
Monthly 1 Zone $91
Monthly 2 Zone $124
Monthly 3 Zone $170

Trimet

http://trimet.org/fares/index.htm
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!

Summary

  • 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.

References & Links:

The Best Commute is The Faux Commute

So technically, I don’t really have a commute. I wake up, walk across the hall and I’m in the office. Sometimes, if I sit down at a coffee shop I’m in the office or simply while on the bus, train or in a park. There’s a big plus to this type of work style; the freedom, higher productivity and related things for the ephemeral “creative class”, but there are negatives too. Namely that I’m always “at work”. However, even though I do love what I do and don’t technically have a commute, I sometimes give myself one to get started in the morning.

The Faux Commute

The commute that I sometimes give myself consists of a 2+ mile hustle down the bike corridors, lanes and roads of Portland to one of my favorite coffee shops. Going from the west side of the river to the east, here’s a video of my commute to the coffee shop office. Also note, I’m a metal head true and true, so I put some material from my favorite band into rotation for this video (hope it’s alright by them, if they contact me I’ll take it down, sadly).

Nothing Like a Commute from Olympia to Seattle, Washington

I boarded the train this morning at 10:30am with a scheduled arrival of 12:00. That, overall is not a bad commute compared to the nightmare of those that currently commute in from Olympia. Currently the various bus trip, which includes a transfer to either a second bus or to the Sounder, is a very long trip. I’m also not one to encourage long commutes, I think they are inherently bad for society and for the mental health of individuals attempting to make these trips.

However, if the trip must be made, which a lot of people do, the train should be a viable option. There is demand, there are tracks, and soon there will be an even shorter route that will take about an hour and 15 minutes instead of an hour and a half. The problem is that Sound Transit hasn’t mustered up the strength or money to extend as far as Olympia yet, and Amtrak Cascades (which would be a perfect candidate) can’t seem to organize their trains to run along this route.

But if I were to dream nice things for the commuters of Olympia that come into Seattle, here’s a viable (and net operationally profitable option!).

  1. Take one of the train sets, which there WILL BE SPARES soon based on the arrival of two new train sets that Oregon/Amtrak has purchased. Put this single train set on an Olympia to Bellingham route for an early morning commute. Leave Olympia at 6:50 or 7am for a 8:15 or 8:30 arrival in downtown King Street Station Seattle.
  2. Take that same train that arrives at 8:30 and add another train that goes to Bellingham – at least during the College School Year – and have it depart for Bellingham around 9:00am.
  3. Have that train turn in Bellingham for the southern trip back toward Seattle, departing at 3:30pm for Seattle, arriving and departing from Seattle at or around 5:30pm.
  4. Arrive back in Olympia at around 7:00pm.

This is just one thought. With two new train sets coming online, it is absurd to keep them unused. There are routes that will garner and build ridership. Not using them is an absolutely waste of taxpayer money. They’re paid for, the Cascades are easily operationally profitable (at least between Portland and Seattle) and could easily be used and become a net asset to the route.

In a later entry I might dream up another route that would be a good idea. One of the most obvious I may outline is a new schedule for Portland to Seattle. There are a ton of flyers in the morning (that leave PDX at around 5:00am) that would happily take the train instead of flying. I don’t want to wish Alask Airlines ill will, but environmentally, economically, and mentally it would be better to shift this short route to passenger rail travel instead of having people fly.

So what’s your thoughts? Any route ideas? Maybe Spokane, somewhere else, or even Bend?

Transit Riders’ Savings Exceed Thousands Per Year!

This message is of course about out of pocket savings, which really is all we can make a market based decision on. If the Government actually allowed or made us pay the full price of transportation these numbers and savings would be even higher, but the overall cost of transportation would alsot be slightly higher. Without further ado, here is APTA’s study and results.

Despite Lower Gas Prices Public Transit Riders Still Reap Big Savings

 Individuals can save $807 this month alone by switching to public transit for their daily commute

Washington, D.C. – Even with lower gas prices public transportation still offers individuals a way to save hundreds of dollars each month.  According to the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) December  Transit Savings Report, individuals who ride public transportation instead of driving can save, on average, $807 dollars this month, and $9,69 annually.   These savings are based on the cost of commuting by public transportation compared to the December 20, 2011 average national gas price ($3.21 per gallon- reported by AAA) and the national unreserved monthly parking rate.

Currently gas prices are $.15 a gallon less than last month, but still $.23 higher than this time last year. Proving riding public transit is a smart way to lower transportation costs.

APTA releases this monthly Transit Savings Report to examine how an individual in a two-person household can save money by taking public transportation and living with one less car.

The national average for a monthly unreserved parking space in a downtown business district is $155.22, according to the2011 Colliers International Parking Rate Study.  Over the course of a year, parking costs for a vehicle can amount to an average of $1,863.

The top 20 cities with the highest transit ridership are ranked in order of their transit savings based on the purchase of a monthly public transit pass and factoring in local gas prices for December 20, 2011 and the local monthly unreserved parking rate.*

 

   City  Monthly  Annual
 1  New York  $1,198  $14,375
 2  Boston  $1,106  $13,272
 3  San Francisco  $1,075  $12,902
 4  Seattle  $979  $11,749
5 Philadelphia $955 $11,457
6 Chicago $945 $11,343
 7  Honolulu  $937  $11,242
 8  Los Angeles  $880  $10,554
 9  Minneapolis $859  $10,308
 10  San Diego  $851  $10,215
 11  Portland  $842  $10,099
 12  Denver  $838  $10,053
 13  Washington, DC  $836  $10,031
14 Baltimore $817 $9,810
 15  Cleveland  $802  $9, 628
 16  Miami  $780  $9,355
 17  Atlanta  $762  $9,140
 18  Dallas  $759  $9,109
 19  Pittsburgh  $760  $9,120
 20  Las Vegas  $755  $9,064

*Based on gasoline prices as reported by AAA on 12/20/11.

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 2011 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 gasoline as recorded by AAA on December 20, 2011 at $3.21 per gallon.  The analysis also assumes that a person will drive an average of 15,000 miles per year.  The savings assume a person in two-person household lives with one less car.

In determining the cost of parking, APTA uses the data from the 2011 Colliers International Parking Rate Study for monthly unreserved parking rates for the United States.

To calculate your individual savings with or without car ownership, go to www.publictransportation.org.

# # #

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is a nonprofit international association of more than 1,500 public and private member organizations, engaged in the areas of bus, paratransit, light rail, commuter rail, subways, waterborne passenger services, and high-speed rail. This includes: transit systems; planning, design, construction, and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; transit associations and state departments of transportation. More than 90 percent of the people using public transportation in the United States and Canada are served by APTA member systems.

It does however make me wonder, if someone is saving that much with transit usage, how much could someone save with a more intelligent and strategically located lifestyle that allows walking or biking to work? How much healthier and stronger would Americans be if they weren’t stranded in the suburbs and tied to their cars?

It’s Hard Bike Commuting Sometimes…

So I’ve decided to start laying down some easier routes, notes, and other elements depending on certain areas of Seattle. Hopefully these can be useful to people trying to commute in the area.

As any transit or bike advocate knows, getting out of the car is but one step to a better life. Staying out of the way of the cars often helps a bit too.  🙂

On Twitter @MeganMcMullen had asked how to get downtown from the Greenlake area. @seabikeblog had a great suggestion, but I’d like to add this route as another alternative, with fewer miles along actual roadways. This would give, especially someone still getting used to a commute, an easier time getting to downtown.  🙂

If the map isn’t displaying, click here.

If you have other routes or suggestions that I should scope out, leave aa comment or two.

Cheers, and happy riding!

An Average Ballard Morning…

I snagged this video a week or so ago while waiting for the #18 Express into downtown Seattle. There are a lot of riders that board in Ballard at the main town center Market & Ballard Street Stop.

I really enjoy living in Ballard, with the connectivity it has. But there are other huge benefits too. For those smart enough to realize living near an Interstate is bad, Ballard is awesome. For those that want livability features like groceries nearby, parks and tree lined streets, community centers and community artwork, restaurants and public houses (i.e. pubs/bars/etc), and of course music with a round for all! Ballard is the pick of the litter!

Just wanted to post this short video, as a simple point of reference that Ballard, has got the whole livability thing going on. The roots of this can be seen in the market street core with just a few days of exploration. So if you’re into the transit, car free lifestyle, Ballard should be one of the places on the top of your list. Cheers!

King County Metro’s Best Website Enhancement Yet

I’m am not a big fan of King County Metro’s Website. It follows some really BAD UX and UI design standards and guidelines. Almost like a committee or a bunch of bureaucrats designed it. Some of it is obtusely idiotic. But there is hope, there is a gleaming gem among the dirge of a zillion clicks, oddball readability, poor SEO, hard to find routes, and other things.

King County Metro

King County Metro

King County Metro recently released the Annual Performance Measurement section of the site. I had been wanting a good, readable, easy to understand charting and graphing of the Metro Transit ridership statistics and King County Metro has given it to me! I’m stoked! These are actually readable charts that can be used to ascertain real and legit information about the bus system.

The financial section and the ridership section really have some great numbers. This is where you can go to really dig into how your tax dollars and fare are going to build, support, and operate the transit system. Seriously, go check it out.

I love that this information is readily and easily available. Sound Transit also offers some of this, but should really take a look at what Metro is doing with this and do some of their own charting and reports online like this. In addition they really should work together with Metro to determine real transit ridership for the entire Seattle + Tacoma Metro areas and respective routes. There are some good arguments, and good data there, that could seriously help move forward the Seattle area and transit in general.

So with that stated, cheers to Metro & especially the web team that put this part of the site together!  Great job.