Last week I had to go to a friend’s house that I couldn’t bike to after work. There was a drizzle, it was rush hour and the maybe 10-mile drive took more than half an hour. By the time I got there I was doubly ready for that glass of wine (and I know a lot of people have longer commutes than that). It made me grateful to have the option of cycling or even walking to work, and sad that it’s something so many people don’t have. This feeling was only intensified by reading an article on Time’s website (via), that went beyond the psychological effects of commuting to explore the financial impact. It was an interesting read in the wake of my recent flirtation with a car-free life. The article, in a nutshell:
The study estimates that a family earning $50,000 to $60,000 per year pays around $10,000 annually in automobile costs—including gas, insurance, and other related expenses. According to the Department of Commerce, that family is paying more for transportation than health insurance or taxes.
Author Brad Tuttle goes on to explain how this happened and why, unfortunately, there’s not much the average American can do to change their situation. Many people chose to live in communities outside the urban core in the days of cheap oil because houses were more affordable, or because the schools were better. Now the current economy, job and real estate markets make it nearly impossible to move closer to where you work or work closer to where you live. Public transportation? Sure, if you’re in one of the 10 or 12 cities in the country where comprehensive public transportation exists. If not, you either don’t have the option at all, or exercising it would make your commute even more difficult. The only flaw in this article was that he didn’t mention the option of bicycles as transportation—but the things that keep people from using public transportation are often obstacles to cycling as well.
And that’s if you even want to try, or are willing to acknowledge the financial impact of driving. Most people look the other way exactly because of this catch-22 situation. Or because driving is, quite simply, the most convenient way of getting around for probably 90% of the population. Or because they just hate thinking about money, and figuring out the exact cost of owning a car is a complicated thing. I actually love road trips and I have a sentimental attachment to my current car because my dad rebuilt it for me. But having the option of whether or not to drive it, at least on a daily basis, is so valuable to me. Much is made of the equation of car=freedom, but how much freedom has the automobile culture given people when it comes to choosing their mode of transportation? Maybe economic pressures are finally going to make that start to change.