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The BIG Reason

Music, opinions, and portfolio of Mark Eagleton, musician and web developer in Northern CA.

The True Cost of My Commute

I got sucked into a Twitter thread this week via Madeleine Bonsma-Fisher (@mbonsma) that referenced a Mr. Money Mustache article entitled The True Cost of Commuting. I hadn’t seen this article before, but as someone who regularly sweats the details over how much of my life (and wallet) my commute costs, it found it soberingly gratifying. It’s been a while since I revisited this topic, and a lot has changed since then. We’re due for an update, I think.

In my previous reflection, I had been commuting by car with a friend most of the time to reduce my exposure to a possible COVID-19 infection on the bus. This friend no longer works with me, and I now commute by bus and bike every day.

I had also miscalculated the commute time of the split bus and bike commute by estimating the commute time based on the departure from the first stop, rather than when I leave my house to bike to the first stop. In practice, my split bus/bike commute takes 50 minutes if I get off at the first stop. It takes 60 minutes if I ride the bus the whole way in. The pandemic has also been hard on the bus service, and it isn’t uncommon for either one of these options to take longer than 60 minutes. Sometimes much longer.

Yes, we are talking one way trips here. Let’s swallow our pain for a moment and crunch some numbers.

In his 2011 article, Mr. Money Mustache calculated the daily commute costs of a couple he had met that were thinking about moving to his town. This move would have resulted in a 40 minute daily commute to their respective offices. He estimated 10 years of commuting would cost them about $125,000 and would take them 1.3 years of working time. This was based on both people commuting 38 miles a day at the IRS’s 2011 estimated driving cost of 51¢ per mile. Yes, his math is a bit off (and he mistakenly declares that these numbers are for each person), but these are still scary numbers. Let’s run mine!

My office is 20 km (12.43 mi) from my house. One way, this commute takes 60 minutes by bus, 60 minutes by bike, 50 minutes by splitting bus and bike, and 25 minutes by car. The current IRS estimated driving costs is $0.585 per mile, but my car is paid off and is also very reliable, although it does only average 17 miles per gallon. I estimate my cost per mile to be about $0.33, which is based on what I pay for tires, oil changes, misc. expenses, and the current averaging gas price in my area of $5.25 per gallon. Bus fare on my intercity rout is $2.25 one way. I work an average of 240 days per year.

Let’s tabulate the results (I’ll spare you the messy spreadsheet).

Bus Car
Cost Time Cost Time
Day $4.50 2h $8.20 50m
Week $22.50 10h $41.02 4h 10m
Year $1,080.00 21d 16h $1,968.91 8d 8h 0m
Decade $10,800.00 216d 16h $19,689.12 83d 8h 0m

When I take the bus, I essentially work 1.25 extra days per week (without pay, of course)1. When I drive, it’s just over a half of a day per week. Over time these numbers really add up in an alarming way. Calculating the ten year totals is particularly scary. I have been at my current job for that long. Thankfully, only two of those years were at the above costs.

Is it worth $888 to have 13 days of my life back every year? Is it worth the environmental cost? Is it worth the risk of a collision?

I clearly need to make a change.

  1. I excluded the bus + bike numbers as the cost is essentially the same, and bus time estimates are very hard to estimate. ↩︎