Saving Money by Ditching the Car

If you’ve ever wanted a breakdown of the benefits of commuting by bike versus commuting by car, has got it for you. The writer of this Streetsblog Network member blog, a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina,  is not actually totally car-free, but he has made a commitment to commuting by bike or bus for the calendar year of 2010. From his introductory post:

3640460876_c15aaef0af.jpgThese bike commuters are saving some serious money. Photo: Richard Masoner via Flickr

It’s important to understand I am an average Joe, in my thirties,
working  a 9-5 desk job. I have a wife and a one-year-old son. I
live in an average-size city with an average public transportation
infrastructure, and I live seven miles from the city center. My wife is
not a zealous bicyclist, and truthfully, not very supportive of this
project! My wife does own a car and I will probably occasionally drive
it with my family in the car.  I am not an anti-car zealot, but what I
want to highlight are the challenges and choices I will face in my
everyday life and the impact they will have on me as I live this
(sadly) "alternative lifestyle."  These decisions may be banal but they
just might be something more.

am choosing not to transport myself individually in a vehicle designed
to fit five. It’s ludicrous, and we all have grown numb to the impact we
have on our communities, on our countrymen and women, and on the
world. If I can do it, there are millions of other people in this
country who can do the same thing, and that’s the story I plan to tell.

He’s now tallied the results of the first two months of car-free life, and they’re pretty impressive:

In January and February I commuted by bicycle or bus a total of 36 days
or 72 trips, not counting holidays and vacation days. Of those 72
trips I took the bus 32 times. February was a really cold, wet, and
snowy month in Charlotte so I took the bus a lot in February.…

In two months I have had the following impact:

  • I’ve saved $47 in gasoline expenses and the equivalent of $457 in
    fixed costs for a total savings of $471.49 when accounting for bus
  • Burned 22,356 calories which if I had been eating a normal diet is the equivalent of 6.4 pounds of fat!
  • I have kept 543 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (19.546 lbs per gallon and my car gets an average of 21 MPG).

Simply multiplying these numbers for the year would equal 3,260
pounds of CO2 kept out of the atmosphere, $2,542 dollars saved, 134,000
calories burned, and 38.3 pounds of fat.  If I had a car loan payment
for a $20,000, the savings jumps to $7,900!

knew I was benefiting myself and the environment by commuting without a
car, but to see the real impact is very amazing. These numbers don’t
take into account the savings because of improved emotional and
physical well being I am getting because of the exercise. They also
don’t take into account the benefit to my community from interacting
with my neighbors and fellow commuters. These numbers don’t measure
the impact of  the 40,000 people every year who’s lives are cut short
because of car crashes.  These are dry,raw, facts, and figures, but if
you consider how these facts scale year over year for an individual, or
scale for the United State,  if just 5% of the people  who commute by
car switched to walking, bicycling, or public transit, the numbers
would be astounding.

You can download his spreadsheet from his site if you want to crunch your own numbers.

More from around the network: World Streets on promoting cycling in Iceland. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia on the legality of clipping bikes that are parked on or adjacent to private property. And The Naked City on the looming retail crisis caused by the overbuilding of megamalls.

  • Great post and so true! We ditched our cars a few years ago and have saved an incredible amount of money.

  • Beth

    Gave my daughter my car when she got her drivers license this summer. I started riding everywhere I could only using the car when time was a factor or my elderly mother was involved. I got my XtraCycle in October and it made an even bigger impact. Since September I have only driven to work 3 times. I only live a mile but even if I lived farther I would still do it. I have got the gear down and the bike tricked out for riding in the snow. Which is what i will be doing tomorrow morning. Coldest day yet…18 degrees. I dont even feel it anymore.

  • Tubulus

    Impressive stats, though maybe a bit exaggerated. I think OP assuming 1000 calories/hour at 15mph, which is way too high. The OP also seems to have a very convenient situation for non-auto commuting – very cheap bus, for one. OP also should take into account value of time. Going to assume the car commute takes 15 minutes vs 30 minutes by bike or bus. That’s 1/2 hour per day, or $10 at a fairly conservative $20/hour. Perhaps the exercise/pleasant bus ride (if such a thing exists) is worth it, but it should be added to the equation… Just being devil’s advocate here…

  • Ian Turner

    Tubulus, if you include the monetary value of time then you need to incorporate a lot of other characteristics of the time spent on the trip as well, since not all time is equal. You would have to pay me a lot more to suffer waterboarding than just to sit in a chair, for example. So if you’re going down this path then it becomes necessary to consider the the productivity and stressfullness of the time spent commuting, not to mention the tax consequences of the hypothetical time spent working instead of commuting.

    In short, the more dimensions you add to the analysis the more complex it gets. I think the original poster chose a perfectly reasonable place to stop.

  • Since I work at home, I’ve been debating whether or not to ditch one of our family cars. We don’t live in a bike-friendly area, so for trips out of our small town we would need to drive, but for grocery store, library and entertainment trips we could easily bike. I think this article may have convinced me to at least try this experiment for a couple of months to see how I feel. Thank you for sharing!

  • Peter

    You haven’t factored in the extra food you’ve consumed cause you road your bike, or the extra energy for the extra shower you had every day, or the extra load of washing you had at the end of the week. Factor those in and you’ll figure out very quickly that you didn’t actually save money or the environment. Another thing to think of is the dirty air you breathed in while riding to and from work during peak traffic….

  • You didn’t actually do those calculations, did you, Peter? Because they don’t add up to what you say they add up to. Nice try, though.

  • garyg

    You didn’t actually do those calculations, did you, Peter? Because they don’t add up to what you say they add up to.

    How do you know? Peter didn’t provide any calculations, but neither have you. Until someone actually does the quantitative analysis, you’re not in a position to claim to know one way or the other.


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