The Tip Jar: How much money can you save giving up your car commute?

We had a race – car vs. bike vs. bus – to see whether it's worth your time giving up your car.
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Rush hour in the Twin Cities, particularly during construction season, can really put you in a bad mood.

So what if you took a break from your car and opted for a bike or a bus? What you'd lose in convenience you would make up for in health benefits and pollution reduction – but would you save money too?

The Tip Jar has taken a look at just how much you can save scrapping your car for your daily commute.

We had a race: Car vs. bike vs. bus

Before I even start on the cost comparisons, what's the point in saving some cash if your journey adds an hour or traveling onto your day? 

Time, arguably, is more valuable than money – so we put it to the test.

In that spirit, I organized a race from near my home in southwest Minneapolis to the GoMN office in the North Loop, pitting car against bike against bus. You can see how we got on in the video at the top of this page.

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Cost of using my car to commute

The quickest way to commute from my home to work (traffic pending) is via Highway 100 and I-394.

That's a 9.6-mile one-way journey – so 19.2 miles a day, and 96 miles for a five-day work week. Over the course of 48 working weeks of the year, that's 4,608 miles I'd travel solely on my commute.

Say I get 30 miles to the gallon, I'd use 153.8 gallons a year for my commute alone, which at the current average gas price in the Twin Cities ($2.44 for regular) works out at $375.27 per year.

But I also have to take into account maintenance costs. AAA found in 2015 that average annual maintenance costs for car owners was $766.50, plus $147 for tires.

I'll reduce this figure by 25 percent for this comparison as commuting isn't the only traveling I do in my car, but that's still a hefty $685.12 a year.

Add another $35 for the cost of my tabs, plus the $612 annual cost of insurance, and I'm spending $1,707.39 a year to commute by car.

This also isn't taking into account car loan payments and parking costs (of which I have neither) that many car owners also have to deal with.

If I took out a $15,000 car loan at 4 percent for five years, the cost of buying the car would work out to $1,657.50 per year if I kept the car for 10 years.

So if you factor that in, the annual cost would balloon to $3,364.89 to run a car for my commute.

Cost of riding my bike

Thanks to the bike path on Lake Calhoun followed by the Cedar Lake Bike Trail that takes me right to my office, my journey is shorter than by car – 7.2 miles one way, and 14.4 there and back.

So if I were to bike every day, I'd end up covering 72 miles a week, 3,456 miles per year.

I don't have to worry about fuel costs, but I do have to consider maintenance. Freewheel Bike in Midtown does a "Golden Wrench Overhaul" for $240 that's good for 3,000 miles (cost reduced to $120 between October and January).

I'll also add $20 for the cost of a couple of inner tubes in the event of a puncture, which I fix myself, and it leaves me with the total cost of $260 per year to commute with my bike.

If I were to spend $500 on a road bike and another $100 on equipment and used it over 10 years, that'd work out at an extra $60 a year, leading to an annual total of $320 to use a bike on my commute.

Taking the bus

I'm fortunate enough to have a bus route pretty close to my house and it takes me into downtown Minneapolis, leaving a 6-7 minute walk to my building.

Unfortunately, bus fares with Metro Transit are going to increase, getting hiked 25 cents per journey for local buses as of Oct. 1.

That would mean my journey to work would cost me $2.50 one way, or $5 round trip each day.

That works out at $25 a week, and over 48 weeks that would cost $1,200 per year.

Unlike bikes and cars, there are no maintenance costs to worry about. The only thing that is going to affect me is a fare hike. 

Verdict

Bikes are the cheapest way to commute, it's not close. And that's not even factoring in the health benefits that come with it (which could save you money on, say, gym memberships and future health care costs).

But let's face it, we live in Minnesota, and Minnesota has winter. It's unreasonable to expect the average commuter to commit to biking every day of the year.

I manage to mix-and-match, opting for the bike during the warmer months, the car during the cold, and the bus when I'm going drinking after work.

The video at the top of the page shows that for me at least, biking is faster than braving rush-hour traffic, with the bus the slowest but probably the most relaxing of any journey.

But clearly the time of day you're traveling and where you live plays a major role in this. I'm fortunate to live near to bike trails, though I used to live near Park Avenue South where street bike lanes would make my bike commute much longer.

Similarly, I know for a fact that taking my car – and possibly even the bus – into work is quicker than a bike if I leave between 6-7 a.m. or 9-10 a.m.

That said, the cost of running my car every day to work – and the irritation I experience every time I need to put it in the shop – has certainly got me thinking about cutting down the amount I use it. 

Biking and taking the bus are genuine alternatives, but I could also look to carpool sites like MoveMinneapolis.

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