It’s been a while since I went on a Slackerology rant, but car-free living has been on my mind again recently and instead of just speaking in confident, but speculative terms, I decided to crunch a bunch of numbers to support my argument.
When you ask someone why they don’t consider a car-free lifestyle, the primary reply is that the convenience and time-saving of traveling by car, versus public transport, is simply too valuable to give up. Well, to those people clinging to that belief, I’m about to blow your tutti-frutti little minds.
Let’s assume, as someone dependent on public transport, you ride the bus/train an average of four times a day, namely to and from work and then round-trip on one other outing (or two round-trip outings on Saturdays/Sundays). Let’s say that each time you take public transport, you spend an average of five minutes waiting at the stop. (Yes, I know that at 11pm on a Sunday you may occasionally wait 25 minutes, but all those times you wait zero to three minutes at 5pm on a Wednesday will even things out).
4 trips a day X five minutes of waiting X 365 days = 121.66 hours per year that you ‘waste’ standing around, waiting for public transport.
Now, as for the extra time spent in transit on buses/trains versus your car, depending on the route, time of day, traffic and whatever walking you need to do to-from the stop/station, yes the journey on public transport will probably take more time than if you just hopped into your car. But exactly how much more time?
The walking time to/from public transport versus your car is basically a wash, because you would likely also have a long walk from the office/shop/movie theater/etc to wherever your car is parked, not to mention all the time you burn driving around trying to find a parking spot.
While some bus routes are sadistically slower than driving a car, others, privy to priority lanes for example, are just the same or faster. And, it’s safe to assume, trains will always be faster as they happily zoom under, over or through inching traffic. Being that this interval is kind of impossible to quantify, I’m just going to pull what I feel is a fairly generous number out of the air and say a (average!) journey on public transport will take seven minutes longer than if you were in a car.
4 trips a day X seven additional in-transit minutes X 365 days = 170.33 additional hours per year that you might spend in transit while on public transport than if you were in a car.
Combining the waiting-for-public-transport hours and additional in-transit hours, you could potentially lose 292 hours of your life per year if you relied solely on public transport.
There’s no denying that’s a lot of toe-tapping, non-thrilling time. That said, you car drivers will want to put down any delicate or spillable items you may be holding before I continue.
Now, let’s look at how many hours per year you work in order to raise the money necessary to keep your car on the road. First, let’s break down an annual car expense sheet (I’m doing both low and high end expense breakdowns, since everyone has different circumstances and expenses depending on city, daily driving distances, age, lifestyle, etc):
• Car loan payments = $4,200-6,000 per year ($350-500 X 12 months)
• Gas = $780-1,560 ($15-30 per week X 52 weeks per year)
• Insurance = $900-1,600 per year
• License tabs = $50-120 per year
• Maintenance = $300-500 per year (an estimated lump sum for oil changes, car washes, windshield wipers, one or two minor part(s) failures, etc)
• Parking = $200-2,400 per year (the startling high end is for people who pay to park in garages/lots both at home and at work, plus supplementary night/weekend parking at meters, lots, etc)
Low and high end totals come to $6,430 and $12,180 per year. Since very few people live at either of those extremes, I’m going to use the midpoint of $9,305 from here forward.
In order to bring home the $9,305 per year you need to keep your car on the road, you actually need to earn $11,631.25 pre-tax (which is 25% for those earning $33,950-82,250 per year) income. So, at a pay rate of $22 (average US hourly wage for 2009), it will take you 528.69 hours (13.22 weeks!) of work to earn enough money to keep your car physically and legally running.
And if you don’t have a car loan, or don’t spend that much money on parking or whatever, keep in mind that I haven’t factored in all the money you could potentially cough up paying for collision repairs, moving violations or parking tickets and, in some places, toll roads.
So, 528.69 hours of work minus the 292 hours you’d potentially spend whiling away on public transport, equals 236.69 surplus hours of free time you’d enjoy each year by not owning a car. That’s 5.92 theoretical 40-hour weeks of work that you wouldn’t have to perform.
Now think about your drastically reduced carbon footprint.
Now think about how many books you could be reading or TV shows you could be watching on your iPod while sitting on public transport.
Now think about what you could accomplish if you worked 5.92 fewer weeks per year.
Or think about the lavish vacation in Thailand you could take and/or how many bottles of really good wine you could buy with $8,305 (I knocked off the roughly the $1,000 you’d pay per year for a transit pass, which, I haven’t forgotten, will require 45.5 hours of work to pay for, so you only end up with 191 spare hours, or 4.78 fewer work weeks per year).
Don’t try to tell me that you’re not tempted.