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

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
    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
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.

  • icarus12

    I am convinced that a large portion of the healthy population would love saving money through biking, if they just gave it a chance. Strap an electric motor to a bike and you have a perfect hybrid for flat and uphill, for exercise or staying picture perfect when arriving at the office. Can Streetsblog advocate for public education and promotion of this sort of hybrid program? Can we get employers to subsidize pilot bike-to-work programs? Just asking . . . .

  • Once we downsized one car (got rid of our 11-year-old, fully paid-off minivan,) we figured we are saving $4000/year in insurance, maintenance, repairs, registration, gasoline, tires, etc. (A new car would require less maintenance, but then you’d have the hefty payments.) Add on savings due to not paying for parking, the random parking ticket, or washing the car (which was not something we did often, believe me.) Subtract the cost of the occasional use of city Carshare (we’ve used it three times in six months), some Muni fares, and increased bike maintenance. (Maybe $200 in additional costs?) Plus there is the cost of our bicycles, divided by their lifetime–probably $500 a year in our case. (2 electric bikes and one high quality road bike.) There’s no question downsizing a car (especially a gas-guzzler) brings big savings.

    For our family, only having one car has required a little more coordination, planning and a willingness, sometimes, to get wet during a rainy bike ride. My husband has long commuted by bike to work, occasionally taking Muni. Since he got an electric bike, he rides it half the time, his regular bike half the time, and avoids Muni altogether. Every once in a while we toy with the idea of an electric scooter. But that would require a motorcycle driver’s license (including a test at the dreaded DMV), registration fees, and insurance. So we talk ourselves out of it.

  • tea

    “I am not an anti-car zealot, but”

    I can’t tell you how much phrasing and framing things this way bugs me. The only zealotry here is the American populace’s grossly unsustainable and damaging obsession with automobiles.

  • ZA


    “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…”

    Speaking of odd mental constructions – what is it with people checkboxing their lives? I am X, Y, Z, but not A, B, C – and therefore I have cred for Theta.

    My cure:

    For my part, I like living, and that means moving, exploring, experiencing, and having fun. Sometimes a car is necessary, sometimes a bus, sometimes a bike, sometimes just my own two feet. I mostly ride a bike because it’s fast and it gives me the optimum of living.

  • I live without a car, for the most part, and I always tell people, the main reason is economic. The environmental and quality-of-life is a close second, but it’s a huge win for my wallet!



Study: Federal Funding Means More Bike Commuting

Bicycling is at a tipping point in many American cities. Bike-share systems are multiplying rapidly, infrastructure that used to be seen as novel is now commonplace, and commuting rates are growing. There are many explanations for this cultural shift, but here’s one not to be ignored: federal funding. Georgetown Public Policy Institute student Marissa Newhall […]