The Cost of Driving to Work

This past week we saw temperatures hitting 50 degrees, an incredible gift for January in Nebraska. This also meant the snow was completely melted, making biking an option I would consider. I did take advantage last Saturday with a bike ride up to Benson for some lunch at 1912 and a visit to Infusion Brewing Co. When the weather is nice and I can get to places via biking or walking I tend to get out and explore more.

Old commercial district in Benson

Old commercial district in Benson

After this pioneering Omaha bike ride (delayed by either holiday travel or snow) I started thinking about biking to work. I loved biking to work in Minneapolis and couldn’t wait for the snow to clear (unfortunately that wasn’t until until April sometimes) to stop riding the bus. I thought this could be another benefit to moving to Omaha, biking for the majority, instead of the minority of the year. But right as I would have like to have taken advantage of the weather I was hit with an annoying cold that zapped all the energy I needed to bike the 6 mile round trip.

Photo May 28, 12 22 14 PM.jpg

Despite the setback, it started me thinking on just what the costs and incentives are for someone to leave their car behind and get on a bike. In any city, it takes someone with a decent amount of fitness and a relative comfort level to sometimes have to bike with cars, whether that is on a busy thoroughfare or a neighborhood street. I have both, so the next step is a motive to bike instead of drive. In Minneapolis it was cost and traffic. I wasn’t about to spend $300 a month on a parking spot or crawl along in traffic getting over the 3rd Avenue bridge. So I started biking in the summer months and switched over to the bus in the winter. When I moved here to Nebraska, my company paid for my parking spot next to the building. At first it was unavoidable, since I was driving an hour from Lincoln everyday. But then we moved to Omaha and there really wasn’t anything that made it necessary to keep driving.

But then I started considered just how free it really is to drive. With gas at a price per gallon that is practically being given away it would seem easy to just get in the car and drive. But I found a calculator on the Bicycle Universe website that compared side by side the costs for biking with occasional ride share and bus trips with owning a car. The annual cost (including depreciation) of my car is $2,920 versus the carless scenario of $1,616. That’s a nice savings of $1,304 annually that if invested at 5% would give me over $134,000 in 35 years.

Those are some really nice numbers that make giving up the car very enticing. Not to mention the increased health benefits I would reap from the extra mile walk to and from the bus stop and the 6 miles of biking most of the year. There would also be environmental benefits. According to the EPA, my car gives off 2,424 grams of CO2 each daily commute (404 g per mile). That add’s up to 630,240 g of CO2 each year. Another fun calculator on the EPA website converts that to .74 acres of forest needed to sequester that over the course of the year.

Unfortunately there are some logistical problems to giving up my car. First, there isn’t a cheap alternative to visit family and friends an hour away in Lincoln. Nor do we live within walking distance of a grocery store. Two significant inconveniences. Where we lived in Minneapolis it would have worked perfectly, if we were ready to stop going back to see family in Nebraska. This underscores just how important zoning and land use regulations are. They can either make living without a car easy or very difficult. The corner store, illegal in many cities, is incredibly important for quick grocery trips.

So my alternative is to reap a small amount of savings on gas (the only variable you can reduce when owning a car since the rest is mandatory) by biking hopefully 8 months out of the year. At least I will reduce the amount of CO2 by 420,160 grams and increase my fitness level, both still important to my value system.