I saw a post titled: “Your commute is costing you more than you realize” on Reuters and saved it away to read this morning. I was keen to read as I drive a bit for my job, and previously commuted about 90 minutes a day (round trip) to get to work. I just wanted to see what they found out.
Here’s their opening shocker:
Specifically, the four years when Phillips was driving 2.5 hours each way to her job and back, every single workday.
[…]The total tab, she figures: $43,000. And that is just in gasoline – not oil changes or repairs, not the value of her time.
Oh, wait, that’s $43,000 over four years, not just like one year. Though it only accounts for fuel. But let’s also remember that is a 2.5 hour commute, when the article lets us know that on average an American commutes just 25.5 minutes.1
So really that $43,000 number is better stated as $895.83 per month — as humans are inherently bad when numbers and time spans get too long. Now, that’s still a pretty large number, but Reuters isn’t done shocking you yet — because they have an even bigger number to throw at you:
“So if you have a 20-mile commute to work, multiply it out: 40 miles each workday times 50 cents a mile. And there are 2,500 of those workdays in every decade, so that ‘not too bad’ commute is burning at least $50,000 every ten years.”
$50,000! That’s bigger than $43,000. Oh, over ten years, so like $416.67 per month then. You know: half of the other number? Yeah…2
So what we have in this article is a bunch of useless bullshit, and I’ll tell you why: it’s useless because Reuters offers no baseline of what they average cost of commuting is and without that baseline you cannot know what the numbers they show you really mean.
Is $416.67 per month a lot of money for commuting? I don’t know because I don’t know what the average cost of commuting is, so that I may compare the figure with the average. Instead let me do some math that Reuters should have done:
- $416.67 per month is actually better expressed as $19.23 per day (assuming 52 work weeks a year, and five work days per week from that original $50,000 per ten year figure).
Ok, so it costs about $20 a day for that 40 mile (total daily) commute. Is that a lot?
I honestly don’t know, but I am inclined to say it’s probably only a little higher than average. If I assume that the average American must take powered transportation of some ilk to work, then we can assume they are at least going to pay about $4 per day in bus fares.3
But that’s on the bus, and we know Americans love cars. So let’s talk about Tacoma, WA — considerably cheaper than Seattle — and assume you drive for 25.5 minutes to work, park, and then drive back home 25.5 minutes.
I plotted a 25 minute drive from the lovely University Place, to downtown Tacoma. That drive is 9 miles one way, or 18 round trip. Using that $0.50 figure that comes out to $9 per day. But wait, then you have to pay for parking, so you’ll buy a parking pass. In Tacoma you can get one for $40/mo, but let’s say you get one for $30/mo. That means your daily cost is now $10.38 per day for parking and vehicle expenses.
Now we have a really good baseline to go off of, and we can now compare the data like so:
- The average American spends between $11 per day on their commute to work. (If they drive.)
- A 20 mile (each way) commute to work will cost you almost $20 per day on average if you drive.
- A stupidly absurd 2.5 hour commute (each way) to work will cost you an mind numbing $42 per day.
None of this accounts for your time wasted commuting, so be sure the commute is worth the salary and do the math.
UPDATE: Reader Luke writes in with a poignant comment on this:
For those that can’t or don’t want to telecommute, I do think there’s value in looking at monthly cost rather than daily cost because rent/mortgage is generally considered monthly. Taking your $11/day number, that’s $238/mo. That means that if I currently have an average commute but can find somewhere within walking distance of my work, I can spend an extra $200/mo on my house and still come out ahead.
That’s a really great way of looking at this. I struggled with day/month views of the numbers as I think the month view is equally as hard to look at as the day breakdown. But equating it to rent/mortgage is a fantastic way to look at it.
Though they don’t say if that is round trip or not, seems like it is only one leg of the commute. ↩
In case you are wondering the $0.50 per mile figure is something the government sets the bar at for employee reimbursement for travel in a personal vehicle. You can also use that figure as a tax deduction if you track miles — consult your tax person about that though. ↩
Maybe less, maybe more in your city. Best I recall it’s $2 base in Seattle. ↩