Cost of driving to driver

So in Tuesday’s Cap Metro briefing, one of the points I made is that an attempt to encourage people to use transit based on cost savings is doomed to failure, because the bus really isn’t any cheaper than the car for most people. Assumption here is that you won’t be able to completely get rid of a car, i.e., you ride the bus 4 days a week, or even 5, but can’t reduce your family’s number of cars.

The two downtown lawyers looked at me as if I was crazy. Well, I’m used to it.

Here’s the problem: Most of the people who pay a lot of money to park work downtown. Almost none of the new buildings there are underserved with parking, though; so the average cost per employee to park is dropping, even in the one place in town where it isn’t free. Free is a good assumption to work on (I suspect that most employees in those new buildings are getting free parking from their employers).

Then, we hit the “well, the IRS claims 27.5 cents per mile”, or whatever they’re saying now.

Yes, the IRS does in fact allow you to deduct business-related driving at that level in most cases. A big chunk of that is not gas, or tires, or maintenance – it’s depreciation, which makes sense for a business (which usually must depreciate assets like that as a matter of accounting principle).

But I went over this with my bicycle cost comparator. The fact is that unless you can get rid of a car completely, this depreciation number is not applicable to using your car for personal use (and yes, commuting to work is personal use).
I have never gotten one more dollar for a car on a trade-in for having disproportionately low mileage. Anectodal evidence exists of a few people who got an extra hundred bucks or two on a ten-year-old car for low mileage, but even that figure is trivial compared to how much of the original value of the car depreciated as a function of time, not mileage.

So, if you’re talking about taking the bus to work even every day but you live in the suburbs, you ain’t getting rid of that car, and thus, you ain’t saving 27.5 cents per mile. Gas and tires are about all the consumables you can treat as a mile-based expense; most maintenance is necessary every N months even if you drive the car a tenth as much as the typical user. Insurance is not mile-based (even though there were a flurry of press-releases about it supposedly being offered in Texas, it hasn’t materialized). Neither is registration.

So, a comparison for me:

I drive my wife’s old Honda Civic to work (when I drive). I take my bike on the other days, using the express bus for a boost in the morning. Let’s suppose I took that bus both ways.
From my calculator on my trip:

  • Car cost: $1.20, of which $1.10 is gas.
  • Bus cost: $2.00 ($1.00 each way).
  • Note that the following bus savings can be used:
    1. You can buy pre-paid tickets at half price, thus bringing the bus cost down to $1.00.
    2. You can buy a monthly express bus pass for $17 ($0.84 per day if you used it 25 days a month).

    Even in the most optimistic scenario, I’d only save $0.16 per day by taking the bus. That’s never going to be compelling enough to get me to vote for any transit proposal whatsoever, which was the point to begin with.

    For comparison, Cap Metro’s calculator says it costs me $184 a week if I drive all 5 days.

    Cap Metro doesn’t understand “choice commuters”. The things that could get them to vote for more money for transit are:

    1. Reliability – my trip down Mopac takes 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on traffic. A guaranteed trip time of 45 minutes on which I could read would be worth something.
    2. Performance – 45 minutes, OK. 1 hour, no way.

    Unfortunately, their rapid bus proposal does next to nothing on either metric above.