Home > Cultural Movement, Economics > Calculating the miles…and costs of driving

Calculating the miles…and costs of driving



First quarter numbers are in

As astute readers will recall, last September a city tree attacked my little Honda Fit in a windstorm. It was totaled and being a one-car family at the time, we officially became a no-car family after choosing not to jump back into car ownership. We aren’t car-free though, because as we realized, there is an abundance of cars available, in addition to an abundance of good friends and considerate family, willing to share. When that doesn’t work, we can take the bus, a cab, or rent a car (sometimes from friends). We are rarely left in lurch.

Although Traverse City might not have the population for an official car-share business like Zip-car, I find myself driving almost as much as if I owned a car. Of course, I’d already lowered my annual miles driven (like many people) from around 13,000 miles in 2005 to around 8,000 in 2011. Using the total miles driven (excluding other motorized trips) from January 1st to March 31st, and projecting to the end of the year, I expect to at a minimum drive 4,800 miles in 2013. I easily see adding an additional 1,000 to 2,000 miles as driving tends to increase in the summer.

As the numbers show, by not owning a car I’m not seeing a significant drop in mobility, however, I am realizing a financial savings from not owning a vehicle. Here are the rough numbers with annual miles from the Department of Transportation for comparison:


Projecting forward

The annual projections and averages are simplified and only a gauge, but the cost of owning a car versus borrowing, renting from friends, sharing cost of gas (carpool), or renting from a rental company offers significant savings, even in the first three months. An extra $664 is a nice car-less bonus and the projected annual savings of nearly $2,000 makes that new wood floor for the upstairs seem almost doable.

I’m also tracking the estimated carbon footprint of my motorized mobility, the direct cost of which I externalize onto the rest of society to collectively pick up the tab (thank you). There isn’t a lot of clarity for the layperson on the carbon cost in the literature and so in my log, not shown here, I calculate a conservative, low-ball average carbon tax of $.15 per CO2 per KG, which totals $34.00. The true externalized costs are much higher.

Society’s gift to me

In the chart above, I track the total external costs as a result of my driving. I use $.29 a mile based off of the research by transportation specialist Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute. $.29/mile is a conservative amount that accounts for most subsidies that benefit drivers. These are costs picked up somewhere, somehow, but not directly paid for by so-called “user-fees”. Those costs are accrued through subsidies for parking, safety risks, road construction, and environmental mitigation (Litman’s cost is actually 29.3¢-PDF).

At the end of the year, my cost on society for my driving will be around $1,400–and I don’t even own a car! The average driver in the United States will benefit from at least a $4,000 benefit and locally, the average subsidy will be over $6,500. (Again..and why can’t we afford a complete sidewalk network?).

I will revisit this in the future. I also have estimates for walking and biking, and I’m also privileged enough to fly on occasion. I just didn’t know exactly how to work them into the discussion today.

As well, something else to look for is a new initiative out of MyWHaT underwriter the Michigan Land Use Institute dubbed Local Motion, will be releasing some regional data about costs of driving later this spring. They are also hosting an event on June 4th to discuss transportation management strategies, that you and your employer might be interested in. No details to link to, but if you follow @jimbruckb on twitter or on his blog, you’ll be in the loop.

Do you see something I’m missing in the numbers? Missing data? 




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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of writers previously published here or any of the organizations, committees, commissions or other affiliation the authors may belong to, unless so stated.

  1. April 24, 2013 at 9:54 am

    As a physician, I don’t see you calculating in the cost to society of your medical care avoided by an active lifestyle…

  2. Bob Atallo
    April 24, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    The case for a carbon tax writes itself.

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