Road RageIt’s raining, and traffic is at a stand still.  Today it seems as if everybody decided to simultaneously get on the highway.  A driver to my left is yelling at the car in front of him as he repeatedly looks at his watch.  A few cars up, a driver is trying to merge to the left, inconveniently blocking the carpool lane.  The bus driver honks, and I go back to reading my book.

Whenever I tell people that we don’t own a car, usually the first response is confusion (or maybe pity)

“How is that possible?  How do you get to work?”

Usually I take the bus, but sometimes I ride my bike

“Isn’t that really inconvenient?  It must take a long time.”

Not really, I just go downstairs and get on the bus.  About 30 minutes later it drops me off a block from my office.  I don’t even need to find parking or stop at the gas station

This is typically followed by a series of reasons of why they absolutely need a car

“Wow, you are really lucky to have the option to bus to work like that.  Where I live it would take me 90 minutes with 2 bus transfers, so I definitely have to drive”

Yeah, that’s probably true.  It was important for me to not have a car, so I picked my current home based on having a direct bus route to work.  It’s been working pretty well

“We also really need the car to get groceries.  It’s a few miles to the closest grocery store.”

Really, that far?  That sounds really inconvenient.  We’ve really enjoyed living a block from the weekly farmers market, a block from Safeway, 4 blocks from Trader Joes, and 8 blocks from Whole Foods.  Usually we pick up a few days worth of produce from the Saturday farmers market and if we need something during the week I’ll just walk or bike to the store and carry it home in a backpack.

“That’s great, it sounds like it works for you, but it could never work for me because I have to drive my children to soccer practice, ballet, swimming lessons, chess club, martial arts classes, drama club, and mandarin language class.” 


Your commute?

There are many different lifestyles, and there isn’t one right way to live.  People have different goals, values, and priorities, and consciously or unconsciously a person’s life will reflect them.  If a car is assumed to be a necessity, then almost inevitably it will be required to get to work and buy groceries, and without changing homes it would be inconvenient if not impossible to eliminate it.  But at what cost?  Not factoring in the health benefits of less walking or biking and dealing with the stress of the road, or the intellectual benefits of increased reading time, here is a quick look at the financials

This is a fairly representative sample of our monthly travel costs before I quit my job:

  • Bus fare:  $90 monthly bus pass for me (paid by work), plus $25 in bus fare for Winnie ($2.50 trip cost x10)  (We no longer have the work paid bus pass, but I also no longer bus to work)
  • Taxi:  $20 (used on occasion for a late night trip home from dinner with friends)

Total cost:  $45 out of pocket, with a real cost of $135 (Total in the past 2 months is closer to $40, less than while working

Monthly cost of typical car ownership in the Seattle area:

  • Lease payment including tax – $500 (based on ~$30k vehicle)
  • Insurance:  $150
  • Gas:  $200
  • Maintenance:  $50
  • Amortization on down payment:  $1800 / 36 = $50
  • Licensing and taxes:  $20

Total:  $970

This is a difference of $835 a month, more if 2 cars are involved.  After federal and state income taxes of 25%, and FICA and Medicare taxes of 7.65%, it would be necessary to earn $1240 just to pay for the car, or 50 hours of work at $25 an hour.

At the end of a 3 year lease, the car driver will return their vehicle and have $0, or less if there are excess miles or deferred maintenance.  The bus user will have $30,000 plus investment returns.  In 10 years at 6% returns, that will be over $135,000.

What would you do with an extra $100,000?