One of the biggest pleasures I get out of living in a city is that I don’t have to own a car. Cars can be a great convenience and a lot of people enjoy driving, but I’ve never been one of those people. I’ve always found driving stressful. Nevertheless, the conveniences of owning a car are huge. I still rent a car about once a month, carry memberships for car2go and Zipcar, and occasionally use taxis. With that said, my day to day life is possible without owning a car and I feel extremely fortunate to have this choice. This is entirely due to the way Seattle is designed but, unfortunately, not everyone can choose to get rid of their car.

Freedom to get from point A to point B is incredibly powerful, but providing more transit options is more empowering than simply giving people transportation choices. In fact, the most empowering aspect of transit is that it saves people a lot of money. I initially got rid of my car because I couldn’t afford it. The extra money was huge for me. In case you were wondering, here’s the cost of car ownership per year (from Consumer Reports), graphed against how long the car is owned.

car_owner_costs_2012

That graph shows an average which might startle a lot of people; over $6,000 a year?! This is the truth though. The direct cost we incur for owning a car is huge. You might think to yourself, “That might be the average but I’m sure I pay way less.” Actually, you probably don’t pay much less. The post shows the cost for many cars. The lowest price is $5,000 a year:

car_ownership_costs
See the list for all car types here

This of course doesn’t take into consideration all the the other ways we pay for cars (like higher rents or taxes diverted to highways), but the direct costs are obvious. Not owning a car can save a ton of money and I’m glad I live in a city that give me this option.

What This Means For Housing

I pay more for rent than a lot of people. When I was looking for my apartment, I specifically looked in places that were centrally located and close to transit options. For my own situation, I’ve calculated that not owning a car allows me to pay about $300 per month more in rent. When we look at housing costs, it’s necessary to understand what other costs are required by the location of the housing. As an example, if your housing requires you to own a car, your housing is more expensive than it has to be.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Bikes work when you don’t need to carry much or have passengers. Like when I go to play Soccer I carry the clothes / gear I need to play, it about the equivalent of another passenger. Then there is a place to change. The parks I play at don’t have changing booths, so I change in my car from work clothes into athletic gear.

    If you only need to get from point A to point B and the weather isn’t a problem ( or having bike storage ) biking is a good healthy option.

  2. I went for many years riding a bicycle for most of my transportation in Seattle. Than I got married again and my costs went up astronomically. I mostly hate cars and driving. I know how much it costs but I believe Seattle has become more difficult for bikes, not better. This is because traffic has increased and become more aggressive. I am older and less aggressive. I really did not think it was safe to tell my new wife to bike everywhere in Seattle. Most of the time a bicycle is faster, cleaner, cheaper than a bus. It is usually slower than a car but way cheaper, probably 95% cheaper. Cycling year round will save at least $5,000 a year if you don’t need to drive. You also save the income tax on the $5,000 you did not have to earn. So now you will need to work for 6k or 7k less each year. I would not like to depend on buses though. I hope that someday I can move to a better bicycle city, like Portland or maybe to Salem, Or.
    I am sure that many people spend far more than $5,000 a year on cars. Just imagine the savings and health benefits if a larger proportion of Americans used bikes for much of their transportation. Just imagine a reduction in oil dependence that could result. Our balance of payments improves and all people benefit.

  3. Owning a car at all is expensive, but your costs go up dramatically the further you have to drive. I once calculated that a long-distance commute can cost $500k over the life of a 30 year mortgage (plus spending 24% of your non-working waking life driving a car).

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