Commute Calculators

April 4, 2012

Much attention is given to the numerous benefits of getting out of your car when you commute – spending less money on gas, pumping less CO2 into the atmosphere, improving your health, and so on.  Being told all this is one thing, but seeing it spelled out in front of you is another, and naturally, in this age of internet, there are a number of ways for you to calculate the cost of your commute.

 The WMATA website has a Savings Calculator that calculates how much you spend driving versus how much it would cost to the same commute on the Metro.  First it calculates the cost of driving, asking how many days you commute each month, your daily parking costs, how many miles are driven each way, and then it asks you to enter you average vehicle costs per mile (the default is set to the GSA rate for gas, insurance, depreciation and maintenance, but if you know yours, you can enter it).  I don’t own a car, so I used many of the defaults. I entered 18 commuting days per month (based on my compressed schedule), left the parking costs at the default $10 a day, entered 4.5 miles each way to work, and left the average vehicle costs at the default.  The calculator estimated that it would cost me $261 to drive to work.

On the other hand, the calculator to ride Metro each way asked me the Metrorail fare and which stations I traveled between, whether or not I park at the departure station, then entered a regular Metrofare ($1.50, added automatically when I picked regular as my option).  The calculator said it costs me $140 to commute by Metro, almost half what it would cost my hypothetical drive. 

 Arlington County Commuter Service’s Car-Free Diet also has a calculator, which asks for much more information than the WMATA calculator.  To begin with, it is a “diet,” so the first page asks for your gender, height, weight, and age.  Then it asks details about your vehicle – year, manufacturer and model – but offers a “Do you not have a car?” default vehicle profile button, which I used.  There is also a box for the cost per gallon of gas, with $3.85 as the default.  Next you are prompted to enter your starting and ending addresses, the one way distance and time, whether or not it’s round trip, and what days you make the trip. Then there are boxes that ask about the cost of tolls, parking costs, and then “If you rode transit, how much would this trip cost?”  That seemed a bit odd to me – how would you know if you didn’t ride transit?

 The calculator told me that for my fictitious drive, I spend $0.65 per mile, release 0.9lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere, and burn 13.5 calories, and in a “typical” week, I spend $26.13, release 37.3lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere, and burn 540 calories. (I’m not sure how they got the calorie count, though – walking to and from the car?)  My favorite part were the nice set of graphs that compared the costs, environmental impact, and health benefits of driving, biking, walking, telework, and transit.  Not surprisingly, telework was the best option all around, and driving was the worse for money and environment; walking was the healthiest, which surprised me – compared to biking?  The last page of this extensive calculator let you pick what transportation “diet” option you want to try. I decided to bike four days a week, which was then illustrated in another set of graphs. This will cost me between $5 and $10, emit about 10lbs of CO2, and burn approximately 1500 calories.  That sounds better to me!

 Many cities have commute calculators like these.  A quick internet survey came up with them for Santa Cruz, the Raleigh-Durham Triangle region in North Carolina, Los Angeles, Pittsburg, and the Seattle area. I imagine that there is something similar for just about every major city, too.  But I have to wonder, with all the resources showing a number of ways in which driving is costly, why do people continue to drive? Hopefully Smartphone apps like the Commute Greener! App by Volvo will become more widespread, as well. 

 If you haven’t already thought about giving up your car for at least one day of your work week, I encourage you to try out any one of these calculators.  If the CO2 emissions into the atmosphere don’t cause you to lose sleep at night, maybe the cost will.  Twelve months of paying $261 in car commuting equals $3,132, enough for a nice vacation somewhere! Even if you try public transportation or car- or vanpooling once a week, you might just find that you prefer the savings, and slowly increase your non-driving days.  Habits build slowly over time, so if you have one bad experience, just do what our mothers always said, “Brush yourself off and try it again.”  And you know Mother was always right.


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