Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dollars and sense

The other day as I stood at the bus stop waiting to go to downtown Baltimore, I found myself pondering the economics of mass transit. It’s certainly in the best interest of the environment for people to take the bus or subway or whatever, but at what price does it become a person’s best option financially?

Well, lucky for you, I am enough of a nerd that I sat down and figured out the formulas so you don't have to. Read on:

How much are you spending per car trip =

($ per gallon of gas) / (your car’s MPG) * (trip mileage)

Example: $4.10 / 22 mpg (in my Honda) * 10 miles = $1.86 total.

Need to find your car’s MPG? Google your car and “MPG” or try this website.

Need trip mileage? Mapquest it here.

At what gas price or trip mileage does it become cheaper to take mass transit?

= (bus fare) * (your car’s MPG) / ($ per gallon of gas)

Example: Here in Baltimore, a round trip bus or light rail costs $3.20.

$3.20 * 22 MPG / $4.10 = 17.2 miles

Therefore, if I’m traveling more than 17.2 miles round trip, it’s cheaper for me to take the bus… especially if I’m going downtown, where I’d have to pay for parking.

As my car gets older, I'm considering my transportation options: Keep the car and pay increasingly high maintenance costs? Get a new car? Give up car altogether and rely on mass transit and taxi service?

For new car options, I'm researching green vehicles at the EPA website. Not surprisingly, the Toyota Prius is at the top of the gas efficiency list, but there are also good Honda, Mazda, Smartcar options I'm considering.

Next time I do my bills, I plan to take a good hard look at how much I’m paying for car ownership, and whether it’s worth it. Insurance, maintenance, gas, parking: it all adds up! I hear there's a fleet of Zipcars hovering around the Johns Hopkins campus not too far away. I will check it out and report back here. Over and out!

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