Calculating the True Cost of Commuting
As the pandemic continues, most people who can work from home are taking the opportunity to work remotely. And though there are pros and cons to the sudden transition to remote work over the past several months, it’s hard to deny the impact working from home is having on workers’ budgets.
From money saved to the effect on the environment, the true cost of commuting is so much more than dollars spent at the pump. Here’s how to calculate the true cost of your commute, and how ditching it can really add up.
What’s in a Commute?
Texas A&M analyzed traffic data from 1982 to 2017. Overall, they found that during those 35 years, traffic congestion increased almost every single year over the previous year. And that congestion really adds up.
In 2007, the average commuter was delayed by 43 total hours during the course of a year. That’s just for a single commuter! By 2017, a single commuter sat in traffic, on average, for an extra 54 hours a year.
Those 2017 figures, though, only measure the impact on commuters during rush hour. The researchers took their analysis a step further and measured the spillover rush hour congestion has on other types of road transportation, such as delivery vehicles and repair people on service calls.
The combination of these types of traffic means an even greater cost to everyone. For example, freight shippers that rely on highways and roads add 70% more travel time when estimating delivery dates.
Evaluating Commuting Costs
Before you calculate your commuting cost (and you with an a commuting cost calculator), it’s important to understand that when we talk about cost, we aren’t only referring to money.
To figure out the true cost of your commute, you should start with dollars. If you drive to work, that means gas and parking. But, you also need to calculate the related costs of commuting to work, like car insurance, maintenance, and other expenses.
In 2016, AAA estimated that the average yearly cost of owning and operating a sedan was $8,558, or $713 a month. And though that figure includes the cost of gas, other notable figures include:
- $1,222 a year for insurance ($102 per month)
- $792 a year for maintenance ($66 per month)
- $687 a year for license, registration, and taxes ($57 per month)
- $150 a year for tires ($13 per month)
Of course, that’s the monetary impact commuting to work has on your budget. A daily commute also has an environmental impact that adds to the true cost of your commute. It’s estimated that for every one gallon of gas your car uses, you’ll add 19.42 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
What About Public Transportation?
Public transportation may seem like a more cost-effective option. If you skip the solo drive and switch to a train or a bus, you will likely save money (even if you keep your car for weekends). Over time, you’ll spend less on car maintenance, gas, depreciation, parking fees, and everything else that contributes to your commuting expense since a bus or train pass costs less.
However, the other thing to keep in mind when calculating your commuting costs is time, something that is often forgotten in the commuting equation.
For example, in 2017, commuters in the New York metro area who commuted to work alone in a car spent 29 minutes in traffic. However, workers on public transportation spent approximately 51 minutes traveling door-to-door.
Though you’re saving dollars when you commute via public transportation, you aren’t saving time. In fact, commuting on public transportation costs twice as much in terms of time compared to driving alone in a car.
And, yes, you can put a dollar value on that time. Consider what you could do with that time if you weren’t on the bus or the train.
Lessons From the Pandemic
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that far more jobs than we ever thought can be done remotely. And though the long-term impact that the pandemic will have on work remains to be seen, it is impossible to deny the immediate impact it’s had on commuting.
Ridership on public transportation has dropped during the pandemic. For example, Washington DC’s public transportation system was still experiencing decreased ridership on both bus and train lines in October 2020. (-51% and -75% respectively).
Though that’s up from nearly -90% from the beginning of the pandemic, it’s clear that people have not yet returned to public transportation. What’s unclear, though, is whether this decreased ridership is due to people commuting via car or because they are working at home.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas notes that in February 2020, 73.8% of workers commuted every day. However, by May 2020, only 37.8% of workers commuted daily. That said, the number of people commuting daily is inching back up, with 49.0% of workers reporting a daily commute. The Dallas Fed also reports that the number of people working at home every day declined in August to 20.3% from 35.2% in May.
A Commute-Free Future?
On average, a commuter will spend anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 per year on commuting expenses and travel between 5 and 13 miles for work. Assuming you commute 10 miles one way a day for work, fill up your car once a week, and get 20 miles per gallon on gas, you’ll spend around $624 a year just on gas if you pay $2.60 a gallon.
However, working from home just two days a week drops that total to $374.40 a year! And that’s just on gas. Don’t forget about maintenance and car insurance expenses, too. Working at home can save money in other places, too, like clothing, dining out, and environmental impact.
But, what does this mean to you, if (and when) you’re asked to return to the office?
If you’ve grown accustomed to working from home, find that you’re more productive working from home, or just can’t face the commute, start negotiating for a permanent work from home arrangement with your boss.
Measure the Impact of Your Commute
In the end, measuring the true cost of your commute comes down to where you live, how you commute, and how open your company is to remote work. Whether the pandemic results in a permanent change to commuting remains to be seen. But, until the future is clear, remote work (and the lack of a commute) may stick around for a while.
If, however, permanently working at home doesn’t seem to be in the cards for you in your current position, take a look at the FlexJobs database. We’ve got thousands of jobs across at least 50 career categories with companies that are looking for qualified candidates.
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