Cross posted from the Bike Arvada blog
The late Ken Kifer, in 2003, calculated that the average cost of operating a motor vehicle to be 93.8¢ per mile and the parallel costs to operate a bicycle to be 12.8¢ per mile, a difference, and benefit to riding a bicycle, of 81¢ per mile. I've been using that figure to tout the merits of full-time cycling, but I've had the nagging feeling that those figures were horribly outdated.
Then I found this nifty online calculator to determine the cost of operating a motor vehicle. Currently, based on recent reported fuel costs, this calculator figures the direct cost to the operator of a motor vehicle to be $1.02 per mile and the combined cost—including all indirect expenses—to be $1.41 per mile.
To simplify my argument I am going to assume only the direct costs for comparison, but please don't think I undervalue the impacts of those indirect costs. If you read down through them you'll see items like "State and Local Construction, Improvements and Repair," "Air Pollution Damage," and "Barrier Effects on Pedestrians and Bicycles." Those costs are important in the whole scheme of things, but for the sake of argument I want to focus on the direct impact to an individual's wallet to make the case that the bicycle is the better economic solution to your transportation problem.
Next we need to calculate the direct expense of operating a bicycle per mile, and then we'll subtract that from the expense to operate a motor vehicle to find the benefit of riding a bicycle.
First we compare the expense items:
Fixed costs (insurance, registration, motor vehicle taxes) 11.9¢ per mile
Finance Charge 6.3¢ per mile
Depreciation 27.9¢ per mile
Fuel 19.2¢ per mile
Maintenance and Tires 5.3¢ per mile
Residential Parking 6.7¢ per mile
Parking and Tolls: user paid (if applicable) 2¢ per mile
Travel Time (with average delays) 11.3¢ per mile
Accidents (personal costs of injury and property damage) 10.9¢ per mile
Fixed costs (insurance, registration, motor vehicle taxes) 0¢ per mile
Finance Charge 0¢ per mile
Depreciation 6.2¢ per mile*
Fuel 0¢ per mile
Maintenance and Tires 4.9¢ per mile*
Residential Parking 0¢ per mile
Parking and Tolls: user paid (if applicable) 0¢ per mile
Travel Time (with average delays) 0¢ per mile **
Accidents (personal costs of injury and property damage) 0¢ per mile
So we come up with $1.02 per mile to operate a car and 11¢ per mile to operate a bicycle (direct costs only). That is a difference of 91¢ per mile. As I suspected, not too far off from Ken's figures nearly a decade ago. Obviously, as the cost of refined gasoline rises, the disparity will only increase.
One factor that is painfully absent from the whole equation is the "fuel" costs of operating a bicycle. Ken's table allocated 0¢ per mile for fuel for cyclists. On one hand I agree. You have to eat regardless of whether you ride or not. On the other hand, I recognize that you burn more calories and therefore need more "fuel" than if you stay on your behind and ride in a car.
The direct benefit of riding a bicycle versus driving a car is 91¢ per mile!
I also did a quick extrapolation of the indirect costs using Ken's figures and the SCCRTC figures to come up with this comparison:
Total indirect cost of operating a motor vehicle: 39¢ per mile
Total indirect cost of operating a bicycle: 4¢ per mile
The total benefit, including indirect costs, is a whopping $1.26 per mile!
Last year I rode 5,100 miles total. I saved $4,539 out of my own wallet and a total of $6,426 including societal and governmental costs.
These figures would vary with the purchase of a new bike depending on cost and method of payment.
So the conclusion is that there is a distinct benefit to choosing the bicycle over the automobile. Combine the monetary savings with the knowledge that your transportation costs will stay virtually the same regardless of the price of a barrel of oil it is easy to see the bike as a tool for resilience in uncertain times.
The US EPA claims the average mileage driven by US motorists is 12,500. One other estimate I found had that number as high as 13,000. Going with the lower number you could see how a stalwart and committed bicyclist could save upwards of $11,000 a year by completely forgoing the use of an automobile.
How much can you save?
* Extrapolated from Ken Kifer's figures
** Assuming time spent riding the bike is not considered "lost"