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Bus Odyssey

Costing the commute

by Michael Betzold

From the February, 2011 issue

Ditch your car and save $8,000 a year by riding the bus. That's what a recent Ann Arbor Transportation Authority press release suggests. The newly rich bus rider was assumed to have driven a mid-sized sedan 15,000 miles a year. At twenty-three miles a gallon, the fuel savings would come to $2,000 or so; a plump allowance for depreciation and maintenance added the other $6,000.

But how in the world would an Ann Arbor-area commuter rack up 15,000 miles on The Ride? About the longest possible trip on AATA routes would be a two-hour, three-bus commute from Jackson Road at Wagner to somewhere near Willow Run High. That's about a thirty-mile round trip by car, so even if you rode the bus five days a week for fifty weeks a year, you'd save only 7,500 miles-and spend 1,000 hours on the bus. To get to 15,000 miles, you'd have to ride another 150 miles every weekend.

The following letter and editorial response appeared in the March, 2011 Ann Arbor Observer

To the Observer:

Thank you for noting the AATA press release of January 5 that outlined how much someone could save if they did not need a car and used AATA services [Up Front, February]. There are many factors in our lives that impact the value of transit for each of us.

The Observer raised a legitimate question, so I decided to use myself as an example to show how much I could save if I did not have a car and used the bus.

My car lease is $4,260 per year. My car insurance is $920. I drove about 13,000 miles this year and let's say the average price of gas was $3 a gallon and my car gets about 20 miles per gallon for a total of $1,950. I spent about $200 on oil changes, wiper blades, car washes. Let's estimate $200 a year for parking (I think it's higher). The grand total is $7,530.

Unlimited rides on the bus costs

...continued below...

$696 per year and it's free when I become a senior citizen. I live in the northeast side of Ann Arbor and can take the 2 and 22 routes to get to downtown, Arborland, and Meijer's on Carpenter. I would also need to rent a car to visit my daughter and friends and take vacation trips. Let's estimate that cost at $1,000 per year. If I was part of a 2-car family, I may not have that cost.

My savings for the year is $5,834 and it goes to $6,530 when I become a senior citizen.

I encourage all your readers to "run the numbers" to see how the use of transit would impact their budget.

Jesse Bernstein, Chair of TheRide (AATA)

Bernstein doesn't calculate how long it would take him to travel that many miles by bus. Based on our estimate of the longest AATA commute, riding 7,500 miles a year would take 1,000 hours. To replace a car driven 15,000 miles a year, as the press release proposed, would require twice as much time on the bus--the equivalent of a second full-time job.    (end of article)

[Originally published in February, 2011.]


On February 25, 2011, wrote:
The problem with this proposal is that it makes the assumption that a person who rides the bus regularly, like my husband and I do, would choose to live in the same place someone who drives a car daily would. And that is just a false assumption. A major consideration for us when looking at housing is where the bus runs and where the local grocery stores are and whether we can walk to where we need. These are factors well worth considering, both for your wallet and your health. We have access to a car through Zipcar, an hourly rental car service for larger grocery trips or more distant trips. This happens about 2-3 times per month at most. The rest of the time we just smile when we see the increasing costs of gas.

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