Via Andrew Sullivan this morning comes an article in Bundle titled "Our car addiction," which notes and tries to account for state-to-state variations in household spending on gasoline and maintenance. The specifics of the data are new, but the larger conclusions we can draw from them will be familiar to anyone likely to be visiting a cycling blog. Still, there's nothing wrong with a little reinforcement.
The average American spends 72 minutes per day in transit. Most of that time, we're driving: to and from work, school, the grocery store, the movie theater. Every year, that's more than 290 hours of drive-time radio, talking back to the GPS and wondering why, for the millionth time, people think it's okay to drive 60 in the left lane. It's a lot of time.What else to say? As the penultimate paragraph makes clear, the stereotypical single-driver commute all the way from home to work and back again is a financial luxury that, with a little thought, we can cut back on here and there and, in so doing, save some money and, maybe, improve our quality of life in the bargain. The elegance of such an argument is that it cuts across obvious political and philosophical divides and appeals to our financial self-interests. It just so happens that acting on one's self-interest, in this fairly rare instance, also indirectly benefits one's fellow citizens--even those who don't change their driving habits.
It's also a lot of money. The average household spent $5,477 on gas and auto expenses last year, according to Bundle data, an amount which accounts for about 14.5 percent of daily spending. [This data does not include spending on food and rent/mortgage.] That's more than we spend on groceries or utilities, and more than we spend on travel, entertainment, clothes and shoes, and hobbies — combined.
The good news is, how you get to work — and with whom — is something we can control, much more than we can control the price of gas, the traffic, the weather, or even the length of our commute. For most people, there's very little that's truly "discretionary" about gas and car maintenance. But this — adding a passenger to your commute or hitting the park-and-ride — is a much easier, cheaper change than, say, buying a more fuel efficient car, or moving closer to work.
This isn't an environmental argument. (That's for a different site.) It's a financial one — and one that makes intuitive sense. Most people use their cars primarily for commuting; if you can split those costs with another person, you can spend half as much. That could add up to several hundred dollars of savings a year. To which I say, "Going my way?"
Here in Wichita, home of one of the shortest average commute times in the country, it's historically been hard to encourage people to consider these arguments. However, as gas prices slowly increase, as bus service is expanded to serve the nearby outlying communities and bike paths are built that makes the current system more practical for bike-commuters, driving less becomes an easier choice to make for more of us.