How Transit & Bikes Paid for My Home

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CC BY-SA 3.0. Zachary Shahan

I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again: one of the best practical decisions I’ve made in my life was ditching the car. I think the biggest benefit from doing that has been the much greater quality of life I’ve enjoyed from walking, biking, and using transit rather than driving. They are just, on the whole, much more enjoyable transportation options that sitting in a car and staring at the car in front of me ... and staring at those huge hunks of metal and plastic on all sides of me in order to not kill myself and others. But that’s not the focus of this article, so I’ll get back on track.

The focus of this article is the huge financial savings that come from walking, biking, and using transit. The jumping off point is a recent report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). APTA releases a Transit Savings Report every month that provides an estimate of the average monthly and annual savings of a person who ditches the car for transit in the 20 U.S. cities with the largest public transit ridership.

NYC Subway

© Michael TappIn the latest report, APTA comes up with a blended average of $9,238 per year, with a high of $15,873 per year in New York City (which also happens to be where the most people use public transit ... by far). The estimated savings are based on many assumptions, of course, such as the price of gas and car maintenance, insurance, depreciation and finance charges, the price of parking, and the price of transit in the region. You can delve into the specifics of these assumptions more on the APTA website.

Of course, when the price of gas was quite a bit higher, the savings were also quite a bit higher. But I’ve been following the reports for a long time and they are often somewhere between $9,000 and $10,000 a year.

Getting back to how all of this relates to the title of this article, I dropped the car approximately 11 years ago. I haven’t lived in the cities APTA evaluates, and I haven’t closely tracked how much I would have spent if I had owned a car. (Actually, when I start to even think about that, it’s hard to even think of which cars models and ages I would have driven in that time.) But if we used an average of $9,500 a year, that would come to a savings of $104,500. At the current transfer rate, that’s 403,083 PLN (Polish złoty), which is more than we paid for our condo in Wrocław, Poland, which is located in my favorite neighborhood in one of my favorite cities in the world (that I’ve visited, at least).

In other words, choosing to bike, walk, and ride transit (the most expensive of those options) has very likely saved me enough to buy our home (mortgage-free). And all while getting around in ways that are more enjoyable than driving!

That would be a fun line to end on, but let me also note the obvious: Not all homes or jobs match in an enjoyable way with walking, biking, and taking transit. If you choose a car-free life, you should choose your neighborhoods wisely. The good news is that generally means living in nicer cities and neighborhoods.