Countdown: 8 Days–Cost Comparison – Bike v. Car

7 Sep

With eight days to go until the Transportation Master Plan public priorities meeting, we’d like to take a look at the cost comparisons between different modes of transportation. First off: what is the cost difference between owning a car and owning a bike.

Graphic courtesy of Tony Montgomery and Mike Houston

There is a stark difference between the annual cost of owning a car vs. owning a bicycle. Where automobile ownership has an average cost approaching $9,000 per year, transportation advocates estimate that bicycle ownership is less than $400. Taking a look at the sources for the numbers, we get a sense of what these numbers mean to Omaha.

First, understand that both of those numbers are moveable. Larger, less efficient vehicles cost more. Drivers who drive fewer miles, or have smaller cars, have a lower cost of ownership. The bicycle number is an estimate based on bike ownership in New York City where theft and vandalism are cost factors and assumes a ten year cycle of ownership. So both figures are estimates and averages that will be higher or lower depending on location and lifestyle.  Also, these are not “either/or” costs, but costs that should be understood in relationship with one another. While one can own a car and not own a bicycle, in a city like Omaha, owning a bicycle and not owning a car creates some limits on the options one has for employment, residence and commercial activity for the average person.

What one can do, though, is own both a bicycle and an automobile. To look at the graphic above as a math problem, one is tempted to add the costs together and conclude there is no financial benefit to combining modes. This assumption ignores the major costs of car ownership: gas and maintenance. While this calculus may not make sense for a rural resident, when one takes into account that 40% of all urban trips are fewer than 2 miles there are many opportunities for exchanging the automobile for a bike and realizing cost savings from a reduction in gas consumption and wear-and-tear on the vehicle.

These changes not only benefit the individual, but the transportation system as a whole. Each motorist who switches to a bicycle – even for a few trips, now and then – leaves more room on the road for everyone else. For this mode exchange to be practical and safe for the average Omahan requires street design, zoning and infrastructure development that takes into account all modes of transportation — not just the car.  That is why the current revision of the Omaha Transportation Master Plan is critical for the future of transportation in our city. Please attend the public meeting on September 15, bring a friend, stand up for expanding the transportation options for everyone.

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