Does Going Car-Free Really Save Me Money?

Posted by

Prior to June 29th of this year, my city of Rochester could only be navigated by car, bike, bus or on foot.  Since then, the city has added two new wrinkles in our transit fabric… ride share (it’s about time right?) and bike share.  In less than a month, our city has two new connectivity options that did not exist before.

As someone who doesn’t drive a car of his own, I was incredibly excited by these urban additives.  The notion that, on a rainy day, I might be able to take Uber or Lyft to work was very appealing.  Maybe I would take the bus somewhere and wanted last-mile transpo when I arrived… Zagster bike share to the rescue!

The question is, now that Rochester has a broader array of transit options, does not driving actually save me money?  Do all these services (and more) mentioned here add up to actual savings over owning and operating my own vehicle?

I did some rough math, and from July 1st through July 25th the following numbers are reasonably accurate.

Ride Share (Uber/Lyft) – $103, 71 miles traveled

Amtrak to Utica, New York – $60, 240 miles

Zipcar – $35, 49 miles

Biking – $0, 257 miles

Bus – $5, 22 miles

Bike Share – $5, 8 miles

That all adds up to

$208 dollars, 647 miles in 25 days, which equals 25.88 miles at a cost of $8.32 per day.

Two if by car…

What would the same number of miles per day cost if I was to exclusively drive these miles?  Let’s look at the cost based on the following assumed variables

Car payment – $200 per month (based on a used compact car)

Insurance – $70 per month (let’s say you’re a safe driver with good credit)

Gas for 776 miles (adjusted for 1 month of driving at 25.88 miles per day) at 30mpg with gas at $2.35 a gallon here in NYS) – about $60.

Total = $330 dollars in 30 days or $11 per day.  This also does not include registration, inspection and vehicle maintenance (which is far more costly than bike maintenance).

The Difference

So let’s say that going car free saves me approximately $2.68 per day, with a monthly savings of about $80. Most wouldn’t necessarily think of this as worthwhile savings, as twenty extra dollars a week would likely be a solid investment for the comfort and flexibility of owning an automobile. So let’s figure in a couple other hidden factors.

For starters, I don’t drive much. I live centrally, with about a 10-12 minute bike ride into the heart of the city and a 25 minute ride to work.  I have nearly everything I need within a mile or two of our apartment. So while my calculations were based on my transit numbers, the average driver puts nearly twice as many miles on their car in a month.

That being said, AAA numbers show that vehicle maintenance costs approximately 5.11 cents per mile… Multiply that by 776, the miles I traveled in July (adjusted for a whole month), and now the savings is up to $120 per month.

Tires cost an additional $7.6 per month. We’re up to $128 dollars when we round up.

In 2016, the average car payment was $479 per month… can you believe that? I mean I get that $200 was a low estimate, but really, $479? Let’s factor that in, another $279 dollars on top of our $128 monthly savings and now I’m saving a robust $407 dollars per month. Now we’re talking savings.

Let’s go now to healthcare savings. I don’t go to a gym. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have a bit of a beer gut (I do love my bourbon and brews, and of course I love to eat) but I am able to stave off significant weight increase by biking about 10 miles per day.  At 50 calories per mile, I get a light but decent 500 calorie burn while getting to where I need to go. If you pay $20 a month for a gym, I’ll put my legs and arms and cardio ability up against 75% of the population without stepping on a treadmill. And I have a better view!

Also, cycling every day has been shown to have tremendous health benefits, saving long term healthcare costs at a significant clip.


On the conservative end, I personally probably save about $150 a month by not driving a car.  On the “live like a normal person” scale, I could save as much as $400 per month or more. Are these mind-blowing numbers? No, but they also aren’t altogether meaningless. I could get into infrastructure impact savings on our roads and bridges (saving taxpayer dollars) but that’s a conversation for another day.

I also don’t have children. While other countries do have bike infrastructure that supports family cycling, even bikes that can carry multiple infants easily, most cities in the USA are simply not set up for this.

I do also have a fiancé who owns a car and I ride occasionally with her when we are going to the same places. Also occasionally, I will get a ride from a friend going to the same place, but I usually just buy them a couple drinks down the road. No biggie.

In conclusion, now that my city has more transit options, I am finally able to traverse nearly any transit situation while still being able to see what my savings really are. While not incredibly significant, blending the financial values with the fitness, environmental and infrastructural benefits help me know that this lifestyle is about more than just me… it’s about moving about in a sustainable way, saving my wallet, my health and my community a little bit of stress.