Thursday, March 08, 2012

mind the gap

I have no idea why I’ve read the Washington Examiner. Well, I do. I saw the headline about commuting costs and grabbed a copy to see if it addressed my ongoing advice/rant to people about the costs of living, proximities, and the ‘walking dead’-like life beyond the beltway. At the same time, I wanted some numbers that might enlighten my fellow Metro riders when the endless debates –revived every time there’s a WMATA budget announcement – about fare hikes explode. As a preface: I think WMATA is probably one of the most poorly run organizations you can find. The safety issues, infrastructure failures, and big step increases in fares, for less service, are problematic. But, you could live in Birmingham, Alabama or Nashville, Tennessee and be paying more to commute on average than you do here.

According to the story, the average monthly cost for commuting in the DC area is about $12,644 per year. I’m assuming that for a household and not a single person. If you’re young, single and living near a Metro station, even one beyond District bounds, you’re paying about $1,700 a year to commute in and out of the city at rush hour, per working adult. Are the delays? Does L’Enfant sometimes smell of fish? Are tourists a problem? Yes to all. Then again, you don’t have to deal with traffic, the system can function far better than cars in bad weather, and you’re paying about a quarter the cost of the average car living knucklehead. Ask those Leesburg commuters about that 16 hour hell-commute from two winters ago. You’re saving $9,000 per year just on commuting - $750 per month that can go to rent or a mortgage payment. This was all quite obvious even before the article, but people didn’t want to hear it. I had fellow students (young ones) who commuted 25-40 miles per day to go to class – aside from their work schedule – because the horrid suburban garden apartment they are sharing with a little known, trashy roommate was $150 cheaper per month. That ‘benefit’ disappeared when you drove your first 200 miles each month – or three days of class. Add in parking and the time you’ve wasted and this deal went south the moment you signed your lease.

I wondered what our commuter financial hit came to so I did some maths. According to AAA’s driving costs, which include things like insurance, maintenance, gas, etc., it costs us about $.78 per mile to drive Galactica. X runs 19 miles per day (20 days per month) for $300. L rides the WMATA bus to school for $60 per month. My walk/bus/Metro/bus/walk commute is $200 per month. The boys walk their bags of bones to the school bus everyday for nothing. Even taking into account L’s ‘commute’, we only come to about $560 per month / $6,700 per year. I can’t imagine how commuting sucks away the cash for those paying twice what we pay. There are no doubt there are those who are yanking that average up and area paying upwards of $18,000 per year just for commuting. And, quite truthfully, since my company gives me $200 for commuting each month (straight cash, no taxes), and L.’s commute shouldn’t really count, we are at something like $3,600 per year.

I’m glad we staying in our area when we bought. I think we make lots of money, but another $9,000 needed for commuting would be pretty difficult to pull off.

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