Money Saving Monday: the problem with mass transit
Many people use mass transit to save money. I like mass transit. A couple of years ago, I visited Germany and fell in love with their rail system. Buses, trains, light rail, the subway, the elevated train all make sense as a way to reduce cost and congestion – but not in every circumstance. Make sure that you are actually saving money before making the switch to the bus or train.
One of the problems with mass transit in the United States is the cost to our government (us). You might be able to ride the bus to work for only $2.50 a day, but the cost of the ticket does not come close to paying for the bus, bus driver, maintenance, bus stop and road wear. That money comes from taxes and you are taxed for that bus whether you use it or not. If you aren’t taxed for that bus, your employer is being taxed for it.
Many municipalities and states have put in light rail in an effort to curb congestion, but often spend far more in debt and upkeep costs than riders save. I love to ride the Chicago area Metra and Elevated Train, but I always remember that I do so at the expense of the Chicago area tax payer. Amtrak, the federally subsidized railway that serves most of the United States can be a fun and relaxing way to travel, but from a fiscal point of view, every ticket sold is subsidized an average of $100. A New York to Los Angeles ticket comes with a $1,000 taxpayer subsidy.
Mass transit has been a success in Europe, as I mentioned. It has also been a relatively good success in the United States – as long as the area is heavily populated. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles are all cities with a dense population. The urban setting allows for enough ridership to support the rail or bus system.
Cities with smaller populations and a geographic area that is spread out cannot fill rail cars or buses. Not enough people live close enough to the rail stations on one end or work close enough on the other to make riding the rail practical.
Comfort and Convenience
If you have a driveway at home and a place to park at work, driving is just better. There is more freedom to leave when you like and stop to pick up a carton of milk on the way home. Need other reasons to drive? How about comfortable seats, your own radio, temperature controls and a cupholder. Comfort and convenience need to be a part of the equation. Is it worth an extra $2 a day to avoid sitting at a bus stop when it is twenty-below?
In this age of SARS and swine flu (H1N1), you have to think about this. If you are worried about health costs, you might need to include sick days and doctor visits in the cost of your mass transit. Mass transit system might add to the spread of disease and sickness.
Although for some of us, our cars might be just as dirty as the subway or germy as the bus.
You still need a car
If I lived in Germany, I would not need a car – there are multiple trains every hour that go every place you might need to go and those trains make sense because they are always filled. However, you must remember that Germany has 85 million people in a country with 137,858 square miles or roughly half the size of Texas which has a population of 27 million. In Germany, the train put me within a reasonable walking distance of any place that I wanted to go. The same could be said for large urban areas as I mentioned earlier.
Here is the bottom line when calculating the cost of mass transit versus driving your car: if mass transit allows you to divest yourself of a car, in other words, if mass transit in your area can make you “car free”, then it makes a lot of sense to use mass transit. However, if you need a car to get to the train station every day, you might be better off just making the drive. Once you pay for insurance, gas, maintenance and storage, you will probably not save much money or time by riding the bus.
We like to ride the train for fun – we enjoy riding into the city for a day, but that does not mean it is the most frugal way to get to work. – Article by Stew
Photo by williamedia