The Current Cost of Not Owning a Vehicle

We are approaching two months in Buffalo, without a car of our own. We spent $149.50 in August, and $249.11 in September on parking, bus, train, taxi, car share (gas & insurance included), tolls, and related memberships. The break out:

August $129.50

  • $96.00 Car share
  • $33.50 Bus/train

We certainly were more conservative with our transportation dollars our first month in Buffalo. We had a lapse in income and insurance to hurdle over, but we made it to the other side, without any significant financial surprises.

September $249.11

  • $137.00 Car share
  • $49.50 Bus/train
  • $30.00 Taxi
  • $12.00 Parking/tolls
  • $21.60 Membership/mileage overage from September

There was a week in September where I felt like it was “Monday” every day. I was making mistakes too frequently. I signed up for a car share to attend Eiki’s first soccer game, then left my keys with the fob in Brent’s bike, and he was at work. We took the public bus to London’s school on her first day and I bought a round trip ticket, forgetting those were only good on the train. Then I put the adult fare in the bus slot, instead of the reduced amount for a child. It was money spent, that we couldn’t recover. We attended Eiki’s second game, but then due to the substantial walking and waiting we encountered on that particular bus route, we decided to take a taxi back to our bikes waiting at the train station. It all adds up, but it didn’t amount to much when put into the perspective of car ownership, or did it?

Then there is the issue concerning the cost of convenience and quality of life. It takes a lot to leave me feeling like something wasn’t worth my time, or was a nuisance to my day. One of the reasons we choose to bike and walk is because we want the day to slow down. We enjoy the extra time rolling around the neighborhood, under scheduling, experiencing new things, and staying in touch with the weather. However, when London missed the bus to school last week, we didn’t hesitate to borrow the car share vehicle. It was the least inconvenient mode at the time, and we now know we need to work on a better plan B. So it’s all relative.

Had we maintained possession of our vehicle with our move, and used it instead of transit, car share and a taxi, what would our costs have been? That’s more difficult to calculate. I haven’t been tracking mileage, as we are spread in five different directions daily. I wasn’t sure if we should consider the cost of the yellow school bus, and how would you? Those miles are certainly accountable, it was just too much to consider, right now. Maybe another month I will take it on.

I maintain that I am uncertain about any future car ownership. The temptation is strong to buy another van, giving us the “walk out the door and into the car” convenience for out of town trips. I think the urge might be reduced if our local car share had a van parked in our neighborhood. Family size certainly affects our costs for the bus/train, but it also necessitates a larger vehicle, and that is a cost we pay in time to retrieve it.

While we could go purchase a car, I have been researching and dreaming about a bakfiets. We are staring into the frosty crystal ball that has winter white swirling all around, and wondering, could this be the vehicle that maintains our cycling lifestyle a midst colder/harsher conditions? It’s the vehicle of choice for so many with wonderful winters. My research has led to me to learn from the following (who also have resourceful blogrolls):

  • Modal Mom, Lana is riding a variety of bikes in Ottawa, Ontario with her son
  • Copenhagenize, a multi-contributor blog about building better cities, based out of Denmark
  • Chicargobike, this parenting pair write from the windy city about Chicago infrastructure and biking around with four children

For added good reads I took a moment to look up our neighborhood’s Walk Score: 77, Transit Score: 59, Bike Score: 55.

Right. That’s it for now. Cost break down of transportation for two months without a car, and some thoughts on how to proceed as we approach the fourth season. Cheers!

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4 thoughts on “The Current Cost of Not Owning a Vehicle”

  1. One thing to think about in colder climates is how well people shovel sidewalks and how well your city salts/plows roads, which is very locale specific. We live in a city that is terrible about getting roads plowed with neighbors that shovel sidewalks sporadically. It’s made my usual public transport/bike combo significantly more difficult in the winter, as it is unsafe to bike due to ice/snow and sometimes difficult to walk to my bus stop. Maybe ask your neighbors to get a sense of feasibility based on this?

    1. Thanks Sarah! At the last neighborhood collaboration meeting they were looking for ways to increase resident participation in clearing sidewalks, so I gather they are not so clean. I am already thinking about the kids waiting on the bus. We do a lot of waiting on the bus. Add cold and wind and it might be quicker and warmer to bike (if the trails/roads/etc are clear)? We are certainly working on our plan B and C.

      One of the benefits of living here is the number of car free folks. Many people use transit and bike year round out of necessity and some by choice. I think the system has been tested and enhanced to help those people? I guess, again, we will find out soon enough!

  2. Though I currently live in Toronto, I went to school in the Niagara region (close to Buffulo with a very similar climate). That area gets a lot of snow in the winter. I mean a lot. You’d have to look into how bakfiets fare in snowy conditions or have a plan b for all those snow days. I’ve been intrigued lately by fat bikes, which are built for snow, and whether they make a cargo fat bike. I know that the Toronto folks who rise year round get studded winter tires on their bikes (keep in mind that our climate is more like Chicago – cold, windy, but not nearly the level of snow that Buffulo gets).

    I ride a Yuba Boda Boda to deliver my two year old to daycare and back daily, but don’t yet have a solid winter cycling routine, so I’m watching your blog with interest!

    1. We rode in the winter in WV, and I even ventured out in some deep snow in Ohio this year. I am certain it wasn’t anything like here. I keep hearing about winter in Buffalo, but have also heard the last couple years have been “mild.” The few car free biking folks we know said there were usually only three days a year they absolutely couldn’t ride, and even then they said they wouldn’t have dared to drive either. Time will tell. We don’t mind taking transit or getting car share, but I keep wondering if the roads aren’t clear enough for bikes, then are they clear enough for cars/buses? Maybe the issue is more that the sidewalks and trails won’t be clear? Or perhaps it is the wind and cold that will get to us first. We don’t have good gear yet, and I put off buying things until it’s a proven necessity. We still don’t have rain pants, and yet we ride in the rain.

      Maybe a trike would handle better? There needs to be a test track with variable inclines, road and weather conditions!

      We were gifted a set of studded tires before we left WV. I hope they are up to the task.

      Thanks for reading, and commenting. If you make it back down to the area, please look us up!

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