Every weeks hundreds of millions of people head to work or school in a motorized vehicle. Sure, some people take public transit, car pool or use a non motorized method of transportation but most people prefer their independence so they drive alone to their places of employment. The results? Increased carbon monoxide emissions and hydrocarbons released into the environment, massive traffic congestion, daily stories of road rage and individuals a little poorer day by day as they pay for ever increasing gasoline costs as they don’t save gas, parking and increased car maintenance.
We leave our vehicle at home and walk or bike to work every day as part of our sustainable lifestyle and personal finance decision making . One of the primary criteria when we were buying a home last summer was location. However, we didn’t look at location in the traditional real estate evaluation – we cared more about walkability compared with the neighbourhood itself (though as it turns our we ended up in a fantastic and desirable neighbourhood). We wanted to be able to walk or bike to work in order to save gas and be within non-motorized distance of restaurants, retailers, grocery stores and any other amenity we may need. A great place to see how walkable your neighbourhood is walkscore.com where you can enter your address and get some great analysis on how walkable your home is.
There are a number of reasons we wanted to be able to walk/bike instead of drive to get around.
- Save gas. Driving in the city consumes much more gas than does highway driving. One of the best ways to improve gas mileage is to not drive!
- Reduce our carbon footprint. Less driving means we are dispensing less harmful substances into our air.
- Sustainability. Many will argue oil as a resource is finite and is disappearing. We choose to save gas consumption.
- Transportation costs. Fuel prices are rising (again). Increased mileage means increased vehicle maintenance. Parking costs.
- Our physical health.
In this article we will examine the final two points from the list above. First off we’ll look at how walking and biking to work promotes a healthier lifestyle and individual. It is useful is to take a look at some metrics regarding the benefits of using your own muscles as transportation. We walk about 15 minutes to work in the downtown core. Being from Montreal, Mrs. SPF was a pretty speedy walker pre-pregnancy. I think I can actually keep up with her now. These 15 minutes of walking burn 85 calories. Since we walk both ways we burn upwards of 170 calories in 30 minutes of walking to and from work each and every day. Over a work week we burn 850 calories and over a year we burn 44,200 calories in this easy enough activity which is simple enough. We also ride our bikes when the weather permits (Winter in the north means that from Dec 1 – Mar 30 there is snow and no biking save for the truly dedicated). Using a calculator I found online a 7 minute bike ride at 15-17 mph burns 81 calories per one way trip so the calories lost are very similar to walking.
Financially, our situation is not an ideal one to analyze what it would cost us if we decided to drive to work. The primary reason is that it would take us 5 minutes at most to drive to work whereas know people in my office who spend hours in their car commuting daily who can only dream they could save gas. We also live in a smaller city where parking costs are a fraction of those in large cities. To illustrate, i”ll still break out what it would cost us to drive to work.
- If we drove to work we would have to pay for parking which is $60 a month or $720 a year. If we lived in Toronto the median price for monthly parking is $300 per month or $3,600 annually!
- In Canada we pay MUCH more for fuel than our American friends do. Right now gasoline is about $1.26 a litre which translates to $4.77 a gallon!. Our vehicle, a Subaru Outback, consumes about 29 miles per gallon in the city, or 9.5 litres per 100 kilometers and we live 1 kilometer from work. To drive to and from work we would use 0.19 litres a day or 0.85 litres a week and 44 litres a year. So about $60 – not much for us, however, if you drive 30-90 minutes each way this number could be $500-$1500 a year. Not easy to save gas needless to say. And this analysis is assuming you drive a vehicle with decent fuel efficiency to save gas – many in North America do not.
- Insurance costs add up. If we were to use our car to commute we’d pay $50 more each month, and we live close to work. If you live farther away the insurance company will increase this amount. This would add a $600 a year in insurance expense increase.
- Vehicle maintenance is difficult to calculate. I’d need to ask my mechanic (we have a trustworthy one thankfully) but the more you drive the more you need tire rotations, oil changes, topping up other liquids, increased annual “keep it on the road” maintenance and tire replacements. Right now we pay about $100 annually for maintenance averaged over time. This number could easily increase 3 fold if we added another 2,000 km annually or about $300 in maintenance.
If we drove to work an extra 1km each way daily we’d pay about $2000 more than we currently do on car expenses every year. Not a great way to save gas or keep our vehicle less worn. If we lived even further away from work we could be looking at an expense of $7500-$10,000 just to get to and from work.
Our choice becomes: burn over 44,000 calories and walk to work or spend about $2000 annually. The choice seems obvious.
Every year in our city of Peterborough businesses big and small compete in a competition called Shifting Gears. This is a really cool program where businesses encourage employees to bike, walk, roller blade, car pool or take public transit to work which inevitably helps them save gas. There are public events on tuning up your bike, weekly prizes for individuals, a month long prize for an individual and the small, medium and large businesses who have the most individuals who reduce their carbon emissions by taking alternative ways to get to work. In addition, each participant gets an incentive gift of a bus pass, bike computer or cool Mountain Equipment Co-Op back pack. A great way to get people to get green and save gas and other fossil fuels.
I do recognize that walking or biking is not an option for everyone. But there are other choices for most everyone. Is car pooling is an option? You can cut your costs in half, to a third or a quarter or more depending on how many people you can fit into your vehicle. A great way to save gas is to pay for it less. People can also take public transit and free up some time to catch up on reading, emails or make a new friend during the travel. The American Dream to own a big house with a large lot is alive and well in North America. Suburban sprawl and an incessant “need” to own land has over taken common sense living. Most countries aren’t structured like ours is. Urban planning outside North America stems from centuries of necessity in being close to the core of cities. Transportation systems are much further advanced than we see in our countries. Given high gas prices other countries have learned to improve gas mileage and save gas. Conversely, the North American populace is obese and pollutes like there is no tomorrow.
So consider doing a favour to your waistline, your bank balance and Mother Earth – save gas and walk to work.
What kinds of things do you do to try to save gas?
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