Save Gas – The Financial and Health Benefits of Walking or Biking to Work

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.

  1. 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!
  2. Reduce our carbon footprint.  Less driving means we are dispensing less harmful substances into our air.
  3. Sustainability.  Many will argue oil as a resource is finite and is disappearing.  We choose to save gas consumption.
  4. Transportation costs.  Fuel prices are rising (again).  Increased mileage means increased vehicle maintenance.  Parking costs.
  5. 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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

Check out our 365 Green Tips Series!

42 comments to Save Gas – The Financial and Health Benefits of Walking or Biking to Work

  • brad

    I work at home, so my commute is the five seconds it takes to walk from the bedroom to my office. I do have a car, but it generally takes me 1-2 months to go through a tank of gas unless we’re traveling a lot. I reduce gas use by using public transportation, bicycle, or my feet for all trips within the city except when we are shopping for appliances, furniture, or garden stuff. We mainly use the car when we want to get out of town; I’ve been debating for years whether to ditch the car and go with Communauto (car-sharing service similar to Zipcar), but I just can’t bring myself to give up the convenience. Although not having a car would have its own conveniences — I still haven’t gotten around to changing my snow tires, for example, and I wouldn’t have maintenance and repairs to think about, nor would I have to remember to change the car to the other side of the street every Thursday for street cleaning.

    • We’re close to the same Brad. On big grocery days we tend to take the car but as 2 of the 3 grocery stores we use are walkable from work / home we’ll often pick items up and bring them home from work.

      We feel we need a car due to travel – with our very large dog and expecting new addition to our family. Rental companies are not fond of wet dog smell in the back seat of their cars (after we go to the cottage) and it is good to set a baby seat in one position and not have to re-adjust it all the time to accommodate different makes/models of various rental cars you may end up getting.

      We also have 3 cats so carrying either the dog food or cat food home is quite a chore – in addition to other larger items you mention Brad. We don’t use our car much aside from heavy shopping loads and out of town trips (no one in our families live within 2 hrs of us).

      We also feel we save on delivery charges – whether it be for food pick up, dump runs or lumber pick up. To rent a car each time would get pricey.

  • In my experience, using anything other than a car in the city can save a lot more than gas. It can save your life to walk or bike, or even walking to meet mass transit by improving your fitness and reducing your waistline. It can save you from stress. Cars are stress box’s in the city and when you drive you use nervous energy, detracting from your performance at work. Parking is a nightmare in the city, both finding a space, an then paying for it.

    No matter how you look at it, cars suck in the city.

    • I mostly agree Hunter. As Brad mentions there are times, in the city, when a car can be useful.

      I also remember in Calgary when I relied on transit that missing the light rail train or bus was pretty stressful when I was on shift work. But all in all, great points.

  • I walk to work every day. It’s about a 20min walk and I don’t even want to think about how much parking around there would cost. I also save money over public transit – my usage is well below the break-even point of a monthly pass. One reason we decided to live in this area is that everything is so walkable. I go through a tank of gas every month or two which is very nice.

    • Hi there No Bebt MBA – thanks for dropping by and commenting!
      Where do you live? As you saw, I cited Toronto in our article. Paying for parking in that city is absolutely crazy. Kiss $2000 goodbye, easily!

  • I wish I could bike to work, however Los Angeles is not a bike friendly city. Ten years ago, I had an accident on the street and broke my collar bone. Like many large cities, public transportation needs to improve to draw people out of their cars. The other choice is moving closer to work.

    • We made a decision that while our employer has most of its employees in the Ontario capital, Toronto, we did not want to live there. Our house would cost 4x as much there but our salaries would be nominally different. Transportation costs and the TIME spent commuting (we spend 30 mins a day and get exercise while we commute) is hard to measure in value, but we DO value it. But we had to choose to make a few thousand less in income but I think we save that in commuting costs not to mention cost of living expenses (and less pollution!).

  • The prices of fuel these days are constantly increasing and the best way to save up is to walk, or by car pooling. I suggest that we only use our cars when needed like travelling, moving out, buying groceries and anything that involves heavy lifting. One that you can’t do taking home by walking or commuting.

    Walking to work is not just a factor for having a healthier environment, it mostly provides health benefits. Think about going green and living longer.

  • Sure with I had an alternative to my 22 mile commute each way. But, the cost savings of living where I do as compared to 22 miles closer to work more than pays for itself (lower housing costs and property taxes), even with the rising cost of gas.

    • Have you had a chance to calculate where the break even point will be based on gas prices and housing and the distance and such? That would be an interesting comparison!

      Aside from that sort of financially nerdery I tend to find fun, perhaps car pooling could reduce your costs. And a good long walk at lunch to get some exercise in too!

  • I’m going to start biking to work. I’m only 2 miles away from the office at best, and its about time that I put this way too expensive road bike to work!

    Besides, I definitely need the exercise!

  • I am only 4 miles from work, but I am an office guy. I wear a shirt and tie everyday, how would I manage the looking like a mess and sweat?

    • Our employer has showers on site that I know some people use.

      Aside from that, I guess it depends where you live. I work pretty early (7:30am) so it is still pretty cool by the time I get to work. I also wear a bike helmet (b/c there are crazy drivers at all times of the day!) which keeps my hair from getting too outta wack.

      On the way hope I sweat – can’t avoid it. But I don’t care nearly so much.

      You can also take it easy and make it a stroll or a leisurely ride instead of a running/biking sprint. That helps with the sweating.

    • Some offices have showers now, so you can shower before you get to your desk :)

      I think Bike to Work week is coming up, so I best be getting on that ;)

      It’s about 7km for me to get to work, and a 30 min bike ride for me

  • We would be putting our lives in jeopardy riding our bikes around here – not bike friendly at all.

    • Again, interested in which region / city you may live in. In our town we actually have lined off bike lanes that cars are not allowed (supposed) to enter. It is handy but they’re not everywhere. And redesigning road networks can’t always happen.

  • I would LOVE to be able to walk or bike to work. Unfortunately, right now I’m working night shift, about 12.5 miles from where I live [by highway- much, much longer by surface streets]. Every so often I try carpooling, but after being stood up a few times I’m disheartened about that.

    But I do keep the car light, link trips, and do as many things close to home, i.e. walking distance, as possible. And one day, one day I’ll live where there’s decent public transit again, and that’ll be simpler.

    • Looks like you made the effort Jan – that’s great! The distance you travel would be too much for us to walk or bike – especially at night, on a highway. Too much personal risk. Hopefully you can find a reliable carpooling pal!

  • Great post. You know that I am a huge supporter of using your feet to get yourselves places. I too would walk to and from work. However just in the last couple weeks my office got moved and now I have to go through a rough part of town to get to work. My hubby does’t want me walking through it. In an effort to still save gas and money we are carpooling. I sure miss walking though.

    • Carpooling is a great idea. As I brought up, walking/biking isn’t possible for everyone, nor is public transit or to the extreme, moving to a new house to just to be closer to what you need to get to. By carpooling you’re cutting out a percentage of your cost and the total emissions.

  • I biked to work in my college years, to a job where I had to wear shirt and tie. I carried my clothes neatly folded inside a backpack that was strapped to the rear carrier. Once I got to work, I would take a wash-cloth shower in the restroom, dress, and be ready to go. Now, I sure didn’t do this for reasons of health or frugality, since I didn’t have a working car at the time. Getting ready in the morning took extra time, as I had to iron my shirt and slacks just right and crease them so. It was darned inconvenient, but I had the time and inclination, and available bike paths. Today, I come up short on all three :-)

  • Rosa

    Hi! I just followed you over from Get Rich Slowly, and I wanted to say thanks for the great post – the best financial decision I ever made was not going into a debt for a car, back at the beginning of my independent life.

  • Telecommuting is entirely possible but a lot of organizations still insist on having people in the office. Seems silly.

  • We’ve only had 1 car for the past couple of years and my husband takes it work 5+ days each week. I usually stay home or grab a ride with others so that helps a lot. I order some things online and get free shipping so that usually saves a trip or two. We drive much less since we only have the one car now.

  • Colin Starratt

    For those plagued by bad health, bad weather, or long distances, it’s still possible to save a fair amount on gas by “saving up” errands, then doing them all in a single day. A bit of planning with a street map lets you come up with a route that has minimal backtracking and saves a great deal of distance by eliminating taking the car out and back home for each errand separately.

    And remember: saving a mere $2.00 a week by careful shopping nets you enough for a week of free groceries by the end of the year, so read the ads and don’t be afraid to use your chest freezer!

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