Public Transit, Personal Economy

(T. Rivkin/Flickr)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Each month, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) releases a monthly transit savings report, in which it calculates the cost savings that residents in 20 different cities (with the highest transit ridership) would realize if they dumped their cars and relied upon public transit.

In theory, you know that untethering yourself from insurance payments and gas prices will save you money. And yet perhaps you will be unprepared to read this month that you might save $13,962 annually if you dumped your car, which is what APTA estimates car-owning New Yorkers would save.

APTA is a public transit advocacy organization -- one of my colleagues refers to it as "the Chamber of Commerce for transit agencies"--so bear that in mind. However, $13,962 is a large enough number to make most people want to read the fine print.  The average cost savings  for these 20 cities was $9,515.

Here's how APTA explains their methodology. (I roughly interpret their equation as "the price of your monthly transit pass - cost of car ownership [gas, insurance, parking]=savings.)


APTA calculates the average cost of taking public transit by determining the average monthly transit pass of local public transit agencies across the country.  This information is based on the annual APTA fare collection survey and is weighted based on ridership (unlinked passenger trips).  The assumption is that a person making a switch to public transportation would likely purchase an unlimited pass on the local transit agency, typically available on a monthly basis.

APTA then compares the average monthly transit fare to the average cost of driving.  The cost of driving is calculated using the 2010 AAA average cost of driving formula.  AAA cost of driving formula is based on variable costs and fixed costs.  The variable costs include the cost of gas, maintenance and tires.  The fixed costs include insurance, license registration, depreciation and finance charges.  The comparison also uses the average mileage of a mid-size auto at 23.4 miles per gallon and the price for self-serve regular unleaded gasoline as recorded by AAA on November 8, 2010 at $2.85 per gallon.  The analysis also assumes that a person will drive an average of 15,000 miles per year.  The savings assume a person in two-person household lives with one less car.

In determining the cost of parking, APTA uses the data from the 2010 Colliers International Parking Rate Study for monthly unreserved parking rates for the United States.


Of course, this idea is predicated on a couple of things, chief among them being that you live in a city with a comprehensive transit infrastructure.  Which is why you won't see, say, Detroit on the list.  Also that your job is IN the city, which is a big if these days. But still--$9,515!

You can read APTA's report here.