Category Archives: Transportation

Would It Make Financial Sense to Drop A Car?

What is Car Ownership Really Costing Us?

NERD ALERT – Looking at the numbers

One of the things I love about the Longfellow neighborhood – and a big reason I wanted to live here – was its close proximity to everything. That made it possible, in 2010, for my husband and I make the decision to become a one-car household. In the past 7 years we’ve found that to be a pretty easy lifestyle change, with only an occasional inconvenience. In fact, it’s been so easy that I’ve begun to wonder if we’re ready to go even further and give up car ownership altogether.

The Dollars and Cents of Transportation (Including Carbon)

According to AAA, in 2017 the average auto driver spent $706 a month to own and operate their vehicle for an average of 15,000 miles. Think about it: that’s almost as much as the rent on an efficiency apartment in Minneapolis! And that figure doesn’t include the cost of car payments – or the cost of its associated carbon footprint.

So what does transportation cost my two-person family? I took a look at NerdWallet’s Car Cost Calculator and then factored in the rest of our transportation costs.

  • Gas: Our car gets about 25 mpg in the city. We drive 6,000 to 7,000 miles a year so we used about 280 gallons of gas @ $2.30/gallon = $644/yr. Let’s account for the full cost of that gas by looking at the amount of CO2 we produced. Burning a gallon of E10 gas produces 18.9 pounds of CO2 so our 280 gallons produced 5,292 pounds of carbon, or 2.6 tons. If we carbon-tax ourselves at, let’s say $40 per ton, we’d pay an extra $104/yr.
  • Insurance for two: about $1,200/yr
  • Maintenance and repairs: If the past 6 months are typical, it would be about $200 a month or $2,400 /yr
  • Car Payment: Zero, our car is 12 years old.
  • Parking: $20/month or $240/yr
  • Taxes: $45/yr

Car Ownership = $5,381/yr

We also use mass transit. We spend $80 a month ($960/yr) to take the bus and light rail, which saves us, at minimum, $120 a month in parking ($1,440/yr) and the absolute nightmare of driving downtown. We hopped on the bus to get to the Ordway last month and saved parking and a whole lot of hassle fighting traffic with all the sports events occurring that night!

Taking the bus shaves 30% off my husbad’s work-related carbon footprint, according to Transit Screen. Taking the light rail shaves another 30%. Driving fewer miles keeps our insurance lower, too.

Total Transit Cost Per Year: $6,341/yr

What if we dropped our other car and …

  • Took the Bus: Bought one all-you-can-ride monthly bus card and one stored-value card for when we need to travel together ($103/month or $1,236/yr)
  • Biked more: Peter could ride his bike to work to save money from May-October, while finally getting in some exercise. His employer offers a secure bike garage at his building so he would pay nothing. (If his employer didn’t have the locker option, he could rent a bike locker from Metro Transit.) (-$120/yr)
  • Used Hour Car Sharing Service: $8.50 an hour and 100 miles free (no charge for gas or miles) with $55/yr fee (x 2). We’d need to bus to the closest car sharing hub about 2 miles away.  If I used a car 3 days a week for maybe 8 hours that would be $292/month or $3,504/yr. Hour Car provides insurance so we’d save (-$1,200). Hour Car pays for the gas, too, so we wouldn’t spend -$644. If I still drove the same number of miles, I’d still have the same carbon footprint ($104 carbon tax) and I’d still be paying to park ($240/yr).
  • Rented a car for vacation: We could borrow a friend’s car for a few days or we could rent an Hour Car for $75 a day for the weekend, or rent a car at the airport for $350 a week. Last year we took a 2-week trip and traveled by train and bus. If we had to plan separately for transportation, it would make us more aware of the true cost of our trip.

Transit Cost Without Car Ownership: $5,074/yr -$5,194

Cost for Convenience: around $1,147-$1,267

That’s not as much of a difference as I expected. And if we took a 2-week vacation and paid to rent a car, it would be half that savings. But it’s possible that making this change would result in more changes. That we’d look for opportunities to carpool, or we’d drive even less.

We’ve talked it over and we’re going to try a month-long no-car challenge to see how it goes.




Calculating the Impact of the Motor Scooter

Leslie and Rachel head out on the scooter

Leslie and Rachel head out on the scooter

This weekend we replaced the battery on the Kymco People 50 motor scooter that Peter rides to work. With a new $50 battery in place, he zoomed off this morning in high spirits, reporting back that the odometer hit 15,000 miles! Seems a good time to take a look at the overall impact of this purchase.

Peter gets 90 miles per gallon of gas when he rides the scooter to work (10.5 miles round trip). He gets 27 mpg when driving the car. We’ve saved half the cost of the scooter in gas savings.

The burning of one gallon of gas (with 10% ethanol) produces 18.95 lbs of carbon. Driving the scooter 15,000 miles has produced 3,148 lbs of carbon (or 1.58 short tons). Driving the car the same number of miles produced 10,152 lbs of carbon (5.08 short tons). So driving the scooter prevented 6,998 lbs of carbon (3.5 tons) from entering the atmosphere.

And the scooter is fun!

What’s Stopping You? City Biking

There are a lot of things the average American (including us) could do to reduce their carbon footprint, but something always seems to get in the way. At our house, we’re taking a look at ways we can bust through the physical and psychological barriers that prevent us from using our bikes more, using our car less and eating less meat.

We’re Starting With Biking

Peter and I have bikes but we use them primarily for recreational riding. We think we’re ready to shift to commuter biking to work, to shopping, to appointments. In order to make this shift, we need to address some psychological barriers, like our discomfort riding on busy city streets, a feeling of ineptitude about bike maintenance, and a lack of experience combining biking with mass transit in order to do the longer commute that Peter could do for work.

We also need to address physical barriers: getting Peter’s bike adjusted properly, getting proper winter tires for me, getting or building something for carrying more cargo. We have some physical barriers related to back and knee problems, but we anticipate that increased exercise may actually help those problems. We’ll give it a try and see what happens.

Biking Resources in the Community

SPOKES in SewardLast night we took a class at SPOKES on riding in traffic. We not only learned about Minnesota bike laws and where to ride in the bike lane and the main roadway lane, we did some feet-on-pedal exercises on efficient starting, safe stopping, evasive maneuvers around road debris and what to do if you accidentally hit a pothole. There are A LOT of potholes in our area and this has been a big concern of mine. As a group, we had a short practice ride through the most deadly intersection in Minneapolis. SPOKES also has monthly group ride opportunities, which will help us get even more practice riding in traffic.

SPOKES offers open workshops where Peter can go in and get his bike adjusted properly. Volunteers are there to help him do it. And we’ll be signing up to take a bike maintenance class so we can learn how to fix and maintain our bikes ourselves.

Peter cannot get to work using only mass transit. The last leg of his trip is through an industrial area with no transit and no sidewalks. Bringing his bike along for the last part of his trip may be an option, but it definitely will depend upon his feeling comfortable riding in traffic. There are MANY trucks on that road. Our next step will be to do a practice ride to Peter’s work, combining the bus and light rail with biking.

Nothing Says Spring Like Taking Out the Bike

City Biking Explained

Yesterday we rented a truck to deliver furniture to friends around town. We noticed some new street markings for bicycles that we hadn’t seen before. The meaning was not obvious. We had no idea what we were supposed to do. Today I found a couple of videos on the City of Minneapolis website explaining what these markings mean.

This first video explains bike lane markings. The second video explains bike boulevards (that’s what we came across in uptown.)

For those of us who haven’t done a lot of inner-city, heavy-traffic riding, the City is also offering a series of guided biking tours which will not only help you understand how to ride on city streets, but also provide a tour of various neighborhoods. There are tours for adults and for families.

And you won’t want to miss the free classes teaching you how to tune up your bike for the summer riding season.

Need a Bike But Can’t Afford One?

Check out Cycles for Change (formerly Sibley Bike Depot). Cycles for Change refurbishes used bikes and sells them at extremely affordable prices. You can talk to a bicycle mechanic for free and you can even earn a free bike in exchange for volunteer work.

One thing I LOVE about Cycles for Change is their sensitivity to the needs of women and youth. Ladies, have you ever walked into a bike shop and felt you entered a male-only club with a secret language? Cycles for Change works hard to create a safe space where women and girls — and transgendered persons — can feel comfortable coming to learn and work on bikes. They have set aside Tuesday work nights exclusively for women and transgender people (though women and transpeople are ALWAYS free to use the space on other nights).

I learned about Cycles for Change because they donate bikes to a group with which I volunteer. Low-income people encounter many problems with transportation, particularly in a city like ours with relatively poor public transportation offered at a very high cost. (I say poor because bus services are frequently cut back, service to suburbs is dismal, and the legislature regularly cuts funds from Metro Transit.)

A bike brings freedom. Biking and busing combined can bring greater access to jobs. Donating a bike to a low-income person can be life-changing.

Need a Bike Only Occasionally?

My pen pal for the past 25 years is coming to visit me from Australia. I’m thrilled! I can’t wait to show her my city. Biking is a great way to do that but she’s only here for a week so where can I get her a bike. Enter Nice Rides, the Twin Cities bike share program.

I’ve got a couple of options to pay for her to bike while she’s here. We can do a day-by-day subscription for $6 a day. If she’s here for 7 days, it’s cheaper to get a 30-day subscription for $30. In order to avoid a trip fee, we need to plan our bike trip so that we can check the bike in (and out again) every 30 minutes. I think this is rather ideal for a sight-seeing trip. For example, I know there is a Nice Ride park by the MIA and that’s about a 20 minute ride (for me) from my house. We can pick up a bike for her outside The Birchwood Cafe, only 6 blocks from my house. We can take the Greenway bike trail most of the way there. And if I’m too tired to bike back home after a long day at the art museum, we can walk to Lake St and put my bike on the front of a bus for the trip home. Her bike is stowed at the MIA lot – no need to return it to the Birchwood.

It’s harvest time! How far did your food travel?

Oh Bounteous Garden…

Pickled peppers

August was supposed to be the month we looked at reducing our carbon footprint in the area of transportation. What was I thinking?! I’m spending any non-work hours trying to stay ahead of the garden. We have learned how to can and pickle and ferment.

We’ve pickled green beans and peppers, cukes and beets and cherry tomatoes. We put up stewed tomatoes. I’ve got two containers of tomato puree in the fridge, a big mess o’ green and purple beans, and an abundance of fridge pickles cuz I let the pickling cukes get too large.

Garlic harvest

Produce from the garden

I’m waiting until all the pickling is done before I freeze the remainder of the 16 heads of garlic – absolutely luscious and interesting to experience the drying process. We had to dry them indoors because of the high humidity in July. We’ll be doing that again.

The tomatoes are starting to slow down now in the cooling weather. The peppers are still going strong – we’ll have a big batch of jalapenos and hot hungarians and a few more gorgeous green peppers. The eggplants are still going strong – we have purple and long, thing green ones. Collards look nice but didn’t get very big.

While I was out harvesting, a neighbor came by. I like him a lot and usually think he’s a very sensible guy, but he said he sees no value to gardening. He knows where he can get a tomato any time of the year – at the grocery store.

I pointed out that my tomato only traveled 10 feet, was picked in its prime and was never exposed to toxic chemicals. He thinks it’s a waste of time. While the industrial food system is working, he wants what he wants, when he wants it.

Canning and pickling

My neighbor believes in global warming but he doesn’t think there is anything we can do about it. Getting food closer to home – reducing the carbon footprint of food – is not a meaningful solution to him. On the other hand, he believes we have an “excess population” problem and coming food shortages are nature’s way of balancing.

That’s a pretty scary thought. I would rather be more hopeful and life-loving. I would rather enlarge my garden and learn how to grow more and preserve more. Maybe my garden can’t get us through a winter but let’s see what we can do with my garden and local farmers.

We’re learning. We thinking about issues. And I guess I was paying attention to my transportation footprint after all, in the form of food.

Highest CO2 Emissions in History Sets the Stage for More Biking

The transportation mini-challenge doesn’t start until August, but when I saw that CLIF BAR had created a nifty biking challenge, I thought this was as good a time as any to commit to more biking for both the health benefits and CO2 reduction.

I have to admit, I was spurred to action when I saw the International Energy Agency  report that 2010 had the highest CO2 emissions in history. “At current rates, the 2° temperature increase that most experts consider the threshold of unmanageable climate change, will be considered a floor for potential future temperatures, rather than the ceiling.” That’s grim news from Greenbiz.

So what’s the challenge? To use your bike for any trip you take within a 2 mile radius of  your home.

Why 2 miles?

Forty percent of all urban travel is within 2 miles of home and yet 90% of the time people get in a car to make that trip! That puts tons of carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating the problem of climate change. CLIF BAR hopes their challenge will inspire people to avoid 100,000 car trips.

Sign up to take the 2 Mile Challenge!

Last weekend I biked to book group, biked to an exercise class in Highland Park (almost but didn’t quite make it up the hill), and biked to the coop where I signed up for the ZAP program. (The ZAP program offers an incentive for members to visit the co-op on bicycle.)

That’s a great start for me. I’m looking forward to racking up more points for Team 350 this weekend. Maybe a bike ride to PRIDE.

Just in Time for Bike to Work Day!

According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), May is National Bike Month, and THIS WEEK is Bike to Work Week (May 16–20) and TOMORROW is Bike to Work Day (Friday, May 20). I’m going to be working from home tomorrow so no commuting for me, but my husband is at this very minute biking to an evening committee meeting.

Get Back Into Biking – It’s Still Fun!

The website Bike to Work says that the yearly cost of owning and operating a vehicle is about $9,000 a year, while the cost of maintaining a bicycle can be as little as $120 a year. I don’t think I’ve ever spent near $120 a year on a bike, unless I was replacing a stolen bike (which I’ve had to do several times). I’m sure I’ve spent $9,000 a year on some of my cars. Living with only one car really has saved us a lot of  money.

But if you haven’t been on a bike in a while, it’s not so easy to just decide to ride… at least not for a couple in their 50s with sedentary desk jobs. We wanted to do more biking but we needed to make some changes first:

  • Get a bike that is comfortable. JUST DO IT. Why add to the difficulty by trying to make due with an ill-fitting old bike that you don’t like. If it’s at all possible, find one that fits properly. Check out Craigslist if you can’t buy new. That’s where I found my bike. On the other hand, my husband’s used bike was so squeaky he felt he was being gawked at. He never felt good about riding. We caved and bought him a lovely new bike with a comfy big seat. Now he’s happy to ride.
  • Don’t fight traffic until you’re confident and ready for it. We bike around the neighborhood on mostly unused roads, taking up all the space we want. In our community, we’re lucky to have great bike paths nearby, as well as the Midtown Greenway. Lots of communities are creating bikeways. Check out what’s available in your community with the bike map database.
  • Enjoy the scenery. I love to  leisurely check out gardens around the neighborhood. My husband likes to leisurely check out me – so he rides behind me. This is all very good 🙂
  • Make trips rewarding. We bike to the coop, and then get a ginger brew to take home as a treat.

So what’s going to get you off the sofa and onto a bike this week?