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When Does Mass Transit Save Money for The Rider?

October 27, 2011

How far can the average car drive for the average cost of a transit fare?

When does it make sense for the average car owner to use transit instead of driving their car? Since the premise of this is that we already own a car,  we will look at just the cost of operating a car (all costs except purchase price) and compare that to a transit pass. A monthly Trimet pass is $81 (two zones) – how far you could drive your car each day for that amount of money?

To aid in our comparison I added a few calculations to the car cost page ( at The average incremental cost of driving the average, already owned, car was 19.5 cents/mile for income levels between $5000 and $69,999 in 2010. (11.7 cents per passenger-mile, but we are assuming that this is a personal decision of one person going to work, so it would be mostly a drive alone situation.)

At 19.5 cents per mile, that Trimet $81 monthly pass cost would power that average car about 415 miles/month, a bit less than ½ of the national average miles driven by a car owner. Of course if you car pooled with you spouse, two passes would be needed for $162, so you could drive 830 miles for that cost, or 9960 miles/yr, just a bit below the national average milage of 11,300 miles.

Lets look at how to get to work. $81 per month is about $3.86 / working day. That will take the average car only 19.8 mile. But we need to make round trips, so the break even trip to work would be 9.9 miles each way.

OOPs. That is outside of 2 zones – from downtown to 82nd is only 5.4 miles. So we can only do a 5.4 mile commute. That leaves  4.7 miles per day left over for misc trips.

OK, so we need to look at an all zones pass at $92 / month, about $4.38 per working day. That will take the average car 22.48 miles, or a round trip to a point 11.24 miles away. Gresham is about 11 miles, so the average person could commute a distance equal to the distance between Gresham and downtown Portlans in their car for the cost of Trimet.

So saving money by riding transit doesn’t work for many.

Of course we are ignoring the cost of time – the longer time taken for the transit commute. See
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