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How does the cost of a car compare to the cost of Trimet?

December 28, 2011

The cost of owning and operating a car varies with income level. Higher income people purchase more expensive cars more often and thus have considerable higher car costs (a large part of car costs is depreciation of newer cars and explains why the AAA/IRS costs is higher than average.) Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows the overall average is $3798, but if you only look at the under $70,000 annual income group the annual cost of a car is $3121 or $260/month while the $70,000 up income group spends $4304 per year. Lower income people, from $15,000 to $20,000 per year, on average spend even less at about $3034 per year for a single car and have on average 1.2 cars. These costs include ALL costs of owning and operating a car. See for details.

How does this compare to the cost of transit?

Trimet’s factsheet ( tells us that Trimet provides an average of 318,500 trips each day. Of course it takes two trips to get to work and back, so this is about 159,250 people making trips to work, then another trip back home. Some people will take other trips within a day and some people take more than one trip to get to work (and back home) because Trimets counts each time a person steps on a transit vehicle as a trip, so people who make one transfer to get to work are counted as two trips. Lets assume that this inflates the number or riders by 20%, so the actual number of people using Trimec becomes 80% of 159,250, or 127,400.

Trimet also tells us that the user fares cover only 24% of the actual operating cost of transporting riders.

What does Trimet spend to serve these 127,400 people?

Page 19 of Trimet’s 2011 financial statement  ( shows an annual expenditure of  $534,027,000.
Lets do the math: $534,027,000 to serve 127,400 people is $4191 per person, 38% more that the average under $20,000 income household spends per car.

Trimet costs a lot more than all of its riders would spend owning a car! The logical conclusion is that society could become more efficient if all those Trimet riders would move to cars – we could save money by buying every Trimet rier a car!

But what about the resultant congestion of all those people flooded our roads in cars? Trimet’s market share is well under 10%, so there would not be a much of an increase in the number of cars on the road. And the total car costs includes the taxes that pay for most of our road building and maintenance. For more on road costs see:

But, wait!
Trimet’s factsheet (IBID) tells us that most of their riders already have a car! In fact, Trimet claims most of their riders are considered “Choice” (84%) riders either because they have a car available, but prefer to ride TriMet, or they choose not to own a car because they prefer to ride TriMet.

Why are we paying a significant portion of a Billion dollars to transport people who have a car available or simply choose to let others subsidize their transportation?

If we only look at the remaining 16% (25,480), presumable truly needy, riders we can calculate that Trimet spends about $19,606 per truly needy rider! At $78 per working day, that would probably be enough to provide free door to door taxi service of every one of them!

Since transit costs more than owning a car,
is usually slower than driving ( ),
is less convenient than driving (walk 1/4 mile to transit stop vs. at your front door), and
does not save energy compared to driving (

Please explain the social good of mass transit?
And why we allow Trimet to suck up hundreds of million tax dollars each year?
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