Driving vs. Taking Public Transportation


By Carlos Portocarrero

Since I moved to Chicago, I’ve never had a car and I’ve never missed it. Of course, it helps that M has a car if we want to go for a drive or need to hit up Ikea. But I’ve always assumed that public transportation was not only cheaper, but that it was also more convenient in a city like Chicago. Parking, as everyone knows, can be a hassle.

With all the buzz about gas prices and so forth, I was curious to see exactly what the breakdown was, so I ran the numbers to see exactly how public transportation (the bus and L-train) stacks up against driving.

Riding the Accordion Bus

M and I ride the bus to work every day, so we have a Chicago Plus Card, which means we pay $75/month and that entitles us to unlimited bus and train rides. That means we get to ride as much as we want — no questions asked.

Some people might be annoyed riding the bus/train every day. And sure enough, there are stinky/weird/annoying/loud talkers out there. But for the most part it’s nice because you get to sit and read a little bit on the way to work, which is always nice.

So we’re paying $150/month to not only get us to work and back, but to use the train and bus system (decrepit as it may be becoming) as much as we want on the weekends. Not bad.

Total Public Transportation: $150*

Riding on Teens

On the rare days that we actually drive to work (it happens from time to time), it’s a five mile ride there and a five mile ride back. So it’s a total of 10 miles per day. M’s car yields around 21 miles per gallon in the city and with gas prices hovering around $4, that comes out to around $38 in gas per month.

But then you have to add downtown parking, which can run up to around $150 per month. Then you have to add all kinds of small extras like the additional wear-and-tear that the car would be going through. Let’s say that comes out to an extra $10 per month.

As for parking at home, we pay for it whether we take public transportation or not, so I won’t count it here. And I won’t do the math for selling the car, because that’s not an option. It’s how we get home to M’s family when we visit. A similar breakdown regarding flying vs. driving makes my head spin and won’t be tackled here or probably ever.

Total Driving: Around $198

Final Countdown

I would rather take the bus just because any extra time I can sneak in to read is well worth it. Plus it gives us more flexibility in terms of going out after work or anything else. No one has to worry about “driving the car back” or any of that business. For other people, they would probably drive every day, and M might feel this way. But with our commute taking around 20 minutes door-to-door on the bus, it’s hard to make the argument for driving. I was definitely surprised that driving was as cheap as it is — it’s much closer to the price of taking public transportation than I thought.

For me, the added flexibility and reading time makes it a cinch.

This actually brings up a good point for all you city people: do you prefer driving if public transportation is easily accessible?

* I actually pay for my Chicago Plus card with pretax money, so it’s cheaper, but that math is beyond me right now: it’s late and I’m tired.

8 Responses to “Driving vs. Taking Public Transportation”

  • Ummmmmm. Says:

    You completely forgot about the cost of the vehicle, as well as repairs that will come up. Those costs far outweigh the costs you listed.

  • tiffany Says:

    I ride public transportation in the DC Metro area and it sucks. I think articles like this are for people who have cars and want to ride public transportation every now and then just for “fun” and just to be more “green” (however, their car is right there in the parking lot/driveway/garage if they needed it) Take in to account that public transportation, especially buses, are never on time, the routes are convoluted, and they are inconvenient. A coworker of mine took me home by car and it took us 20 minutes, on the bus, it takes me an hour, and that is without traffic. When getting groceries, my cart broke down on the side of the road, so I had to call a cab (not becuase it was too much stuff, but because a part broke off), to get to the nearest mall, it will take me an hour and 20 minutes without traffic, when shopping, I have to limit myself based on how many bags I can carry on the bus, you never know who or what you will sit by on the bus or train, I’ve ran for the bus, and it didn’t stop, I’ve had my bags spill on the bus because of erratic bus drivers, When there is inclement weather, my bus does not stop at my stop, so that means I have to walk a very long way (usually in the street becuase of snow pile up) to get to snow emergency stop, when you’ve work for 12 hours during the day, the last thing you want to do is climb on a bus with no available seats and three screaming babies, when the government gets off early for holidays, my coworkers can hop in their car and go home, I, on the other hand, have to wait for a bus during non-rush hour, which usually means I will get home about 1.5-2 hours after we’ve been dismissed, try getting on a bus with groceries and no seats, try getting on the bus with luggage, try getting on a train that stops underground and doesn’t give you any information on whats going on until 30 minutes later (while still underground), try riding a bus with no air conditioner in July and August, try riding a bus whose air conditioner stays on during the winter months, try riding a bus or train where 10 people have the sniffles/colds/sneezes, where only two of which are covering their mouths, trying getting on a bus, sitting down, and look down and only come to find out, you’ve stepped in vomit; sit down on what seems like dry graffiti, and only to get up and see that the graffiti has transferred to your clothing, try sitting on a bus with cloth seats, only to find out that you’ve sat in “something wet,” Try sitting on bus, and having someone else get on with hot coffee and have it to splash in and around your face and neck area, Get on a bus or train and have someone clip their nails or toenails and brush off the clipping onto you, try needing some over the counter medication and having to walk or take a bus or train to the nearest convenience store, Tell the woman or man that has taken up two seats with their things that you want to sit down and prepare argue the fact that their things didn’t pay for a seat, get on a bus or train and have some creepy dude or woman stare at you your entire ride, try getting on a bus with a migrain, only to have 5 teenagers blast their individual music phones without headphones, try getting a bus with teenagers period, try getting on a bus where an obese man purposefully sits on the edge of his seat so the women who have to pass him rub up against him, try having soreness/pain anywhere on your body, and only having to get on a bus with no seats and a driver who drives like like a maniac, try getting on the bus and having some teenager ask to use your cell phone, say no, and hear that teenager call you a b*** and other derogatory names your entire ride, tell your girlfriends “no, I can’t make it because the event will end too late and I don’t want to ride public transportation at 1 in the morning” for the 20th time, try telling your mother that you can’t come and visit her because work is being done on the train and it will take two hours to get there, …the list can go on and on and on and on; and I have dealt and am still dealing with ALL Of these things…So sure, taking public transportation can be cheaper, but look at what you have to deal with, look at what you are giving up by exclusively riding public transportation. No thanks! Thats why I am getting a car at the end of this year. Riding public transportation is “Cute” when you have a car; however, it is NOT when you don’t. Its a way of life, not something that is done haphazardly just for thrill of it.

    • Valri Says:

      So agree with you Tiffany. Same problem and ended up doing the same thing as you. Its easy to gush over the bus as a great alternative when you know you still have that car option.

      The bus may give you a bit of freedom but only a little. Where I live, the vital buses I use run so infrequently that more time is wasted getting to and from than where I am actually trying to go. You also can’t have fun going to a mall or something when you have to make a several bus and train connections to get there and then pay attention to time so that you can catch the bus home.

  • Nut Says:

    Congrats Tiffany! You get the prize for longest comment ever.

  • Patrick Says:

    From what I could gain out of Tiffany’s VERY long comment, here’s what I can conclude, public transportation would be much improved IF:

    1. People actually learned some manners (both the riders and the employees of the public transportation system).

    2. The public transportation systems were more well-maintained which probably if more people used them, there’d be money to maintain them. A big Catch-22.

    That’s what I can conclude, part of Tiffany’s complaints is the system, but it’s also the lack of manners this world has today too out in public.

    Thankfully I have only had a couple of run-ins with the transportation systems I use and it’s effective for the most part although the weather up in New England has thrown it off a bit.

    Anyway, just food for thought.

  • Jay Says:

    One thing they fail to mention is the amount of time it takes the bus as opposed to driving, I used to take the bus because i had to, recently got my licence and have started driving.
    First thing is I have alot more job opportunities available since I can drive and I don’t have to refuse a job because the bus dosen’t get me to work on time or has stopped running before i finish.
    Second on holidays the bus schedule changes and you must adjust your schedule to acomade that.
    Third if the bus is late or icy conditions prevent them from maiing your stop, or you miss your connection because of weather or traffic or any other number of problems.
    Fourth yea standing around in the freezing cold, at night waiting for a bus to come, yea that sound slike fun can I sign up for that can I can I please….
    Fifth it takes me 2 hours a day 6 days a week to bus it to and from work and 30 mins by car, at minimum wage of $10.25 an hour that just over $15 a day i could work and earn more money instead of sitting on a bus.
    Last one i would MUCH rather sit in my comfortable car listening to my music on my car stereo then sit on a bus next to complete strangers listening to them and having to put up with stopping at every sight stop and street.
    To anyone whoi suggest anyone else use the bus YOUR AN IDIOT

  • Kayla Sonergoran Says:

    Thats sad that you need a bus in order to find the time to read. I quite enjoy the liberation that I’ve gotten by having a car. I was trapped and suffocated when living under a horrible bus system. So much valuable time wasted.

    I enjoy knowing that in the hour I would spend on the bus, I can get home in 15 minutes, and cook a delicious meal while enjoying a funny program on tv. You can’t do that on a bus, can you/

  • Ray Says:

    I’ve been a bus commuter for awhile now since my car decided to have multiple Things go wrong with it. Two things have happened because of that. One I lost weight. When you’re forced to walk a mile to work from the bus stop on a daily basis and 2 miles on a weekend due to a reduced bus schedule you will get in shape. Best I’ve felt in years. Second.I realized how much freedom a car gives you. There’s something to be said for being able to zip off to meet a friend for lunch at a moments notice. I agree some people need to learn manners and teach their kids basic respect for others. So yes there are Benefits to public transportation. There are drawbacks as well.

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