By the Numbers: Carpooling & Your Commute

Commuting is one of those things that most everyone in the working world has to do, minus those of us who have home-based businesses, work in a “virtual office” or can telecommute on a regular basis. For the rest of us, getting from home to work every day is the reality, and the vast majority of us do it alone, in a car. If environmental factors aren’t enough (and you really, really like getting stuck in rush hour gridlock twice a day), consider that carpooling, vanpooling, taking public transit (or biking or walking) can save you lots of money, allowing you to keep more of what you’re traveling every day to earn. Let’s look at the numbers to help figure out why.

For 2007, the composite national average cost per-mile for driving alone is 52.2 cents, according to AAA []. To arrive at this number, AAA figures in average fuel, routine maintenance, tires, insurance, license and registration, loan finance charges and depreciation costs for an automobile that you own that you drive 15,000 miles per year. The fuel prices are based on late-2006 national average gas price of $2.256 per gallon (it’s a lot closer to $3.00 these days, so the current average is a bit higher; we’ll stick with it just for calculations’ sake). Though each person’s situation is a bit different (download AAA’s printable worksheet [] to work the numbers for yourself), a generous estimate for the national average commute is 15 miles each way, or 30 miles per day. So, if you’re a lone commuter, hopping in the car and heading to and from work each day is costing you upwards of $15 each day; add in parking and tolls, and the numbers just get bigger. Granted, a lot of those costs are incumbent with owning or leasing a car (such as maintenance, license and registration and depreciation), and would still exist if you only drove the car on the weekends. Okay, for a more commuting-centric calculation, we used this calculator [] to determine that commuting to work 30 miles a day in a car that gets 27 miles to the gallon the highway (a ballparked average) for 20 days a month (that’s 5 days a week for 4 weeks) purchasing gas that costs $3 per gallon (earlier this week, the retail average was $2.981 in the US, according to the Energy Information Administration []), assuming zero tolls and parking, costs $5.01 per day. That’s $100.27 per month and $1,203.20 per year, just to get back and forth to work.

As surprising as those numbers might be, what happens to them when you carpool is equally so. When you add people to the mix, the numbers drop appreciably: carpooling with one person cuts the number to $50.13 out of your pocket each month; adding another drops it down to $33.42; and four people in your carpool makes it $25.07 that you pay, all for simply bringing your co-workers with you. It makes sense to us: you all have to go to the same place, anyway. There are also added benefits for carpooling, which include riding in the “High Occupancy Vehicle” lanes, designated for carpoolers (and, theoretically, at least, faster options than being gridlocked with everyone else); plus, in San Francisco, for example, bridge tolls are waived for those traveling together. Environmentally, carpooling makes a big difference, too. The average vehicle emits .04 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile on an average daily commute, which adds up to 431 lbs per year in our scenario above. Cutting those numbers down is as easy as picking up your co-workers on your way in to work. Of course, walking, biking and riding public transit are the best ways (though a sometimes less realistic way) to go, but that’s another post. Stay tuned!