If your family is like most, the family budget is being asked to do far more than ever before. From the gut-wrenching weekly supermarket bills to the dizzying speed of digital numbers leaving us dazed at the gas pump, our dollars are able to buy less and less as the months pass along. If your family is feeling the economic pinch and is looking for a place to make a financial difference, your transportation choices may be one place to save some money.
Owning a car and having the freedom to drive wherever you want, whenever you want, is a privilege most of us earned (and treasured) as young adults in high school. The ability to grab your car keys, walk outside, get in your car, and head off (perhaps even across the country), is a great feeling of freedom those who have a driver's license enjoy and cherish. However, as gasoline prices have risen into the stratosphere, filling up the family car's tank takes a bigger bite than ever out of your income. Many people are starting to realize that the days of getting in the car to drive down the street to the neighbor's house have passed. Instead more and more families are being more thoughtful on planning their use of gasoline and are improving their conservation efforts. Walking is an option for some of life's transportation needs, but longer regular trips such as commuting to work mean a much more drastic lifestyle change.
Although it may only be an option for those living in more metropolitan areas, public transportation presents an effective option for those who are serious about decreasing the amount of their hard-earned money that goes into their gas tank each week. According to the United States Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2007, the 363 metropolitan areas in the United States contained 251 million people or 85.3% of the nation's population—so there is quite a pool of people with potential access to a public transportation alternative.
Those who sit down and actually analyze the cost of driving a car will find some quite surprising figures. When looking at total driving costs, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) notes that items factored into the calculation of total car ownership costs include:
In creating their comparisons, the APTA determined the average cost of taking public transit by determining the average monthly transit pass for using local public transit systems across the country. They then estimated the average cost-of-driving using the American Automobile Association's (AAA) 2008 average cost-of-driving formula (which uses an average mid-size automobile mileage of 23.4 miles per gallon, an average gasoline price of $3.678 per gallon (as reported by AAA on September 4, 2008), and an average of 15,000 miles driven per year. Some of the estimated savings for people living in larger cities across the United States include:
If you have public transportation options available to you, the APTA includes a "Dump the Pump" personal savings calculator on their website at www.publictransportation.org. The calculator enables you to customize the savings analysis using your own car's mileage, the price of gas in your neighborhood, your commuting distance, and your region's public transportation costs.
The past year has seen more people than ever making the switch to public transportation. The APTA states that Americans took more than 2.8 billion trips using public transportation in the second quarter of 2008, which was an increase of nearly 140 million more trips than for the same period in the previous year. By contrast, the Federal Highway Administration reported that the number of vehicle miles driven on roads in the United States declined by 3.3% in the second quarter of 2008. With soaring gas prices, less-than-stellar mileage from once popular sport utility vehicles, and already established commuting distances to work, people are far more willing to turn to options such as light rail systems, buses, subways, and elevated trains in order to get where they are going.
Aside from the potential cost savings for the family budget, public transit also presents the added benefit of being an environmentally conscious option for travel. By reducing the number of automobiles on the highways and the subsequent reduction in the amount of emissions from burning gasoline, choosing a public transportation option significantly reduces your own personal "carbon footprint." In fact, the APTA states that the households in the United States that produce the least amount of carbon are located close to public transportation options. The APTA adds that people in those households drive, on average, 4,400 fewer miles per year. With the growing ridership figures for public transportation systems, more and more communities are choosing to invest in developing their public transportation infrastructure. The APTA found that such communities helped reduce the nation's carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually, which is equal to the electricity used by 4.9 million households. In order to achieve the same reduction in carbon emissions, every household in Atlanta, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, DC combined would have to completely stop using electricity.
Between 1982 and 2006, the APTA states that vehicle miles traveled in the United States increased 47% per person from an average of 6,800 miles per year for every man, woman, and child to nearly 10,000 miles per year. In the same period, our national consumption of oil increased from 3.4 to 5.1 billion barrels of oil per year. The APTA notes there is a "leverage effect" caused by using public transportation and supporting transportation-efficient land use patterns, which saves 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline—more than three times the amount of gasoline refined from oil the United States imports from Kuwait. So taking the bus or subway is a great way to help the United States reduce its dependence on foreign oil while making an environmental impact at the same time.
Public transportation is not for everyone. Those who live in more rural areas of the United States are reliant on an automobile for their transportation needs. In such situations, there may never be a cost-effective public transportation option available, given the limited number of people the system would ultimately serve. But for the majority of the population, there are significant personal savings to be had by making a lifestyle change and committing to public transportation. Imagine—not only will you be helping reduce our need for foreign oil but you'll keep more money in your family budget and improve the environment. Now that's a win-win situation!
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