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Car Culture

The Real Lesson from The Source’s “Why You Ride” Series: People Have No Idea How Much Their Car is Costing Them


(Note: I'm not using names in this piece because the people filling out The Source's survey didn't sign up to be critiqued elsewhere.  If you're really curious, you can certainly get the names to go with the story.)

Last week, DC Streetsblog ran an excellent story on how people don't realize how much their car actually costs them in terms of dollars and cents.  I couldn't help but think of this study as I paged through the The Source's series on why people do, and don't, ride transit.   The one thing that stuck out to me was that just like the family in the DC Streetsblog piece, many people have no idea how much they spend on their car every month.

Take the case of a software engineer in Marina del Rey.  He tells the Source that he drives to Hollywood every work day and who knows how often on weekends.  Yet, he estimates that he spends between $50-$100 on transportation every month.  I'm guessing he was just thinking of the cost of gas when he did his calculation.  But, unless his parking, insurance, repairs and the car itself are paid for by someone else; he's paying far more than $50 for gasoline.

Almost all of the rest of the people who don't ride transit that answered the Source's survey guesstimated their personal cost somewhere between $100-$300, which is probably low but at least is reality based.  Only one person estimated that their transportation cost was $500 a month.

Well, maybe not all of them are reality-based.  A freelance photographer from Duarte, who's family owns four vehicles, estimated his monthly transportation costs at "between $100 and $300" a month.  In truth, the cost of owning four cars plus insurance probably costs his family over a thousand dollars every month, and that's before any of the cars even leave their parking spaces.

But this is how it often works.  When someone is asked a question that has an answer that would cause said person to have to re-examine a choice; their mind provides an answer that allows them to avoid that conclusion.  Nowhere is that more true than when someone is asked how much money they spend on their car.

For fairness sake, I'm filling out the survey myself, after the jump.  Since I ride transit about once a month since we moved, I'll take the "Why I don't ride transit" option.:

How often do you drive and for what purpose?

Once, maybe twice a week

Where are you typically traveling from and going to?

Sammy has a baby class across town.  My legs don't take him on trips more than five miles, so into the car we go.

How many vehicles do you or your family have?

We have many vehicles.  Most of them are people powered.  One is not.

How long does your commute typically take?

I work from home unless I have a meeting.  However, I do often have to go to a meeting Downtown or somewhere else.  I almost never take a car to those meetings.

Briefly, how would you describe your typical driving experience? Love it, deal with it, or hate it?

There are few things I dislike more.

On average, what do you spend each month on transportation?

$100-$300 (I'm basically taking our family car costs and halving them) plus bike expenses and transit tickets

Do you use any forms of alternative transportation?

There's some Jane's Addiction on my riding mix.  (I use mini-speakers, not headphones...)

Why do you drive?

Asked and answered.

Why can’t/don’t you take transit?

I find the timing of buses too frustrating and there's no rail where I live.  I tell people I would rather take an hour and a half to bike somewhere, and know going in it's going to take me that long than take a bus and get there in an hour and fifteen minutes 90% of the time and more than that the rest.

Have you tried to use transit before? What was your experience?

Usually, the experience is good.

What could local transit agencies do to encourage you to take transit more often?

Finish the Expo Line.

How do you feel about buses?

I like buses when I have confidence in their schedule.  For example, I'm more likely to hop on the BBB than on a Metro bus.

How do you feel about rail?

I have more confidence in rail's ability to follow a schedule, so I am much more likely to take transit if rail is a large portion of the trip.

Given limited funds, how would you address L.A.’s transportation issues?

I'm going to take a pass on this one...

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