We Tracked Our Daily Commutes to Find Out How Much They Really Cost

In time, money or both we wanted to know what our commutes cost.

Have you ever considered how much your commute is costing you in either time, money or both? Commuters in the top 10 traffic-congested cities in the U.S. spend about 70 hours on average stuck in gridlock, according to traffic data analysis company INRIX. Congestion also costs U.S. drivers as a whole about $300 billion a year in direct and indirect costs such as productivity loss, gas cost and vehicle wear and tear.

Given the high cost of commuting, two friends and GOBankingRates reporters with two different ways of getting around hit the streets to find out how much exactly their commutes were costing.

Both Karen Rocznik and Zarina Khairzada travel about 13 miles to and from work each day. Zarina only takes her car, while Karen bikes, buses and occasionally uses a ride-booking service such as Uber or Lyft to get around. For one month, they logged their miles, dollars and time spent commuting to see how much it’s really costing them to get to work and back.

Week 1

CostDistanceTime
Zarina$107.73194 mi11.05 hr
Karen$26.51126.2 mi11.35 hr

Zarina: I’ve been driving since I turned 16, and I have never handed over the keys to my car since then. Travelling on someone else’s schedule has never been my thing. I love the freedom of getting in my car at any moment and going for a drive.

It was weird tracking my commute. It made me realize how much I rely on my car and the time it saves me. I went to the gym at least five times on the way home from work, drove out to a restaurant on my lunch break, and was able to drive and get footage for a story I was working on. When traffic is bad, my drive from home to work takes about 50 minutes. It’s about the same heading home, or if I’m stopping by the gym.

Traffic is the worst part about driving in Los Angeles, but at least I know I’m in control of getting where I need to be and how long it will take to get me there. My monthly car payment of $233 and car insurance payment of $117.50 are factored into my weekly driving costs, in addition to gas at $2.59 a gallon.

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Karen: I’m one of those rare people (especially in a city like Los Angeles) who has never owned a car — ever. I’ve always managed to get around with my bike or on a bus, train, rental car or Uber. I do drive and have had my driver’s license since I was 16. It can be inconvenient to have to wait for buses or rely on ride-booking services, but I’ve never been able to justify the expense of owning a car.

I ride my bike and take the bus during my regular 13-mile commute to work, which takes about an hour. I bike to the bus stop, ride for 40 minutes and then bike the final leg to the office. I use transit apps to figure out when my bus will arrive and buy bus tickets for a reduced price right on my phone.

But commuting by bus comes with challenges. If I want to run an errand, I have to plan it out with the bus schedule. After meeting up with a friend for dinner once, I missed my bus back home and ended up waiting another 25 minutes for the next one to arrive. What could have been a 20-minute car ride home ended up taking me nearly an hour.

When I tallied my commuting expenses at the end of the week, I only spent $26.51 to go 126 miles. However, it also cost me more than 11 hours in time. Zarina spent about the same amount of time driving, but she was able to go an additional 70 miles.

Week 2

CostDistanceTime
Zarina$108.10175.5 mi12 hr
Karen$13.68143 mi8.25 hr

Zarina: At $108 for the week, I can clearly see I have the more expensive way of getting around. It’s kind of shocking when you break down the numbers, but I still can’t imagine commuting by bus. Traffic is still horrible, but it’s the bearable type of horrible.

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Karen: For the second week of this challenge, I experienced what life is like riding on four wheels instead of two — I have my boyfriend’s car for a few days while he’s out of town. I start my commute at my normal time of 7:15 a.m. But instead of rolling into work at 8:15 a.m., I show up a whole 30 minutes earlier than if I had taken the bus.

Going home, my 15-mile commute on the freeway consists of traffic, lane changes, merging and getting off on the right exit. I’m longing for my bus ride home where I can zone out, listen to podcasts and plan out what I’m going to make for dinner. I make it home in 30 minutes, but I feel like I’ve aged about 30 years dodging traffic and keeping pace with vehicles buzzing by at 70 mph.

Week 3

CostDistanceTime
Zarina$102.71105 mi7.33 hr
Karen$25.05132.9 mi11.83 hr

Zarina: Seriously, another week where Karen’s commute costs $80 less than mine? I need to be slashing my car costs.

The numbers are starting to bother me, but when I look at the difference in time I feel better. I spent more than four hours less than her driving. In the middle of the week, my car wouldn’t start. It turned out to be a dead battery. I lost time but I made it to work borrowing my dad’s car for the day. Sometimes, cars aren’t reliable.

Karen: Neither are buses. I bank on having my bus arrive on time every day. Occasionally, however, the bus is late or just doesn’t show up at all. One day this week I waited and waited, and there was still no bus. It finally arrived 40 minutes late.

I only spent around $25 this week on the bus and an Uber ride home, but when it doesn’t show, I really wish I had my own wheels.

Week 4

CostDistanceTime
Zarina$101.54124 mi6.66 hr
Karen$22.63145.6 mi11.9 hr

Zarina: This week Karen forced me to try things her way — I took the bus. It was a slow and anxious ride to work. I didn’t know if I was taking the right bus, if it was going to take me to my stop, or if it was going to get me there on time. But it did.

There were a lot of stops along the way, and it took me about an hour to get to work, It only cost $1. Even with the significant cost savings, I wasn’t sold on this transportation method. I missed the comforts of my car.

Karen: The daily bus commute can be physically draining. It amounts to some very long days just sitting on a bus in traffic. On average, I’m spending almost 12 hours a week just commuting to and from work.

But my weekly spending this week is just over $22 — and that’s including one $13 Uber ride to a restaurant after work. Not having a car means I can put an extra $400 a month toward my credit card debt of about $1,400, which I plan to pay off in full in the next four months.

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What We Learned

Zarina: It cost me about $420 to drive my car for 30 days and only $70 of that was for gas. That monthly number doesn’t include maintenance costs, license and registration fees, taxes or finance charges on my auto loan. AAA estimates sedan owners pay about $6,400 more a year for these expenses. I think my maintenance amount is a lot less because I don’t buy tires yearly, I change my oil less frequently, and I follow tips to save on car maintenance.

Regardless, I’m still paying a high price to have the luxury to drive anywhere I want to during the day, like the gym, grocery store, mall or lunch. Over the course of the month, I drove wherever I wanted to go in less time than it took Karen just to get to work. Even though I deal with Los Angeles freeways, time is money and that’s why driving a car is worth it to me.

Karen: My monthly commute costs totaled just under $90. I used Uber or Lyft once a week, which cost $49.52. My bus rides amounted to only $38.35. But the real shocker is that I spent 43 hours of my month commuting, the majority of that time on a bus. That’s almost two days of my life! I could use ride-booking services more often to save time, but I would be saving less per month.

Still, it probably wouldn’t compare with the $420 that Zarina spends on her car every month, not including maintenance. Even though time is money, I’m going to tough it out on my bike and the bus for now … until I cave and move closer to work.

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