On various cycling Websites, including this one, you will find articles as well as calculators estimating the amount of money you can save by cycling instead of driving. Yet, I haven’t found one yet that tells the whole story.
When I run the Gas Savings calculator on this site (over there on the right rail), the numbers aren’t very impressive. Granted, I put in conservative (i.e. low-ball) estimates of how much I ride.
And when I recall back in 2004 when I had to decide what to do about my dead Toyota, I did hours of soul searching and number crunching to make up my mind. I was inclined to try life without a car, but I wanted the numbers to prove it was a sound decision.
There wasn’t then, nor is there now, a tool on the Web that makes this process easy.
Gas savings was really the tip of the iceberg. I tried to think of every cost possible–not just the cost of gas. I factored in vehicle insurance, registration, depreciation, maintenance, and auto-loan interest.
I also made guesses on how often I would have to rent a car or hire taxis, and estimated those costs. These ended up being extremely overestimated, which may indicate how secretly terrified I was to try living without a car.
I was surprised at how close the average monthly costs were between the three scenarios I was considering: live car-free, revive my dead Toyota, or buy a used car.
A new Website is dedicated solely to calculating some of these costs: Cycle to Work Calculator
Cycle to Work Calculator, like all others I’ve seen, falls short of telling the whole story.
Steve Morgan, the developer behind the Website acknowledges that this calculator is short on features, but says it’s a work in progress.
“I have lots of enhancements swirling around my head that I want to add in,” he told me, “maybe I was too excited to get it out there as quickly as possible!”
For starters, I’d like to be able to choose my unit of currency. Currently it only shows British Pounds. (Bear in mind that the currency unit doesn’t matter in the present form of this calculator. If you like, you can pretend that it’s a dollar sign, a Euro symbol, or a goat.)
What I like about Steve’s calculator, is that in the few questions that the calculator asks, it hints that it is making some assumptions about the depreciating value of a bike over time. But what about the car you either neglect or liquidate as you cycle more?
I like how it estimates how much you’ve saved already, but how it does that is a mystery. Wouldn’t it be good to be able to put in your postal code and have it base your savings on the average cost of gas per gallon in your area over time–real data?
And for data geeks, I’d like to see an advanced mode where you can put in whether you own a car, its purchase price, age, insurance cost, etc. so you could really see what a financial liability that beast is.
Previously, I’ve discussed how resonant the economic argument is for bike commuting–more than all of the do-goodery arguments that work on do-gooder weenies like me. My switch to living car-free was made with great trepidation–even though I was weakly motivated by conscience to make it.
In my case, the economic benefits were somewhat unexpected because of the inaccuracy of my estimates. It took me a few months to realize my projections as well as my anxieties were unfounded.
The calculator should work for people who want to bike more and drive less as well as for people who want to bike always and drive never. So I’m projecting onto this calculator my wish that it will help make easier both the small leaps and the large ones.
My ideal calculator would show the economic argument in the past (how much money you would have saved), the present, and project savings into the future.
I offered Steve access to the most brilliant minds in bike commuting: Our readers.
What do you think of the Cycle to Work Calculator? What features and calculations would you want Steve to add?