Most likely, your car costs you a lot more to own and operate than you realize. This year we sold our 2008 Honda Pilot for $15,000 - here’s an estimate of how much that car was costing us to own and operate:
$1000 depreciation per year
+$100 registration per year
+$900 opportunity cost of not having that $15,000 invested, assuming a conservative 6% return
+$1000 gas (assuming 5,000 miles/yr averaging $4.00/gallon)
+$80 oil changes
+$250 (misc. maintenance, amortized, which is a conservative estimate)
$4230 to drive it 5,000 miles, or $0.85 per mile.
Here are AAA’s estimates on how much it costs to operate various kinds of cars, and keep in mind that AAA doesn’t factor in the opportunity cost of investing the money your car is worth if you were to sell it. In other words, this is a miminum cost per mile:
In September of 2012, we purchased a brand new Yuba Mundo cargo bike. With the miles it replaced this year, we were able to sell our Honda Pilot and save $4230 this year. The bike cost us around $1700 all-in (accessories, taxes, etc.) and it made us $4230. That’s a net gain of $2530 in its first year, and that amount will only increase over time.
We didn’t spend a single penny on upkeep on the Mundo in 2013, much like a new car doesn’t really need maintenance in its first few years (save oil changes!). In 2014, I anticipate about $150 in maintenance for the Mundo (new brakes, new tires, maybe a new chain, new cables and housing).
Our cargo bike can carry up to three kids comfortably on the back, haul up to 400 pounds NOT including the rider, and can stash about 6 full grocery bags in its side-mounted cargo bags. We do full-on Costco runs on it and we take both kids to school on it. We sold our Pilot and immediately put that $15,000 into a no-maintenance Vanguard fund that tracks the S&P500.
Instead of losing value every year, that money is now earning us more money.
We put around 1600 miles on the Mundo in its first year. By making errands take more effort, we ended up consolidating our trips and traveling less miles.
What happens when we need two cars? We’re a family of four and our lives can be just as complicated as the next family. If we can’t ride the Mundo, which is rare, there are lots of transportation alternatives that are far less costly than owning that second car. We use a service in San Luis Obispo called FunRide, which is similar to ZipCar. It’s a car-sharing service that’s incredibly cost-effective and convenient. All of their cars cost $7.50/hr on weekdays and $8.50/hr on weekends. You don’t pay for gas, insurance, registration, etc. - the hourly rate includes all of that.
What if we didn’t want to sell our second car? You’ll still save a ton of money doing more errands by bike! Check out that AAA chart - if you put 10,000 miles on your car it costs you an average of $0.78 cents per mile to do so. If you can cut 2,500 miles off your annual transportation needs by biking, you’d save around $1950 in your first year. That “expensive” cargo bike would pay for itself very quickly.
Here are some other benefits of biking more:
1) It builds community. Society is becoming increasingly isolated, and cars are perfect little isolation bubbles. Other drivers become de-personalized, which enables frustration and road rage. Ride up to a stoplight next to another cyclist and it’s almost awkward to not say hi, because there are no de-personalizing barriers between you and the next bike rider. Relationships are fulfilling things. Loneliness and isolation are not.
2) If you live in a city, it’s often easier to get around by bike than by car. It takes us around 20 minutes to get downtown, and about 5-10 minutes to drive. By bike, we park right in front of the store we’re visiting and parking is free. By car, we spend a few minutes finding parking, a few minutes walking to the store, and most of the time we pay to park.
3) It’s a good workout! I burn about 400 calories per hour riding at a leisurely pace (9-10 miles per hour on the cargo bike). I rode 1700 miles on the Mundo in 2013, which computes to 68,000 calories or about 20 pounds of fat burned this year. If you wanted to crank it up a notch and sweat a little, you could burn a lot more.
4) You’ll add years to your life. No, really. Sitting is bad for you, as is a sedentary lifestyle. Riding a bike for a good portion of your in-town transportation needs will make you happier, healthier, and will make you live longer.
…and I don’t think I need to talk about the environmental benefits (locally and globally). That’s a gimme. :)
So think about it! And when you see cargo bike price tags (if you’re looking for a cargo bike), don’t forget how much money you’ll save by not operating your car. Chances are, that shiny new cargo bike will pay for itself in its first year of use. If you don’t have kids and don’t need a big cargo bike, you could purchase a far cheaper bike and it’ll be even more cost-effective.
As a final note, I know what we’ve done isn’t practical for many families. Some families live 15 miles outside their city. Some families have 8 kids. Some families’ only route to town is via interstate. Heck, if I don’t feel like riding and our car is available, sometimes I take it. We aren’t car-hating purists, we realize cars have their place, we realize this isn’t feasible for some people, and that’s perfectly OK.