The costs of commuting (a comparison)

photoshop composition of an ebike, bus, car traffic, and a cyclist, with a screenshot of Ben talking

Introduction

The “costs of commuting” is a hard topic to cover. Not because financial talk is hard or anything, but because of variables. So much so, that I’ve had to go with wide ranges for the annual costs. I’ll be covering vehicles, public transit, e-bikes, and regular old bicycles for the comparison today.

I’ll say it now, these are my estimates with the explanation of how I came up with these numbers. If you don’t agree, I’ve missed something, or you have something to add, leave a comment below! I’ll most likely make an edit to the post! OH! And all the currency we’re talking about in this article is in Canadian dollars! Here’s a CAD-to-USD converter on XE.com for anyone who’s interested.

As per usual, if you’re more of a fan of watching videos than reading, this is this posts’ associated video!

Back to the article though…

Cost comparisons (vehicle, public transit, e-bike, regular bicycle)

Vehicle ($5,000-12,000 annually)

cars driving by in toronto traffic

The car is immediately more costly than all other forms of transportation no matter how you swing it. First, there’s the capital cost of between $4000 and $40,000 for an “economy” car. Then there’s insurance, gas, maintenance/repairs, registration, plates, fees, taxes, and other miscellaneous costs.

There are also various ways of obtaining a vehicle, including financing, paying out-right, leasing, or grand theft auto. If you do steal a car, then there’s the hassle of high-speed chases and jailtime. Therefore, I don’t recommend grand theft auto haha! Let’s use someone else’s research to come up with a number because of the numerous options of acquisition. According to a Global News article published in late 2017, the average cost of owning a compact car in Canada is $716.66 per month ($8,600 annually). For a pick-up truck, that average cost rises to $13,000.

Let’s assume we’re as cheap as possible and drive minimally. And we find cheap insurance. And luck out on maintenance and repairs. You could probably pay $4000 annually. But there are a lot of variations on that, too. This article (ratehub.ca) states you can expect to pay $852/month ($10,224 annually) for car ownership. Whereas this site (thinkinsure.ca) states the average car insurance rates are 1/2 of ratehub.ca’s article! Again, we’ll have to draw our own conclusions.

Let’s come up with that range. On the low end, you can own a car for about an arm and a leg annually. But that limits you -as a human with only two arms and two legs- to two years of driving! After that, you can just roll around town on your own, without a car! If we use Canadian Dollars as payment instead, the costs of commuting by vehicle is anywhere between $5,000 and $12,000 annually.

Public transit ($1,500-1,750 annually)

public transit bus driving by on toronto road

The costs of commuting using the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) here in Toronto (as of October 2019) are as follows:

  • $3.25 (Adult)
  • $2.20 (Senior, age 65+ / Youth, ages 13-19)
  • Monthly pass (Adult – $151.15; Senior/Youth – $122.45)
  • 12 Month Pass (Adult – $138.55; Senior/Youth $112.25)
  • Post-Secondary Monthly Pass ($122.45) 
  • PRESTO Tickets   (One-ride – $3.25; Two-ride – $6.50; Day pass – $13.00)

Let’s assume that you’re an adult who commutes year-round and gets a 12-month pass for $138.55 per month ($1662.60 annually). The benefit of this is that it’s a flat rate. Unlimited rides for the entire year. Bam, just like that. To account for any variations in pricing, let’s provide a range of between $1500 and $1750. So, after everything is accounted for, the costs of commuting for the average Torontonian are between $1500 and $1750 annually, using the TTC.

e-Bike ($500-1,500 annually)

ben getting ready to ride his ebike

The capital cost of a non-DIY e-Bike has actually come down if you consider products from RAD Power Bikes which are typically around $2260 CAD after taxes. It used to be that e-Bikes would range between $3000 and $9000, but the market has matured. You can still easily find very expensive e-bike models but let’s just go with the least expensive option to keep this comparison fair. Other “economy” recommendations are two Canadian companies: Voltbikes and Sparkbikes.

Let’s assume you kept your e-Bike from RAD Power Bikes for a 3-year period, that’d mean you’d be paying $62.77 per month (753.33 annually). This doesn’t take into account the other maintenance and repair items such as tubes, tires, lube, tool kit, bells, lights, etc. So, let’s add $250 to $500 per year just to play it safe. That’s 753.33 plus 250, equalling 1003.33. Let’s round that out to $1000 annually for an e-bike. But if you hold on to that e-bike for longer than three years, your per-month costs plummet to near-nothingness. So that’ll bring the cost down to something a lot lower. This stands true for both vehicles and regular bicycles as well.

Bicycle ($600-1000 annually)

cyclist wearing reflective clothing in toronto traffic

This is no doubt the lowest-cost mode of transportation. The upsides are that you’re going to stay healthy and your legs will be swol. The three downsides are:

  1. You’re less likely to bike EVERY single day of the year, compared to when riding an e-bike. So you’ll most likely use a mixture of other transportation methods… which will cut into your cost savings.
  2. Depending on how easy you take it on your commute, you might show up sweaty to work.
  3. Depending on the distance and difficulty of your commute, you may need to shower/wipe off/change clothes at work. This takes additional valuable time from your day.

If you do manage to bike every single day of the year, I’d take into account these costs:

  • Bicycle ($500)
  • Summer tires ($100)
  • Studded winter tires ($200)
  • Tubes ($25)
  • Increased “food fuel” consumption ($200)
  • Misc. ($100)

Total cost over three years: $2,375… divided by 3, comes to approximately $791.66 or rounded up to $800 annually. After running these numbers myself, I looked up “what does it cost to bike every day of the year?” and ran across this article by treehugger.com. They accounted for similar costs… Which makes their annual cost of commuting to work 252 times per year come in at $821.25. This number is waaay too similar to mine. Eerie. I was making some wildly vague guesses… but I guess that’s an unintentional consensus!

That $800 doesn’t take into account any public transport costs that you might incur in the case that you don’t cycle a few days of the year. A range of $600-1000 annually seems suitable because of this.

Summary/takeaways

THUMBNAIL costs of commuting compared no text, sh0owing a bike, bus, car in traffic, and a cyclist in toronto traffic

Alright, there you have it! The costs of commuting, compared between various methods of getting around Toronto! The takeaways are simple:

  • Vehicles are super convenient in most cases – except in heavy big-city traffic – but they cost A LOT to own and maintain. Canada is made for vehicles, though. So in off-peak hours, cars are still the fastest way to get around, even in the downtown core!
  • Public transit is often looked down upon in Canada… but if you’re commuting around a big city’s core during rush hours, you’d be crazy to drive. In these cases, public transit is a reliable and inexpensive option. This is the only mode of transportation that has NO associated maintenance costs, either! It’s just a one set fee.
  • E-bikes offer the versatility and flexibility of driving without the hassle of multiple public transit connections. They keep you healthy and are fantastic in traffic. They have a limited distance though – typically 40-70km. So in the city, they’re great. This is obviously my pick.
  • Bicycles are the absolute cheapest option but the average person isn’t likely to bike every single day of the year. Most people fall into the category of “fair-weather cyclists”, which is both great and expected. That, or “occasional cyclists”. The downsides are showing up to work sweaty and taking longer to travel distances further than 5 KM – except in downtown cores!

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed my ramblings about the costs of commuting and maybe even learned something that will change the way you move around your city! If you have any questions or just want to chit chat, hit up the comment section below or on the video. On top of that, I wouldn’t say no to you Subscribing to my blog and YouTube Channel and Liking the video!

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Cheers, Ben.

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Ben Durham

ebike enthusiast &
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Just a regular bicycle warrior who’s super into ebikes, infrastructure, personal finance, and efficiency!

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