By Jeff Miller on September 4th, 2012 in Consumers
A few weeks ago, Rory published an article about how taking BART saves him almost $500 per month, which inspired me to tally up how much I’m saving on my own commute using Caltrain.
As we all know, the SF Bay Area is an expensive place to live. It’s also the 7th most-densely populated metropolitan area in the United States and is home to more than seven million people. I've been living in Redwood City for the past 5 years, which is pretty much smack dab in between San Francisco and San Jose on the peninsula -- so when I started at CoverHound a year ago, I had to figure out a budget for getting to downtown SF every day. Initially I wanted to drive, but the costs added up quite quickly. However, I couldn’t take the train every day, because I have band practice twice a week in the Mission, including once during the weekdays.
So I came up with a hybrid commute of taking the train 4 times a week and driving once a week.
My first consideration was the cost of gas. I drive a relatively fuel-efficient vehicle: a 2012 Ford Escape V6, 6-speed automatic, which gets about 21 mpg. For my calculations, I used a gas price of $4.27 a gallon, which is the current rate for regular at the Chevron next to my house. My house is about 30 miles from the office according to Google maps, meaning a 60-mile commute just getting to and from work every day. Doing this 5 days a week equates to approximately $250 per month compared to a tiny 3-mile commute to the Redwood City train station, at about $30 a month. Unfortunately, driving once per week almost triples this number to just under $80.
The second consideration was the cost of taking the train. A two-zone day pass costs $10 at Caltrain terminals and depending on the train, can take as little as 30 minutes to get to San Francisco. Not too shabby. Of course, I still have a 25-minute walk to work which I can avoid by hopping on a bus, but I rather enjoy it. Obviously this cost would be nullified if I were driving everyday, but the cost is $44 lower than driving and totals $200 a month – and only $160 if I drive once a week.
And now for the obligatory spiel about car insurance rates! I was actually pretty surprised by how substantially the policy price differed between the three commutes, solely due to changing my commute distance. Each commute is 5 days a week, and for train-only, I used 3 miles each way. For hybrid, I entered 10 miles each way to account for my one 60 mile commute per week. Lastly, I entered the full 30 miles each way for my driving-only commute. My per month premium ranged between $97 and $143!
This is where driving to the city really gets expensive -– parking at the train station costs only $4 compared to the average day-pass parking in downtown at $20 (a complete rip-off). Plus, if I wanted to get a monthly pass, it could cost anywhere from $300 to $500! As Rory did, I used AMPCO at 2nd and Folsom for my calculations at $325 per month. This yields total savings of $245 when just taking the train and $181 when driving once a week!
There is a big difference between taking public transit and driving yourself – especially when driving into a crowded city like San Francisco. The drive is riddled with bad drivers, crazy traffic (especially during Giants games), and the unfortunate circumstance that you’ll have to pay a pretty penny to park your car when you finally arrive. The train on the other hand is convenient, you don’t have to deal with traffic, and you can spend your time catching up on work or even sleeping (I prefer the latter). It does have its drawbacks, like being treated like cattle trying to get on the SB 386 from SF and the conductor yelling at you when you’re sleeping to show him your ticket. Bah.
I’ve found that it’s substantially cheaper to take public transit into the city. In fact, I save about $250 each month on average. If you live in a metropolitan area, I would highly recommend doing your own analysis – it can save you a lot of money! Below are my actual results: