Does it Really Cost $0.54 per Mile to Drive?

The IRS allows a person filing their taxes to claim a value per mile driven of $0.54 in 2016. The rate is actually down from $0.575 in 2015.  Gotta’ love those half cent increments.

This figure is supposed to represent the fixed and variable costs of operating an average automobile.  That is to say that it is to be inclusive of expenses like gasoline, maintenance, and insurance in addition to the depreciation of the asset as it is driven.

This gets me to thinking about the cost of owning and operating a motor vehicle for daily purposes.  If it really costs $0.54 per mile to operate my motor vehicle then I am watching a dollar bill fly out of the tailpipe, metaphorically speaking, about every two miles I drive down the road.  I could have gone with an analogy about change jangling out the tailpipe but change seems like such an anachronism anymore. Paper money is probably getting to be like that for certain age brackets.  I digress.

In general, we do not think about the costs of operating a motor vehicle in this way.  We tend to focus on the price of gas and near term maintenance expenses like oil changes or replacement tires.  Occasionally we think about expenses like insurance, especially after an accident, or license plate fees, when the government seeks to squeeze a little bit more out of everyone because companies like Apple do not really pay taxes.

Considering the average motor vehicle commuter in the U.S. travels approximate 15 miles to work one way for an approximate 30 miles round trip, we are spending on average approximately $16 to drive to work every day.  Individual results may vary.

Think about $16 per day to drive to work not counting trips to the shopping mall or grocery store during the weekend.  $16 per day for more than 200 days per year.  It’s kind of insane.

It is even more insane when you consider the tangential effects of these $16 commutes.  On average, Americans are more sedentary and spending time in a car waiting out traffic is not helping anyone’s derriere become shapely.  The environmental costs are huge, especially if you get beyond just thinking about the tailpipe emissions and consider the leakage of polluting fluids onto the ground, the embodied energy in the manufacturing of motor vehicles, or just the sheer amount of infrastructure we have devoted to driving in the U.S.  Hell, planners budget an area of approximately of 162 square feet per parking space when planning a building’s infrastructure versus the average cubicle size of approximately 75 square feet for the average worker.

Yep, your car gets more space at the office than you do.  Now do you feel like a valued employee?  Dig it.

Hybrid and electric cars do not help because that just shifts some of the costs from the variable to the fixed side, e.g. a higher sale price in exchange for higher effective mileage leading to less fuel purchased, and does nothing to ameliorate the tangential impacts, e.g. you are still sitting on your ass in traffic if you are in a Daewoo or a Tesla.  One just has better lumbar support.

The answer lies in subverting the paradigm.  Trade in your lazy ass motor vehicle commute for a two wheeled rock star commute on a bike.  Yeah, yeah another hippie in the blogosphere telling you to “go by bike.”  As if the world needs another e-hippie extolling the virtuous bicycle and its magical commuting properties.  You know what?  Until more people are riding bikes to work the world does need another person promoting the two wheeled miracle.

Bicycles are not a fancy solution to the transportation problem like subways, streetcars, bus rapid transit, autonomous cars, steampunk vacuum tubes, or whatever else someone has cooked up in the evil laboratory of urban planning alchemy.  Bicycles are the cockroaches or urban planning and transportation infrastructure.  Bicycles can survive with little or no assistance, taking over the margins, and thriving well after better funded alternatives have been shown to be nothing more than Potemkin transportation.

However, getting back in the saddle again—cue the only slightly ironic rock anthem “Back in the Saddle” by AC/DC—is a personal choice and it is not something that you will get to talk about with the cool people at work.  The cool people just spent $35,000 on a Chevrolet Volt because it’s electric and gas.  Congratulations, you just bought the Snackwells of 21st Century motor vehicles.  Just think about pocketing a dollar bill every time you replace 2 miles of motor vehicle commuting with 2 miles of bicycle commuting.


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