Running Costs: Car drivers can’t do basic math

One of my favourite facebook groups, “Fuck, and I can’t stress this enough, them cars”, posts a lot of different things.  Some memes, some laughter at bad driving, criticism of driver entitlement some news about traffic terrorists killing people, support for public transit, bicycles, and (as below) about the economic or environmental costs of cars, among other topics.

In response to someone else’s post about “car ownership” in the US, I did a little math about oversized crapwagons (SUVs, five ton pickups, etc.) and the costs of private vehicles versus public transit.  According to Car and Driver, the numbers below are the average monthly costs of paying for and operating a vehicle in the US.

  Average new-car monthly payment:   $648
  Average used-car monthly payment:   $503
  Average monthly premium insurance:   $112
  Monthly average gas cost for 15,000 miles per year:   $270
  Maintenance and repairs:   $119
  Monthly registration, fees, taxes, and miscellaneous:   $12
  Total monthly car cost   $1,161

[Edit: Obviously I can’t do math either, or I’m inattentive and was just looking at the total.]

Notice that I said “paying and operating”, not “owning”, because many are paying for leases, have balloon or buyout payments that they will never afford.  In reality, most of those driving SUVs, oversized pickups, etc., will never hold the title to that vehicle.  And if they do, its book value will be next to worthless because of rising costs in the future.

According to, the cost of efficient public transit for Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area would be $2.2 billion annually.

What Would Providing Every City with High-Quality, Zero-Emissions Public Transportation Look Like?

During his presidential campaign, president-elect Joe Biden prioritized transportation investment, particularly in the form of projects to mitigate US carbon emissions and increase access to opportunity for people of color.

In his transition plan, Biden aims to “provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options.” The US House of Representatives-passed Moving Forward Act promotes a similar ambition to significantly improve transit service across the country.


Improving transit quality in every urban area to, at minimum, conditions in the Dallas region would cost an additional $2.2 billion annually. This would be a 4.5 percent increase nationally in operating budgets but would expand per capita transit service by 30.3 percent for the average urban area.

National funding?  You don’t even need that.

The DFW metropolitan area’s population was 7,637,387 in 2020.  Assuming that only half of the population would use public transit (i.e. kids under 6 don’t pay, school kids pay half price, the very wealthy refuse to use it), and if every one of those half of the population paid an average of $50 per month (less than 1/20th 1/30th of operating a car) that would be $2,291,216,100 in revenue.  That’s enough to fund that entire transit system without federal funding.  At least two million people would no longer be driving, eliminating a massive amount of traffic, pollution, and danger to others.

Anyone who believes private cars are better than public transit is a distracted driver, i.e. too distracted by worrying about their next payment to look at how much they’re wasting.  If people weren’t ignorant and brainwashed to believe the “cars = freedumb!” lie and really knew the costs of private vehicles, they would be raising hell.


  1. lochaber says

    There is this ridiculous assumption in the U.S. that public transit must be self-sufficient, if not turn a profit, whilst roads, interstates, private vehicle parking, etc., must be funded by the public.

    I say that as someone who has been nearly a lifelong pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist, and mass-transit user. I used a motorcycle when I lived in an area where private vehicle use was pretty much a necessity, so I fully understand the situation in a lot of the U.S., especially rural and suburban U.S. I’m just frustrated by how people refuse to admit this is a situation that should be fixed, and instead double down and insist that everything should be automobile-friendly, and pedestrian/cyclist hostile, and vehemently oppose any efforts to expand mass transit.

    Here, in the SF Bay area, there were some concerns about the budget of BART (our light rail system), AC transit (East bay bus system), and MUNI (San Francisco bus and light rail system). From what I heard, the proposed “solution” was to raise fares, reduce hours of operation, and shorten routes. I think I ran across some news that some state/federal funding came through that might lessen that, but I haven’t actually looked into it yet, so I can’t say anything one way or the other. I’m just appalled that there are so many people who think that they can austere their way out of a public transit funding issue.

    I’ve never been overly optimistic, but lately events and trends have been exceeding my pessimism about our long-term survival as a species. I’ve been seeing a quote floating around lately, but having trouble finding it since all my links to it are from twitter and reddit, both of which are currently inaccessable to me, but something along the lines of “We’ll go down in history as the first society to fail to save itself because it wasn’t cost-effective”

    • says

      raise fares, reduce hours of operation, and shorten routes.

      In other words, intentionally cause it to fail and then blame the transit, instead of admitting those running it (read: ruining) caused it to fail.

      Prince George, as mentioned in another video, has a lousy bus system. Its routes and schedule are designed by car drivers who wrongly assume the only ones who use the buses are “shopping housewives” or those only active between 9am-6pm (its operating hours). Nobody uses it to get to work because they can’t use it. It’s not running when they start or end their workday (or both).

  2. says

    The monthly costs ought to be showing as 1,016 or 1,161, unless that’s the cost for two cars, in which case the monthly cost PER CAR would be 832

    Not that this nit-pick affects the overall figures.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Way back when, an author named Ivan Illich ran those same numbers, with a different twist: instead of mere dollars, he figured in the work-hours the average person needed to pay per mile.

    As I recall (probably wrongly, but in the general ballpark), the typical US driver managed maybe 15 miles per hour.

    It would be most interesting (though probably futile) to see a modern update of such calculations.

  4. says

    Public transport suffers from a very particular type of problem, which is that it only works when it works. That is to say, if you can make a system which genuinely provides for ALL the transit needs of a significant majority of your population, then it becomes self sustaining as people no longer need to waste money on other options. In the contrary if your public system provides for most, but not all of people’s needs, they will also need private transport options to fill that last little gap. For example, if you can reach work, school, shops and entertainment by public transport, but you have to drive to reach a doctor, the math doesn’t matter because you have to pay for both.

    It’s not impossible, and it’s certainly desirable, to build systems which can be relied upon for absolutely everything, but in general it requires the kind of connected thinking that people are extremely bad at. It’s very much all or nothing.

  5. anthrosciguy says

    One part of vehicle ownership I find people ignore is depreciation. This is especially true with RVs (we RVed for some years). The overall costs can be fairly high or somewhat reasonable (break out the quote marks there) if you can do maintenance work and many repairs yourself. And all of that RVers tend to think about, but not depreciation. Think about this: we bought our first RV for $45,000, down from $80,000 new, 3 years old and 15,000 miles. Somebody lost a lot of money, and then over the course of 15 years the value we lost was another $40,000. In our case we figured it was worth it for various reasons at the time, but mostly people don’t think of depreciation as part of their ongoing costs.

    BTW, our second RV we bought for $35,000 (14 years old, 50,000 miles). It was $157,000 new; even aggressive bargaining when new might have gotten that down to $130,000, which means that by the time we bought it there had been a loss of nearly $7,000/year ON TOP OF maintenance, registration, insurance, and repairs.

  6. says

    The one problem with transit is it frequently takes longer to get to Point B by bus than, say, on foot. Or, in my case, by wheelchair, at a steady 5mph. Really makes the system look terrible, you know?

    And then you have the crappy paratransit systems that are supposed to make it “easier” for disabled people. They’re never on time (unless you go for a quick pee), they expect you to be right there, outside, waiting, rain, snow, or shine, or they will just leave without even trying to contact you, the drivers are rude, and, again with the getting you to places late, so god help you if you have an appointment.

    Oh, and there are places they won’t even go.

    It sucks!

  7. brightmoon says

    Paratransit sucks , I thoroughly agree . But you forgot blaming the patient when the driver can’t find the address. We’d give them directions EVERY F***ING TIME and they’d still never find the address.

    NYC has a halfway decent subway and bus system but it takes forever to get anywhere but all subways and most busses go all night.

    Long Island acts like people don’t have lives after 6pm and certain routes stop operating completely . They also don’t have much all night service . The one thing I truly HATED when I lived there ( aside from the racism)