Edinburgh Commuting Costs

Have you ever tried working out the advantages of getting about by bike, for you as an individual?

If not I highly recommend it as a fun (if slightly obsessive) activity. Although it won’t really tell you anything you don’t already know, the magnitude of savings may still be an eye opener!

bikecost1

Today it took, precisely, 18:37 to ride five miles through hilly Edinburgh to work, and 21:03 to ride home.

It took ~90 seconds at each end of each journey (for a total of 5:47) to park the bike, and an extra 2 minutes to change clothes.

47:27

That is, measured with as close to a real stopwatch as you can achieve on a smartphone, the exact time cost of cycling to work (told you it was obsessive!)

How does that compare with driving, or public transport?

The quickest way to get the bus to work involves a 10 minute walk from the flat, a bus ride of around 25 minutes, followed by a 20 minute walk at the other end. It’s possible to transfer between buses in the city centre to eliminate the longer of the two walks, but that means waiting 10 minutes for a bus that is only 10 minutes quicker than walking, so…

If I drive, it takes anything between 20 and 35 minutes each way, but as a general rule I leave 30 minutes for the journey.

Method Daily time cost
Bicycle 50m
Driving 1h
Public transport 1h50m

 

For twenty minutes on the bike, cleaning up is no big deal. Sometimes I shower at home before going to work, sometimes I shower on arrival at work. I don’t believe it makes any difference timewise because I have to walk past both showers every day regardless… in fact, it may well be quicker to shower at work (without competition for the family bathroom!)

 

Cost-wise, public transport is certainly the most clear-cut: you pay for a season ticket and that’s that (currently £576 will buy you a year’s travel). Both cycling and driving are more vague.

Taking the mileage allowance of 45p/mile as broadly representative of the marginal cost of car travel, my annual commute of 2350 miles would cost me £1,047pa. Luckily I can park at both ends of my journey for free!

That leaves the bike. You can fiddle around dividing weekly volume of chain lube by the cost of a replacement bottle (or how long your tyres last) but for the sake of argument, I’ll assume that the whole bike will only last three years before being totally destroyed – even though after a year it’s still looking as good as new! At £750 replacement cost, that’s £250pa (and nobody can really argue this is favouring the bike side of the comparison).

I don’t need special clothes just to ride to work, although I don’t think I could do without clipless SPD shoes (at £60 a pair, let’s pretend these only last a year each – again extremely pessimistic). I did need to buy a D-lock (let’s imagine this only lasts the lifetime of the bike, adding £10pa onto its cost).

So far we’re only up to £320pa for the bike, and that’s with some very pessimistic estimates – you should easily be able to get ten years from a bike with modest replacement of wearing parts after all. (The Inland Revenue approved rate of 20p / mile would work out at £470pa – goodness only knows how pessimistic their estimates are!)

Method Per-annum cost Time-weighted cost
Bicycle £320 1
Driving £1050 3.95
Public transport £576 3.97

 

For the geeks, I added a third column to weight cost by journey time, using cost (£) X (1 / (60 / mins)) and displayed on a relative scale where cycling = 1

For some reason people always seem to bring up food costs as though that’s a significant consideration when cycling to work. Newsflash – over 60% of British adults are obese, and could ride for some years before they had to worry about malnutrition, or eating an extra few pence of pasta each day :) )

bikecost2

Of course, like too many people I also used to maintain a gym membership – although I was never in much danger of overtraining!

At 50 minutes a day, five days a week, my bike has done wonders for my health and I no longer feel that’s remotely necessary – cue a saving of £534pa (Edinburgh Leisure) to £685pa (Virgin Active). Of course, by not having to spend time travelling (driving?) to the gym and then working out, I’m probably saving 90 minutes 2-3 times a week!

Or if you prefer, I’m not saving any extra time over having a gym membership I never use, but I am still getting those four-and-a-bit hours of bike workout instead of being completely sedentary!

To summarise this whole thing, I decided to try and put a cost on my time and factor that into the balance. You may have a better suggestion, but I decided to work out my true hourly wage as a respectable proxy, which currently comes to £13.21. A worthwhile exercise in itself 😉

This yields the following final table:

Method Cost of travel Value, travel time Cost of gym Value, gym time* TOTAL
Bicycle £320 £2476 £0 £0 £2796
Driving £1050 £2972 £534 £2061 £6617
Public Transport £576 £5449 £534 £2061 £8620

* based on three 60 minute gym sessions a week

Including your time cost makes for some pretty startling reading – especially the opportunity cost of the long bus journey! (If anyone wants to comment please go ahead – although it slightly weirds me out, I guess it makes sense that the value of all the free time in my life could be much higher than the amount I earn, and therefore the effective cost of giving up just an hour of it daily does add up fast?)

Anyway, so far it looks like cycling comes out a hefty winner at, effectively, £3821pa saving versus sitting in (and paying for the upkeep of) the car. Even subbing out the gym with another form of free exercise like running would still leave a gulf of £1226pa…

And there you have it. Has anyone else ever tried to work this out for themselves – if so, please drop a comment as I’d be interested to hear your assumptions.

(I used to have a train option on my commute, but at £120pcm that just made it easy to justify buying very expensive bikes!)

6 Comments

  1. Think your final total for public transport is possibly a little unfair :p

    I’ve never understood why some view the ‘get to eat more cake’ aspect as a negative…

  2. Dave

    Good catch! :)

    On the opportunity cost – the table suggests that I should be willing to pay £3k a year for the time savings of getting around by bike vs the bus. I’m not certain of that, in other words my opportunity cost is too high.

    I suppose an alternative way to think about it would be: imagine I had the power to relocate the office closer to home, so I saved an hour every day. Everything would stay the same apart from my salary, which would decrease by £X. According to the table I should be willing to accept £250 less (net of tax) a month. I think that’s probably a little too high – but I’d certainly go for £100 less without hesitating. I wonder where the tipping point is?

    Something to think about.

  3. Rob

    Further traffic…

    Having read up a bit on the ‘true hourly wage’, it decreases as the cost and time of commuting increase. This should reduce your opportunity costs a little with the non-bike options.

    Will try the same exercise this evening. Likely to be pretty depressing, given my commute is 90 mins each way and includes £139/month rail card. Boo, hiss.

  4. Smorgasbord

    You could get to read a book or check your phone on the bus so in the interests of fairness you may want to return some of that time back to the public transport option. It might start to catch up with the car again then.

  5. Dave

    Yeah, that’s a very good point. If you would otherwise spend an hour or more a day reading / on your smartphone then you’re just time-shifting that onto the bus ride, and it wouldn’t be fair to penalise the bus ride for any time-related costs at all.

    More likely, you quite enjoy reading but if you weren’t on the bus you might do something you enjoyed more, so we need to take some kind of (enjoyment of ideal activity minus enjoyment of reading on the bus ) X time on bus calculation..?

  6. John

    Agree with the above – the bus time is not wasted (not necessarily).
    I sometimes commute by train, and often get more work done in those couple of hours than the rest of the day…

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