Week 3 Update: The Real Cost of a Trip?


Week three is just about in the books, and it’s been quite a project logging all of these trips. Also fascinating is that if I don’t make notes as I go, it’s very challenging to go back and piece together what I did in a day or where I went. The memory of moving from place to place and how I spent my day vanishes so quickly. Do you remember what you did on Tuesday? I do, but only because I have my debit card transactions and Google calendar to remind me.

Sticking with the philosophical, here are a handful of questions that have emerged since kicking this off:

What is the real cost of renting a car?

One day last week I had several meetings and needed to transport some large items from home to my new office. The scooter also had to go in for a quick repair, and it was supposed to rain. So, I decided to combine and conquer by renting a car for a day. Bad choice. On top of the inconvenience of getting out to the airport and back and forth downriver to the repair shop, this made for a real mess of my transportation spend for the week. Needing to track all of this data left me wondering — what is the right way to talk about the cost of a car trip?

I had a one-day rental, drove just over 50 miles, and was in the car for a total of 94 minutes. So, is my cost:

  • $89.93 to rent a car for a day…?
  • $3.74 per hour…?
  • $57.34 per hour used…?
  • $1.79 per mile…?

It’s any of these and all of these, plus what I spent to get to and from the airport rental center. Yet, it is what I choose as a comparison that matters in the complex calculus of a “best choice.” For the trips where a car was actually needed due to timing, transporting items, or destination, I could have substituted in ride hailing at my current average of $1.46 per mile. Car sharing could have saved me $15, but there are only locations close to home not where I needed to start my trip. Had I owned a car, this one day would have cost me only $37.90 at the current AAA average cost of $0.758 per mile. But that car would have been sitting idle, depreciating in a parking lot the rest of the time.

Perspective is everything, and there is no clear answer.

Carpooling vs “riding with a friend”?

Thanks to everyone for the feedback and hallway debates on this one. You guys are right that these are very different. While I am still on the lookout for a carpool buddy as a true commute option, I agree those rides shouldn’t be counted as free. I’ll be tracking whatever I end up kicking in for gas or as an agreed-upon share.

But what about those rides with friends? Should I be chipping in for something there? My sense is that this will remain informal, along the lines of a “let me buy you a coffee” or “lunch is on me” kind of compensation. In three weeks, with the exception of a work colleague for meetings, I’ve yet to grab a ride from the same person twice.

Commuting or just getting around?

I’m tracking it all and will continue to try make the distinction clear when talking about one or the other. The reality is that these often blend together as I run an errand after work or grab coffee with a friend before starting my day. What can be stated with certainty, is that my total travel behavior has been significantly altered by the new job and hence the new commute.



As I continue to track, I find that I want to keep adding bits of info to the log. What was the weather like at the time? (Running from the parking lot to a meeting in a downpour made me grumpy. A ride hailing driver would have dropped me at the door.) How did I feel on that trip? (It was surprising to be on the bus with another woman who also had her bicycle.) How much stuff was I carrying? (Transporting a bag full of purchases home on my scooter was a new experience.)

Photo credit: Don Buciak II

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