Cost per mile

Your transportation costs are best thought of per-mile. Most Americans apparently have a much more vague and forgetful way of looking at it; car payments and gasoline are just a background fact of life.

The Federal Government will refund you 50 or 51 cents on the mile which is a decent approximation. That builds in purchase price, maintenance and fuel. So that 10 mile roundtrip to the grocery store is a $5 cost. But we can go deeper than that.

Giant Freedom Twist Electric Bike

Giant Freedom Twist Electric Bike

Because I was drunk, stupid, or both I bought an electric bike a while ago. The theory was I’d use it because of the crazy hills on the commute from home to work. The reality was the rain was so depressing I rarely used it. Along the way, I kept a spreadsheet.

Recorded costs of electic bike

Recorded costs of electic bike

I got the bike at approximately half-price as it was second hand. From there I recorded all my trips. Right now my cost per mile for the bike is $5. Yes, $5 per mile. I need to ride it another 2,300 miles before it comes close to Federal reimbursement levels. Moving as I have to Colorado, it’s now almost entirely useless. The boost going up hills (and there is only one near me now) doesn’t outweigh the unfortunate speed limit built-in. It tops out at 20mph or so, when I can get up to 35 on my other bikes down hills. This is some safety constraint imposed on electric bikes.

It’s been fun, but it’s not worth $5/mile. I’m mainly using my normal bike now, every day, and will be selling the electric thing.

In contrast, my car (we’ve gone from three cars to one) is currently costing $1.74/mile. This includes again, the purchase price, gas and maintenance but it has a higher error bar since I didn’t keep track of all the costs exactly. Over time this will drop as the purchase price is amortized over the lifetime of the vehicle.

It’s much easier biking to get groceries knowing that I’m saving $10 or $20 of driving costs, rather than thinking of the car as “free”. As the saying goes; a car burns gas and makes you fat, a bike burns fat and saves you money.

Compare and Contrast

United Airlines will fly me from San Francisco to London, and back, tomorrow, for $2,647. At 5,367 miles each way that’s 25 cents a mile with the added benefit of food and speed. If governments didn’t interfere so much, it would cost half as much again (about 50% of the cost is taxation).

So my electric bike costs twenty times what a 777 costs, and my car costs seven times a 777.

If only I could take a 777 to the grocery store.

7 Responses to Cost per mile

  1. Ed Loach August 5, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Your cost per mile seems to include the purchase cost of the bicycle, but not allow for the fact you still have the bicycle you could sell. The act of selling it will bring down the cost per mile dramatically, I’d have thought.

    • Steve August 5, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      Yes, absolutely

  2. Peter Batty August 5, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Interesting … I am planning to do a similar analysis including ownership costs, given the surge in car and bike sharing schemes we’ve seen in downtown Denver. I think the new car2go scheme that has just arrived is especially interesting. Seriously thinking about selling a car and using sharing / rental / other transport as needed.

  3. Ben August 6, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    We passed on a hybrid car for similar per-mile reasons. Needed to drive the car a zillion miles before making up the difference in cost, versus our Golf which is pretty efficient (for a combustion engine).

  4. Chris Fleming August 12, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    I have a Mountain Bike I bought for £500 15 years ago, maintenance and accessories come to less than £150 a year. I estimate that I’ve commuted around 50 000 miles on it.

    This comes out at £0.055 so around 5.5p per mile. What’s nice is that I can claim 20p per mile as expenses.

  5. Daniel Worth August 14, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    Amazing, I ride my bike to work every day and drive a 60 year old vehicle to keep costs, and waste down, also it’s damn cool. The value of my 1954 Ford F-100 is going up and I put less than 1,000 per year on it. My bike it actually 17 years old and, while I haven’t tracked it, it probably has 10,000+ miles on it. I’ll keep riding my old bike as long as I can still buy parts at reasonable prices for it. I have a bike trailer designed for kids that I use for hauling groceries. Also, glad you are back in Colorado, we should meet up for a beer sometime. 🙂

  6. Barnaby September 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    I recently went through the same analysis because I bought an electric car. Just driving it is $0.02 per mile. (TOU rates are $0.09/hwk at night in SF, and that gets me to-and-from work in one charge, 40 miles for $0.90).

    So 2 cents before adding the amortized costs. After bargaining down the dealer $9k, and getting $9k of tax rebates, the $40k car becomes a $22k car. I plan to own it for 10 years, and 150k miles. That’s $0.15 per mile rounded up. Assume some maintenance minus the gain of reselling the car is another $3k (pulling that number out of my ass) so another $0.02 per mile.

    So all told, I will have spent $0.19/mile with with my Chevy Volt. That’s 24% cheaper than your airline flight example. Electric Cars FTW.

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