How Much Money Can You Save on Gas by Riding the Bus?

This is a javascript calculator that will estimate if taking a bus will cost less than what you pay in gasoline. Surprisingly, for short commutes, commuting by car is cheaper than getting a bus pass. (Calculator is on the full article.) You can get prices at Gas Buddy.

How Much Can You Save on Gas by Riding the Bus?

Fill out this form with our information, and a report will appear below.

Cost of gasolline, per gallon dollars
Your car's highway MPG mpg
How long does it take to drive to and from work, in minutes? Total of the commute time in both directions. minutes
The cost of a monthly bus pas that gets you to work dollars

Your Report

Your cost to drive to work is approximately $ per day.  If you take the bus, you will break even on the cost of a bus pass at days.  If you ride the bus to work 20 days a month, you will save dollars each month.  (This is the savings after the pass' cost is recovered. A negative value indicates that driving is cheaper than a bus pass.)

This report is calculated by making the assumption that your highway mpg converts to your car's "gallons burned per hour".  If you get 55mpg, then you will burn through 1 gallon per hour if you drive at 55 mph.  If you get 27.5 mpg, then you will burn through 2 gallons per hour if you drive at 55 mph. This is not wholly accurate, but it accounts for the effects of start-and-stop driving common during urban rush-hour.  This effect is negated in hybrid cars with regenerative braking, which get better mileage in the city than regular cars with brake pads.  So this calculator doesn't work for hybrid electric cars. It also doesn't account for attempts at hypermiling.

The decision to use the bus and train depends a lot on the length of the commute, because the commute time will typically be doubled. A 10 minute commute becomes a 20 minute one (or even longer). That's not a big deal. Often, a 1 hour commute becomes a 2 hour commute. I'm not sure why that is, but it seems to work out that way. Adding an hour to the commute is very different from adding another 10 or 20 minutes. It's more expensive, in a way, because the impact of 10 minutes on your overall schedule is small. The impact of an extra hour is pretty big. And adding two hours is significant, and is a good argument against using a bus.

However, this extra time can be offset if you can use the bus-time or train-time to read or do work, or other things which you can't do while driving. (During commutes to USC games, some commuters drink alcohol.) Another argument in favor of riding the bus is that brisk walking for 10 or 20 minutes contributes to good health. There are also opportunities that open up once you have a bus pass: once you've recovered the cost by using it enough to break even, the bus pass is a way to avoid parking fees, downtown traffic, and even long walks (for example, instead of walking 5 blocks, you just get on an approaching bus or train, and it's free).

The cost of parking is severely undercounted. If you hunt for a space for 15 minutes, you're going to burn up around half a gallon of gasoline to move 0 miles. So it's sometimes worth it to just pay - but in some areas, the price of parking is high. In downtown LA the meters are $3 or $4 an hour, and lots are the same or more. If you bus or train it, you can park in a residential or industrial area, or a distant discount lot, and ride in on the bus.