Your Commute Is Killing You

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — My morning commute is less than one minute, from the kitchen coffee maker to my upstairs home office. In less indulgent times, I've suffered through one hour-plus commutes – one way. Those of you living in the most traffic-congested cities in America know the routine. Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, New York-Newark and Boston are the worst, according to the Urban Mobility Report published by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle are the runners-up.

Nearly one-third of New York City's 4 million workers travel at least an hour to get to their jobs, according to the 2011 U.S. Census.

My two and half hour daily commute was on a 70 mile per hour Interstate. At least you feel like you're getting somewhere. Most Americans slog through slow traffic, spending an extra $818 a year in wasted fuel and other costs of congestion, according to TTI. Not to mention the price we pay in lives lost and money spent on the wrecks caused by your putting-on-makeup, reading the sports section and texting fellow commuters.

To really drive home the point, you can calculate the financial cost and emissions impact of your very own commute by using this calculator developed by Stanford University. It even takes into consideration the cost of gas, parking, and tolls you pay for that daily drive.

AAA estimates that when all the hidden costs of driving are taken into consideration — including routine maintenance and repair, insurance, licensing, registration, taxes and depreciation — it costs an average of 59.6 cents per mile to operate your vehicle.

But, here's the thing. You don't have to do it.

Pete, who refuses to give his last name, has gained notoriety as the frugal retired-in-his-early-30s blogger known as "Mr. Money Mustache." He lives in Longmont, Colo and has done his own calculations on the cost of commuting. And all of that "ciphering" led to a drastic decision: he and his wife would move close enough to his job that he could bike to work. Yes, ride a bicycle to work. Every day.

"It is ridiculous to commute by car to work if you realize how expensive it is to drive, and if you value your time at anything close to what you get paid," Pete writes on his blog. "I did these calculations long before getting my first job, and because of them I have never been willing to live anywhere that required me to drive myself to work. It's just too expensive, and there is always another option when choosing a job and a house if you make it a priority."

Pete says young adults should forget financing a big fancy car, find a job that's close to their home – in the town of their dreams – and then they may find something wonderful will happen to them, as it did to him.

"Making that easy choice is probably the biggest single boost that will get the average person from poverty to financial independence over a reasonable period of time," Pete writes. "I would say that biking more and driving less was the trigger in my own life that started a chain reaction of savings and happy lifestyle changes that led my wife and I to retirement in our early 30s."

So, if you haven't ridden a bicycle since they had banana seats and hi-rise handlebars, you might want to saddle up and put on your skid lid. Life is waiting.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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