35 Cents Per Mile

Thirty-Five Cents per Mile

When I discuss transportation options with people invariably the cost comes up, and amazingly train travel is perceived as more expensive than driving a private car, here is one example:

I have a friend that travels from the bay area to Sacramento from time to time to appear in court as an expert witness.  I pointed out that Amtrak has stations within walking distance of the courts in Sacramento and my friends home in the bay area, and as usual one of the first objections was cost. The round trip will cost $60 to $64 and that seemed too expensive to my friend, after all the distance is only about 200 miles round trip. 

My friend reasoned that it would only take a few gallons of gasoline to drive their private car, costing a total of no more than $30 for the round trip. This conclusion is faulty because it fails to recognize the true cost of operating a private vehicle, which must take into account not only the cost of the fuel, but also the capital cost of the vehicle, maintenance, insurance and other direct costs.  There is a benchmark established by government agencies after years of experience used to compensate people for the use of their private cars, planning and tax purposes. This base figure is usually right around .35 cents per mile. 

Using the generally accepted figure of .35 cents per mile, the private car will cost $70 for the 200-mile round trip. Allow another $10 or $12 dollars for parking and it becomes clear the private car will cost more than riding the train!

Next the conversation turned to time. My friend wondered how much longer the train would take, and in this case the trip is 2 hours, about the same as driving. Upon arrival there will be a time penalty to find a place to park the car, which can be a major hassle and expense on a busy day in the city. On the other hand, the train passenger will walk off the train and cross the street to the federal court in Sacramento, or walk a few blocks to the State Capitol. Taxis and buses are waiting at the station for those who need them. So really, the time thing is about the same either way, unless there is a traffic jam on the freeway. 

Studies indicate traffic congestion is increasing. New terminology has entered the English language “gridlock”, ‘road-rage”, “speed trap” “hemi” and others as technology has transformed the private car from a basic transportation tool into a place people spend inordinate amounts of time in. Comfortable seating, automatic climate control and complete entertainment systems all obscure the inconvenience as more and more people accept lifestyles that include substantial amounts of time just getting from here to there. The typical short-term view of consumers refuses to acknowledge the actual cost of their trip, about .35 cents per mile.