A Car-Less Future?

One thing that every reader should know about me is that I live in the greatest city in the world: Chicago. I worship at the alter of our inland sea. I brag about the heart clogging perfection that is deep dish pizza. I wear my Husband’s Bears jersey with pride. I live on the steps of Wrigley Field.

However, I didn’t grow up here. In fact, I grew up about 90 miles south of the city in a rural farming community of about 250. Cows outnumbered residents, corn harvesting was celebrated, tractors were a practical mean of transportation, and commutes to and from school would be over 60 minutes on a good day.

Yes. 60 minutes.

So, of course I grew up thinking that it was 100% necessary to own your own vehicle (be it tractor, truck, or John Deere Lawnmower) once you reached adulthood or had a full time job.  Even when I ended up in dorm rooms out in the Chicago burbs, I still believed that having a car was a God given right.

Then I moved to the city. My first full year here, I took a shuttle bus to work and paid for parking. Over the last several years and with the purchase of our first “couple” car in 2012, I have forsaken the ample public transportation for the personal vehicle. My only explanation for my reliance on the car is that I am lazy.

I actually enjoy taking the train. I like being able to read a book, turn on my music, and zone out for an hour. I dont even mind the crazies that are a natural part of the true Chicago public transportation experience.

Out of curiosity and the future sake of my wallet, I decided to break down the costs of owning a car vs. commuting. Here’s my conclusions. All are based on my current living situation. *

Time to commute:


Public Transportation (Train)

Distance to parking: >1 minute

Distance to station: 10 minute walk

Distance to work parking: 45 minutes

Distance to work station (from home station): 45 minutes

Distance to work from parking: 10 minutes

Distance to work from work station: 10 minutes

Total time: 56 minutes

Total time: 65 minutes



Public Transportation (Train)

Insurance: $94/ month

Per ride: $2.50 each way or $5 per work day or $115 for October.

Gas: >$120 (September costs)

Reloadable, unlimited ride card: $100/ month

Car payment: $300.14/ month

Upkeep and city parking costs per month: $17.12

Optional work parking (currently do not pay for): $45/month

Total actual costs: $531.26

Total costs: $100

The cost difference is obviously points that the best investment would be to get rid of the car ASAP. HOWEVER, there are some social notes that I must mention. My Husband and I do a lot of transportation of animals as per myvolunteer work. That kind of work requires that I have a car available at all times and for the inevitable emergencies that arise. I also commute to my home town (with my dog to save boarding costs) about once a month. There is a train (about $9 each way) that can get me home, but not having a car in my town basically means that I am at the mercy of my relatives to get me places. Not a good trade off.

Another option we have is to use a car share program like Zip Car. Given that we use my car for non-work related purposes for about 3 hours a week or 15 hours per month, my best bet would be to purchase the $125/month plan which includes gas, insurance, 180 miles per day, and 17 hours of prepaid driving. After that 17 hours, it costs $7.43 per hour. If we continued to make a trip to my hometown once per month, the cost to rent a car per day (and usually we stay about 36 hours per visit) is $66.60 or $133.20 for roughly two full days of rental.

Total for Zip Car membership + CTA unlimited pass: $358.20.

Now the difference between owning a car and public transportation is $173.06.

There are some more pros and cons of car ownership in the city that I should include:

+ Easy access to the car. When I have groceries or large bags, I do not have to drop my car off and schlep my item to my house or drop my items off, drop my car off, and then walk home.
+ Ability to store frequently used items for my volunteer work in the car (seriously, my car has about 20 leashes, a bag of dog food, a metal crate, dog beds, dog bowls, and an endless supply of treats at all times).
+ Opportunity to travel on a whim without having to hunt down a car or find a parking depot for a rental car.
– Hit to my credit by having a car on lease (next time, we’ll buy with cash instead of a loan or lease)
– Unpredictable costs, including depreciation.
– Daily parking costs in the city when we have to park on main streets
– Environmental impact

Conclusion: While using public transportation and car share would be doable for our lifestyle and would save us money in the long run, the car gives us a freedom that we currently do not want to part with. In the long run, we will consider changing to the more sustainable lifestyle, but for now, we’ll stick with the car.

*I should note that I work in the suburbs making my commute and amount of gas used a bit more than normal Chicagoans who both live and work in the city.

2 thoughts on “A Car-Less Future?

    • We were just in Paris and were amazed at how efficiently laid out their metro/RER system was. It’s more expensive than it is here in Chicago, but the stops were set up better than it is in Chicago where stations are either bunched up together or miles apart.

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