Half the Fun is Getting There

Guest post by David Lesser – keen cycling enthusiast.

Every day on my way to work I am baffled at the queues of people sitting in their cars.

I’m lucky. Currently I’m blessed with a commute of around a mile, but at various times over the years it’s often been much longer !

I’ve previously used cars, bikes, trains and busses to get to work in the past – both urban and rural, and overall I’d have to say my least favourite method has been by car. Sitting in a car with only a radio or music to break the monotony can quickly get tedious. You tend to become dulled by the experience, and have the same to look forward to at the end of your day.

My favourite commuting  journey was Gloucester to Cirencester by bike. It’s a bit of long way so I only used to do it two or three times a week, but it was really enjoyable. It was off the main roads and I rarely saw more than a couple cars along the whole 22 miles, but I did get to be entertained by birdsong and the various country wildlife. My next favourite journey was Gloucester to Yatton by train, which I mostly spent reading. That period of my life gave me an opportunity to become really well read. It was also surprising how many people I got to talk to on the train, and would even describe as friends when I changed jobs a couple of years later.

So the million dollar question is “why do so many people persist in using their cars for commuting, making their lives more miserable in the process ?” Accepting, of course, that there will be a few people who actually enjoy sitting in traffic in their car!

The obvious starting point is a mix convenience and economics.

Let’s take a look at the economics.

The cost of motoring is high – in the UK petrol is now over £1.35 per litre. A typical newish car could expect to manage around 50 miles per gallon (urban driving), which works out at about 11 miles per litre. Now that we buy our fuel in litres, but still typically consider performance in gallons, it’s become harder to visualise the real fuel costs of motoring.

The statistics say 71% of UK workers commute by car, with the average journey to work being 8.7 miles, and taking 27 minutes – that’s 54 minutes a day, or4.5 hours a week, or nearly nine whole days a year !

Based on these averages, the average cost in fuel to get to work and back each day is around £2.14.

You also have to pay the VED (vehicle tax), insurance and depreciation for your car whether you drive it to work or not. There’s also the cost of servicing and maintenance. 8.7 miles each way per day works out at 3910 miles per year, which equates to approximately ¼ of a set of tyres, ¼ of an annual service.

So an average commute by car costs £2.58 a day, or £12.87 a week, £55.77 a month, or £592.35 a year.

So what are the alternatives ?

Walking might be a bit tricky, as 8.5 miles will probably take the best part of 3 hours each way, a bit much !

In an ideal world taking the bus would make financial sense. Where I live in Gloucester, the cheapest ticket option for a monthly ticket, the ‘Gloucester Megarider’ currently costs £44 – or £2.20 per day, a relatively modest saving of £86.35 per year. A monthly Cheltenham to Gloucester ‘Megarider’ ticket costs £60 – or £3 per day. Admittedly you can use it for other journeys, but travelling by bus gives at best only a marginal saving.

Cycling does more than a bit better economically! Depending on your journey (and your fitness) cycling. 8.7 miles shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes. A reasonable bike suitable for commuting might cost around £200, and you’ll need to throw in some lights etc. But once you’ve got the bike the fuel is free – or at least no more than the cost of your breakfast !

So is cycling to work worth it ?

Of course we all have to weigh-up our options and decide for ourselves, clearly cycling is never going to be an option available to everyone.

But it might be that you’ve never really given much thought to the possibility of cycling to work, instead of using the car, and if so it might be worth a bit more thought ? You might be able to save £500 or more a year (after tax), and you probably won’t need to renew your gym subscription either !

If you’re really lucky, you might be able to do away with your car completely, saving all the tax, insurance and other costs – it’s always possible to hire a car at reasonable rates when needed.

Needless to say the economics of commuting will only ever part of the equation, there’s also the small issues of convenience and sustainability – which will be the subject of my next post.

In the meantime, enjoy your commuting :)

Photo by MonkeyMagnus, via Flickr


  1. Nice article from the Sierra Club in the US – http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/201003/nocar.aspx

  2. We have no car and get everywhere by foot / pushbike / bus / train. This saves us a load of money (did you include parking costs in your car-commuting tally?), imposes a lot of restrictions on our lifestyle, and is only possible because we live in a more built-up area than we would ideally chose, close to both of our places of work. Although environmentally there is no question as to what is better, in practice our current society is so designed around car ownership that the arguments for and against become much more complicated. We need more articles like yours :-)

    • David Lesser says:

      I paid referance to a number of costs that you can avoid with a bicycle commute. They included car parking and gym membership. I didn’t do sums on them as I had no evidence to support the costs. Similarly there are costs associated with cycling that got missed, cycle maintenance for example. I costed on a £200 bike only lasting a couple of years, didn’t consider things that some may consider essential, such as lycra cycling clothes and helmets.
      I intended this as a first article getting over the simple and fact that cycle commuting is much cheaper than commuting by car for the average worker. I wanted to keep the elements simple and un-controversial.
      I intend to follow up with more challenging concepts that will include how we choose to live as far as we do from our places of employment – or do we? Have the forces determining the way we live in our society contrived to force us to live distances from work that make car driving more attractive than the alternatives.

  3. VED is not road tax and hasn’t been since 1937. It is a tax on the motor vevicle – hence its name.

    The direct use of taxes collected from motorists to fund the road network was opposed by Winston Churchill, who predicted “It will be only a step from this for them to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created”. Hypothecation came to an end in 1937 under the 1936 Finance Act, and the proceeds of the vehicle taxes were paid directly into the Exchequer.

    It may sound trivial but when you have been run off the road by ignorant and selfish motorists as many times as I have been it does take on a level of importance.

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