Public transport vs cars: how much is it costing Australians every year?

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If you live in or near one of Australia’s capital cities, you’ve probably participated in the long-standing debate about public transport versus cars. For those who can’t afford to buy a car, public transport is probably the only option for getting around town. Those who can, likely stand firm on one side of the discussion or the other.

There are many studies on the topic, most conducted by transport organisations favouring trains and buses as the cheaper method of travel. In terms of pure cash outlay, that’s probably true. However, there are many other considerations when it comes to deciding whether you’re going to become a regular car user or one of the masses heading to work on buses and trains.

Costs and benefits of having a car:

The “cost” of running a car can be both monetary and lifestyle-related. The use of raw materials and the impact of pollutants on the environment are two of the biggest lifestyle costs of running a car day-to-day. And depending on where you live, monetary costs can be as high as $22,000 per year and can include:

Financing
Car Insurance
License and Rego
Roadside Assistance
Petrol
Maintenance
Tolls
Parking
Washing, detailing and paint protection

On the flip side, there are plenty of benefits to owning a car. Cars allow you to have the freedom to come and go as you like without the constraints of a bus or train schedule. Parents would probably find it more convenient to do the school pick-ups and drop-offs by car. And large families might find it beneficial to have access to a car for the weekly shop. While many Australian capital cities struggle with traffic congestion on the roads, travelling by car could also mean a shorter trip because you don’t have to wait for connections or late buses and trains.

“Despite a high cost of entry, car ownership is better for your finances in the long run,” says Savvy Motorbike Loans CEO Bill Tsouvalas. “When you take public transport, you are essentially renting a place on a bus or a train. That’s money you can never get back. At the end of five years, you have paid off an asset that can last you for many years – decades even – if you maintain it properly.”

Costs and benefits of public transport:

While public transport costs vary from city to city, there’s no denying that in simple terms, the monetary cost of getting from home to work by bus or train is probably cheaper than using your car. But if you don’t own a car at all, there are hidden costs that most people don’t consider. Taxi fares when public transport doesn’t take you where you need to go, or when the trains or buses stop running late at night, can be pretty hefty. More importantly, there is the cost of time away from home and family, due to a lengthy commute involving multiple transfers or long waits.

When it works well, however, the benefits of public transport are quite significant. Commuters can cut their yearly costs almost in half by not owning or using a car regularly. The impact on the environment of fewer vehicles on the road is well-documented. Best of all, in cases where the commute to work is a long one, there’s an opportunity to wind down and listen to music, read, or have a power nap.

The compromise

With pros and cons to both methods of transport, the solution may be to find a balance that works best for you, your finances and the environment. Hopping on a train or a bus for the regular trip to work and having access to an affordable, efficient car for times when public transport doesn’t meet your needs might be a good compromise.

On the other hand, if you really want to be cost-effective and kind to the environment, you could always invest in a bike that uses pedal power and costs comparably less to run. Sites like Gumtree can help you find the perfect car or bike to give you transport options no matter what your situation.


This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. There’s one very significant compromise transport option you don’t mention, but one that’s well understood and embraced on the Continent, especially in Italy. Powered Two Wheelers (PTWs) – namely scooters and motorcycles. Many Italians own cars but choose a scooter for their daily commute. This confers the benefits you suggest in your article, but with the added benefit of speedier, convenient travel at minimal cost (parking is free and well catered for and running costs cheap). PTW transport also eliminates the rigors of cycling (especially in the summer heat) and in Australia, the safety hazards of being pedal-powered in a motoring culture intolerant of cyclists. Gumtree also sells PTWs.

  2. Except it’s not cheaper to ride public transport in Perth in most cases… If you have free parking where you’re going and you drive a decently fuel economic car you’ll be laughing at the standard adult fare.

  3. Combining a folding bicycle with either public transport or a car is another option. A folding bicycle folds to the size of a suitcase and can be used at both ends of a public transport trip or to cover the last kilometre from where a car driver can find free untimed parking.

    Of course a cyclist has the advantage of “film star” parking – right outside the front door of the destination.

  4. Public transport is good. But in the case of Adelaide we have had Governments that don’t want it and made it hard to use, especially in the 1980’s. But, things have improved a little now, it depends on who’s electorate you are in.

    If you have to change from a bus to a train well many buses don’t link with he trains – Salisbury is a good example + Pedestrian access from the platforms is very poor there. There is very little co-ordination owing to different bus routes being owned by different companys.

    Public transport will always be costly to run, but a service needs to be provided.

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