Chart of the Day: Costs per Passenger-Mile of Different Modes

Via Planetizen, here’s a fascinating chart showing the “total cost” of travel according to different modes. While I’m skeptical about the ability to commensurably compare time with money, that’s basically what this tries to do.

Here’s driving vs. walking vs. bicycling:

time cost mode share chart

The article, by the indispensable Todd Litman, makes the following argument..

Of course, these costs vary depending on preferences and conditions: some people spend more on their bikes and shoes than required for functional purposes; some cyclists and pedestrians are safer or faster than others; and because travel time is such a large portion of active mode travel costs, their total costs are highly affected by the value users assign this time. As a result, using these modes is costly for people who dislike walking and cycling, but inexpensive if people enjoy these activities or appreciate their health benefits, so active travel substitutes for special time that must be spent exercising. As a result, under favorable conditions, walking and cycling can be very cost effective.

One of the reasons why I enjoy walking and bicycling is because of this extra time involved in traveling. For me, it’s time well spent, and allows me to relax, exercise, experience my city in new ways, and contemplate my day.

I guess the key takeway is that bicycling and walking involve a fundamental lifestyle change around how you use your time.

8 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Costs per Passenger-Mile of Different Modes

  1. Emily Metcalfe

    I have thought a lot about this time issue. For people with a full time job and then places to go in the evening, it can be hard to find the time to (literally) run to the store. I am a full time parent, so I have time to walk places (with my kids) several times a week, rather than make 1 big trip to Target on the weekend. The time for me is well spent, since I don’t have time to go to the gym (without my kids).

  2. Michael Bischoff

    Unfortunately, such a chart can only generalize and probably isn’t reflective of any specific city or area in the country. For example, if you live on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, driving a car is even less cost-effective due to higher associated costs of vehicle ownership, registration fees, safety checks, and fuel costs. However, the biggest change in that bar would be in travel time, which would be much, much higher due to the horrific traffic in Honolulu. I live in Honolulu and want none of that. All of that adds up to me riding my bicycle basically for everything.

    I do wonder how different this graph might look between different urban/suburban/rural areas.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Terrific point! These charts change radically depending on the urban land use context, and I’d wager that there’s sort of a ‘phase transition” at some point where the time relationship hits a tipping point in many urban (congested) areas.

      1. Nathanael

        Yeah, this varies *wildly* by location. I think there is a “phase transition” from low-density to high-density, possibly several phase transitions.

        At some point an area is too dense for cars to make sense; bikes and walking make sense, but what makes more sense is frequent, exclusive-lane buses. At some point it’s too dense for the buses to work, and you should put in trains. An area may become too dense for bikes to work at some point as well, at which point walking becomes primary (or secondary to trains). It is possible though extremely rare for an area be too dense for trains, at which point elevators and escalators become the primary means of faster-than-walking travel (because to get that dense you have to have a lot of very tall buildings).

        The political problems actually come with people attempting to travel *across* the phase transition.

        People in NY know that you don’t drive there, because that’s dumb. People in many of the suburbs know that you take the train into the city, rather than driving. People a bit further out, in drive-all-the-time-land, make the mistake of driving into the city and then get mad that the city doesn’t make it easy to drive. Oy. They do have a sort of a point, which is why park-and-rides were invented.

        Methods to deal with the phase transition include parking garages (get out and walk from there), park-and-rides (get out of your car and onto a train or bus), bike-share / bike rental at park-and-rides (get out of your car and ride a bike) and at train stations, bike racks on buses and trains, bike lockers at train stations, rental cars at outlying train stations (get off the train and into a car), taxis, and so on.

  3. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Bill: in the walking column, stripe immediately beneath travel time, is that “barrier effect,” and what is “barrier effect?”

    1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

      From the linked article:

      “Barrier effect is delays, discomfort and lack of access
      that vehicle traffic imposes on non-motorized modes (pedestrians and cyclists)…The
      barrier effect is equivalent to traffic congestion costs (most traffic congestion cost
      estimates exclude impacts on non-motorized travel). In addition to travel delays, vehicle traffic imposes crash risk and pollution on non-motorized travelers. The barrier effect reflects a degradation of the non-motorized travel environment.”

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