Alternatives to Car Ownership

After spending some time here in Berlin, I’m wondering why Americans don’t walk or ride bikes more. Why are we so addicted to our cars? I’ve been without a car now for two months and I’m really enjoying it. Everyday I load up a small computer backpack and walk to a coffee shop about a half mile from my flat. In the afternoons I often carry a bike down from the second story apartment to ride it several miles to Berlin’s Tiergarten or other places within a five mile radius of where I live. For late night activities I typically use Berlin’s local public transportation which is a combination of trams, trains, and buses.

Cost of Car Ownership: $666 a month

Until selling my car I think I never realized how much it was costing me and what I could do with that same money–at this point I believe owning a car is really expensive. I did some research and found the government has already figured out how much the average American spends to own a car. The total figure comes in at $8,003 per year. That’s $3,421 in car payments, $2,227 in gas/oil, and $2,335 in other ownership costs like insurance, maintenance, and license fees. This breaks down to about $666 per month and there are a lot of things I’d rather do with $666 a month (like travel and see the world).

Cost of Bike Ownership: under $8 a month

Assuming you pay cash for a bike, your cost of bike ownership comes down to maintenance. I’m really scratching my head trying to figure out what the monthly expense of owning a bike really might be. I’m guessing you might want to have a bike tuneup once a year and maybe repair one or two flat tires. If that is the case, the tuneup would be about $70 and if you repair your own flat tires, about another $20 in repair costs. Let’s round that up to $100 a year which comes out at about $8 a month.

How to spend $640 a Month

I think most of us would enjoy having an extra $650 a month. For me, I’m using this money to travel. A one way ticket from Boston to Germany with Icelandic Express is $230 or round trip for $560. So, for this kind of money you could by a round trip ticket to Europe and still have almost $100 to spare (a youth hostel is about $20 a night). While here in Europe, my room in Berlin costs me $420 a month. I’m guessing I could almost live on $640 if I wanted to cook my own food or eat Turkish-German Döner Kabups (a $3 meal).

Pros-Cons of Cars vs Bikes

There are lots of arguments for and against bikes or cars.

Car Pros:

  • Easy to carry multiple passengers
  • Easy to carry groceries or shopping purchases
  • Better for snow, poor road conditions, or bad weather (wind or rain)
  • Safer
  • Better for long distance travel
  • Privacy

Car Cons:

  • Cost
  • Parking
  • Pollution (carbon footprint larger even for electric cars)
  • No exercise
  • Lower connection with nature
  • Safety (some might argue a bike is safer than a car)

Bike Pros:

  • Much lower cost
  • Exercise
  • Might encourage lower spending in buying un-needed purchases
  • Storage/parking

Bike Cons:

  • Long distance travel (certainly a bike can go long distances, it just takes longer)
  • Transporting purchases and groceries (again, this could be a good thing to limit purchases)
  • Transporting passengers (Europeans would argue this point that adults each would have a bike and children ride in special cargo boxes or seats on specialized bikes common in Europe)
  • Not usable in snow or poor weather conditions (this might be the ultimate deal-breaker for places with heavy snow, rain or excessive heat).
  • Bike storage (I don’t believe this is a valid excuse; in my Berlin flat are three German ladies from early 20s to early 40s and each carries a bike up two flights of stairs to store it in their bedroom… if they can do this, most Americans can too!)

1 comment

  1. It would be nice to not be so dependent upon an automobile so enjoy it while you can. There are several dynamics at work in this issue and I can’t wait to talk with you in October.


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