Aside from losing weight, another big reason I got back on my bicycle a few years ago was to save money. It wasn’t that I was broke or couldn’t afford a car. It was more along the lines of understanding the true cost of motoring and making the conscious decision not to pay it any longer. It’s okay with me if you consider it a small act of civil disobedience…my way of sticking it to the man.
If I were to get 100 of my fellow Americans together, town-hall style, and ask them to quantify the actual cost of motoring I’d be very surprised if more than a few of them even came close. The system is designed to hide costs and it works remarkably well.
Take roads, for example. Many motorists believe that the gas tax provides enough revenue to pay for the roads they drive on. It doesn’t…not even close. Wasteful development patterns exacerbate the problem. There’s this popular misconception that states expropriate gas tax revenues to pay for social programs, but in reality more money is moved out of the general fund to pay for roads than the other way around.
Over the last few years, the price of oil has come down dramatically. Such is the nature of oil and gas. It’s a commodity and like all commodities it goes through wild price fluctuations. The last price fluctuation was down. The next fluctuation will be up. It may be shock and awe.
A big part of the problem with oil and gas is that supply is always vulnerable to geopolitical risk. In round numbers, motorists in the United States use just under ten million barrels of oil per day. Approximately 4.5 million of that is home grown. Two million additional comes from Canada and Mexico. The rest (3.5 million barrels each and every day) comes from other parts of the world, many with hostile actors. US troops and bases are required to protect those supply lines. In fact, much of our defense budget (approximately $1 trillion/year) is spent on protection relating to the supply of minerals required to sustain our way of life….minerals like oil and gas.
Cars exact a horrible price on our environment as well. We spend billions of dollars per year trying to reverse the damage our automobiles do to the air and water. Thirty thousand of us will die in car crashes this year. The healthcare costs associated with this carnage never make it into the equation but they’re very real. So are the social costs. Cars destroy neighborhoods and this contributes to crime and a breakdown in social cohesion. There are costs here, too.
Then there’s out of pocket cost. Most people don’t know that it costs close to $9,000 per year to own and operate a motor vehicle. Most of this is in the form of drip, drip, drip torture. You pay $30 for a tank of gas, $40 for an oil change, $100 for a new battery and so on. It all adds up.
I didn’t know all of this when I started cycling. Now I do. It’s a heavy burden to carry because once you know this you are confronted with a simple reality. Am I part of the solution or am I part of the problem? For me (and for you, too, I suspect) it’s an easy choice. The simple truth is that every time we reach for our bicycle helmets instead of our car keys, we make a huge difference in our communities and our world.