By Hequals2henry via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0
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The Average Yearly Cost of a Houston Commute? $6,000!

Are you fed up with sitting in Houston traffic? You may be surprised to learn that average downtown worker’s commute may cost about $6,000 per year, based on Houston’s average gas prices, Houstonians’ average commuting distance and national fuel efficiency figures.

Thankfully, our total commute cost depends on a number of factors, many of which are within our control. The following guide can help you calculate your commute’s actual price tag, and help you identify where to trim the cost.

What’s Your Commute Cost?

Commute calculators, such as those found at Metro’s website and CommuteInfo.org, rely on similar calculations to help estimate the cost of your commute. As described below, publicly available Houston averages went into calculating the $6,000 figure, but your total may differ, based on your particular commute conditions. Among the factors you’ll need to identify before embarking on your calculation are:

  • Gas Price – The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas is currently about $3.37 in the Houston area, according to HoustonGasPrices.com. Their nifty interactive map shows the current median gas price paid by ZIP code, enabling you to shop around for cheaper fuel. 
  • Fuel Efficiency – How many miles does your vehicle get per gallon? Most car makers publish this information on their websites, but if you can’t locate your exact miles per gallon number, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics notes that the average passenger vehicle got about 23.8 miles per gallon as of 2012. If you’re shopping for a new vehicle, Fueleconomy.gov can help you compare car options by fuel efficiency. (Newer vehicles tend to have better mileage; according to fueleconomy.gov, the average 2012 model car clocks an impressive 35.6 mpg, thanks in part to stricter fuel efficiency standards.) 
  • Distance Driven – How many miles do you drive each way to work? The Central Houston Bureau noted that as of 2009, the average downtown worker commutes 21 miles each way – that’s a whopping 42 miles per work day! Despite this lengthy distance, their study also notes that over half of downtown commuters use some method other than driving alone – such as carpooling, biking or bus/light rail.
  • Parking Costs – Do you pay for parking? Don’t forget to add that to your calculations.

Other factors, such as vehicle depreciation and repair costs, may also be taken into account, but most commute calculators will automatically provide you a rough estimate of these.

Using these average figures and CommuteInfo.org’s tool, I calculated that a worker commuting five days per week to work would spend almost $6,000 per year (assuming gas stays around our current $3.39 Houston average) — and that’s without any parking costs!

Houston drivers face the nation’s sixth longest commute, and it has implications for our pocketbooks, too, according to the TAMU Transportation Institute. The study notes that the average Houstonian wastes about 23 gallons of gas – or nearly $1,100 per year – just by sitting in traffic.

Change Your Commute

You can avoid some of the traffic by consulting the wealth of real-time commute information at HoustonTranstar.org. Their real-time traffic speed, road closure, highway accident, and even rail line congestion information can help you plot the most time- and cost-sensitive route to work.

Public transportation, such as Metro buses, carpooling or light rail, is an alternative to sitting behind the wheel. But there’s another option which you might have not yet considered: The City of Houston has recently stepped-up efforts to improve biking options within the urban core. Among these is the Urban Bikeways program, which designates over 80 miles of bike-only lanes and trails – including many designed specifically for commuters in the Central Business District. The program also offers free rider safety training and social events worth checking out.

If you don’t own a bike – or only bike occasionally – consider the city’s new Houston B-Cycle initiative. It’s a thoughtful bike-sharing program which enables you to pick up a public bike at one of several area locations, and later drop it off once your ride is complete. And unlike a driving commute on a congested freeway, the last time we checked, Houston bike lanes were still clear and moving smoothly.

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