All the Ways Your Commute Costs You (and Not Just Financially)
Though scores of Americans are no longer commuting in the wake of COVID-19, that reality will not last forever. Even though some companies have announced that remote work will be permanent, many others have already called upon employees to return to the office or have made it clear that they will be doing so in 2022—meaning that eventually, you will be commuting again. Sigh.
For those who may have forgotten (aka blocked it out of your mind), there are both financial and health costs associated with commuting that you'll want to be prepared for—and perhaps devise a plan to counteract. Here's a closer look at those costs.
The Rideshare Company, a non-profit organization focused not only on making it easier for people to get to and from work but also on saving them money, has helpfully developed a commute cost calculator. As the organization notes, most commuters underestimate what they're really spending on driving alone to work each day.
"The cost of driving alone to work is an expensive game," says Nanci Fitzgerald, CEO of The Rideshare Company. "Most people don't realize all of the costs that go into their stressful commute; their stress would level up if they did. Gas is the main item people think of when trying to determine their commute costs. That's only the tip of the (pre-climate change) iceberg."
Here are the commute-related cost factors that Rideshare uses, (data that you should gather for your own commute), in order to calculate the true monthly financial cost of your drive back and forth to work.
Distance (Your total daily round-trip commute distance)
0 to 100 miles
Vehicle mileage (Your vehicles miles per gallon)
8 - 70 miles per gallon
Price of gas (How much you pay per gallon)
$1 to $7
Parking and tolls (Cost per day)
$0 to $50 per day
Wear and tear (Depreciation, tires, and maintenance, based on the round-trip distance of your commute and the type of car you drive)
Electric/hybrid - about $0.12 per mile
Commute days (The total number of days per month that you commute)
In addition to the considerations outlined in the table above, there are some "hidden" costs associated with your commute, says Fitzgerald.
"These include vehicle insurance," explains Fitzgerald. "Most insurance companies will discount your rate if you're not using your vehicle for commuting." There are also costs associated with vehicle damage (that may be slightly harder to quantify) in the form of all those extra dings and dents your vehicle might get from parking in a parking lot at work.
The money you're spending is merely one of the ways your commute costs you. Keck Medicine of USC outlined a variety of health costs that commuters face. These include increased stress and poorer cardiovascular health due to greater pollution exposure. In addition, those who spend a significant amount of time commuting (perhaps greater than an hour) are likely to have far less time to exercise. Experts at Keck say that can have serious implications, as more significant commutes are associated with being less physically active and less physically fit.
"One recent study found that individuals with a 30-mile round-trip commute had an increased tendency to be obese, with an unhealthy waist measurement," says Helga Van Herle, MD, MS, a cardiologist at Keck Medicine of USC, and an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. "Increased waist measurement in both men and women can be associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and stroke. In this study, even a round-trip commute of 20 miles was associated with higher blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke."
So what to do about all the negative health impacts associated with that grueling drive?
When it comes to heart health challenges, Van Herle suggests it's a good idea to try and control other aspects of your life that can help decrease your risk of heart disease. This effort might include implementing a heart-healthy diet (think: fresh fruit and vegetables), as well as lowering sodium, trans fat, and saturated fat intake.
Yet another suggestion from Van Herle: Be sure to get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week.
Ridesharing is another way to address some of the health impacts, says Fitzgerald, of Ride Share.
"Studies have shown that ridesharing by public transit, vanpooling, or carpooling can reduce stress," Fitzgerald explains. "It has also been shown that taking public transit adds health benefits. Walking to and from the station regularly helps to lose weight and lower blood pressure."
"Employers have also noted that employees who rideshare generally take fewer sick days and arrive at work in a better frame of mind and ready to tackle the day," adds Fitzgerald.
In addition to actively addressing the health challenges associated with commuting, you can also tackle some of the financial costs. For instance, opting to ride-share instead of driving solo is often much easier on your wallet.
"Carpoolers and van poolers can often get reduced rates on toll passes or subsidized passes," says Fitzgerald.
If your company offers the Commuter Choice pre-tax benefit program, you can also receive up to $270 a month in pre-tax deductions for commuting costs. The pre-tax commuter benefit allows employees to have the monthly cost of their commute deducted from pay before taxes, which ultimately means more take-home pay.
As an added bonus to saving yourself money, ridesharing is also better for the planet as we face increasingly threatening challenges associated with climate change. Fewer cars on the road mean decreased emissions.
Or, in yet an even bolder move to save the planet and cut your commute costs, you could purchase an electric vehicle, thus eliminating fossil fuel spending (and their harmful emissions) altogether—not to mention doing away entirely with the oil change costs associated with a traditional vehicle.
Short of that, you might at least switch to a smaller vehicle, if you drive a particularly large car that's a gas guzzler.
"The rising price of gas absolutely adds significant costs to one's daily commute," says financial analyst, Erica Seppala, of Merchant Maverick. "According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average retail price of gasoline was $3.255 per gallon in August 2021, up from $2.272 per gallon one year prior. On average, a smaller vehicle has a 12-gallon fuel tank. Think about it this way: In August 2021, the cost of filling this tank would be over $39 compared to just over $27 in August 2020—a whopping $12 difference."