Americans love their cars. Many rites of passage in our society revolve around automobiles, and road trips often make for memorable vacations. However, some people may find that they cannot afford a vehicle, or live in an area in which it is not practical to own one. Alternatives such as bicycles or public transportation are available. For anyone on the fence, weighing the pros and cons of buying an automobile versus relying on public transportation can help you make a decision.
Cars offer a number of advantages. First, using a personal vehicle can cut the travel time for a morning commute by half. The travel time saved can translate to more time spent with your family, or doing something you enjoy. That extra time can also mean opportunity costs. This is particularly important for hourly wage earners who must arrive to work on time. Alternatively, buses and subways are often running late, or are crowded. Vehicles are becoming more economical and fuel-efficient. Manufacturers are taking advantage of engine technology to make more powerful cars without adding weight, which leads to greater fuel efficiency. Smaller cars are also gaining in popularity. Finally, in many cities, the cost of owning a car, including insurance payments and fuel, is cheaper than paying for public transportation.
There are also benefits to taking public transportation. For people with a long commute, a bus or subway ride means that you can read a book, listen to a podcast, or have a conversation with a fellow passenger. Commuters can arrive at the office relatively relaxed because they can avoid all the headaches associated with driving. Traffic jams, road rage incidents, and parking nightmares can make for a stressful start to the day. Bus passengers can avoid these hassles. Additionally, public transportation might also be a good option for commuters with environmental concerns. According to the American Public Transportation Association, using public transportation reduces the country’s carbon emissions by 37 metric tons annually. Congestion is also greatly reduced by public transportation. In 2011, congestion costs would have risen from $121 billion to $142 billion in 498 urban areas without this option.
If you prefer to use cars but cannot afford one, or have only an occasional need for a vehicle, a car sharing service may be a good compromise. Customers can rent a vehicle for a short period of time, usually by the hour. Typically, these services require customers to sign up as members. That way, the service can check your driving history, background, and verify payment. These services are a good option for people who want to take a trip, who need a car to move a large item, or to make a large grocery run. They differ from traditional rental agencies because the service is not limited by office hours, all aspects of the transaction are self-service, and the vehicles can be rented over a period of hours, rather than days.
As vehicle technology improves and cities improve their services, the debate between these two alternatives will likely continue. Fortunately, commuters will not soon run out of options.