How Much Money Can You Save By Using Public Transportation?

In the U.S., transportation is the second biggest household expense, after housing. In 2020, many of us saved a lot of time and gas money not commuting to the office.

However, when the general population does finally get to readjust to working in an office, many people may want to reevaluate their commutes. Transportation is one of the costliest parts of any budget.

On average, you can expect to save around $10,000 a year riding public transportation instead of owning and driving a car. The actual savings will depend on what public transportation is available near you and how far you need to travel.

Source: American Public Transport Association

Public transit cost about $2 to $7 one way, and a monthly pass ranges from $20 to $122 for unlimited rides. On the other hand, driving costs an average of $800 a month.

The average cost of public transport in the U.S. is $2,000 to $3,000 a year while the average costing of driving is $9,561 a year. Driving is much more expensive because you incur maintenance, insurance, and depreciation costs in addition to gas.

Americans average a 30-minute commute to work both ways. That’s almost five hours a week, and 20 hours a month. The cost of that can add up quickly. And with the volatile economy after the pandemic, it is a good idea to cut expenses and save more for a rainy day.

It is generally cheaper to use public transportation than drive. Public transportation also usually only charges you when you use it, and you don’t have to pay for maintenance, insurance or repairs.

Some employers also provide public transportation passes or vouchers for employees so it may be free for you to use public transportation. Additionally, some cities offer free transportation within certain city limits.

Some cities with free public transportation deals include:

  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Olympia, Washington

Additionally, several others like Los Angeles, Denver and Boston are considering free public transportation.

Public Transportation Pros & Cons

Sun at top down traffic cross road aerial. Urban transportation with cars, trucks, buses at sunlight

Other than cost, there are several benefits of public transportation. However, there may be some drawbacks to taking public transportation like decreased flexibility and privacy.

Public Transportation Pros
  • Decreasing your carbon footprint
  • Extra time to work, read or relax
  • Exercise via walking to and from stops
  • Interaction with community
  • No more driving in traffic jams
  • No stress about parking
  • No liability in an accident
Public Transportation Cons
  • Public transport often takes longer
  • Must plan ahead around transit schedules
  • Limited space and privacy
  • Potential delays or cancellations from weather or technical difficulties
  • Public transport only picks up and drops off in certain locations, so some walking may be involved

Reasons to Take Bus

Young African woman riding on a bus listening to music

Taking the bus is often less expensive than taking other forms of public transport like the train. However, it often takes longer than driving or taking the train.

Bus Pros
  • Free up time to do other things
  • Meet others in the community
  • Chance of theft or robbery
Bus Cons
  • Wait time
  • Less comfortable
  • Less private
  • Have to follow the bus schedule

Reasons to Take Train

Young Woman Sitting inside a Metro Wagon

Trains and subways are slightly more expensive than taking the bus, but still significantly cheaper than driving. Trains also are more likely to have more space, WiFI, and space to move on board.

Train Pros
  • Statistically safer than taking a car; less than a dozen people a year are killed in train accidents while over 12,000 people die in car accidents each year in the U.S.
  • More comfortable than the bus
  • Luggage space
  • Great views
  • Much faster speeds than the bus or even than driving
  • Many public trains have WiFi so you can work, watch Netflix, or browse online while traveling
  • You can usually walk around inside the train
  • Many trains have onboard restrooms
Train Cons
  • Must follow a schedule, often less frequent than buses
  • Less privacy than driving
  • Shared spaces
  • May not be available in more rural areas

Deeper Look Into How Much You Can Save

The U.S. Department of Transportation calculated that if you live in a city with a robust transit system, you can save $10,230 a year using public transport rather than owning a vehicle.

However, after doing the math for the average cost of driving and using public transit in America, I calculated that you save about $8,000 to $9,000 using public transportation instead of driving assuming that you take public transportation daily to work. That’s still a ton of money you can save using public transportation.

Here’s the breakdown of how much it costs to take public transportation and how much it costs to drive.

Cost of Public Transportation

The average cost of public transportation in the U.S. is from $2,000 to $5,000 a year. The cost will vary depending on where you live and what type of pass you purchase.

On average, you can expect to save when purchasing a monthly pass. Plus, you will get unlimited trips on a monthly pass. The average price of a bus or train ticket versus a monthly pass is compared in this annual cost table:

PriceAnnual Cost
Individual ticket$2-7 one-way$960-1680*
Monthly pass$20-122$240-1,464

*calculated assuming 10 trips a week (to and from work 5 day a week)

However, the price of a monthly pass will vary by city. Additionally, some cities include buses and trains in the monthly pass, while others charge more to include both. New York and Los Angeles have the most expensive monthly passes, both coming in at over $120 a month. Champaign, Illinois, has the cheapest monthly pass for only $20.

According to a study that compared transportation cost to average income, some of the most expensive cities to use public transportation include:

  • Los Angeles, California
  • Miami, Florida
  • Tampa, Florida
  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • San Diego, California
  • Virginia Beach-Norfolk, Virginia
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Dayton, Ohio
  • Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas

On the other hand, the most affordable cities for public transit include:

  • Bremerton, Washington
  • Bridgeport, Connecticut
  • Trenton, New Jersey
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Vallejo-Fairfield, California
  • Champaign, Illinois
  • Washington DC
  • Iowa City, Iowa
  • Durham, North Carolina
  • Ventura, California

Cost of Owning or Driving a Car

The average annual cost of driving a vehicle in 2020 was $9,561 according to the AAA annual driving report, which is several thousand dollars more a year compared to using public transportation.

The price of driving is so much more than just what you spend on gas. For instance, your car loses value every year, in depreciation, which is a real cost that should be accounted for. Here’s a breakdown of those costs on average per year, taken from the AAA report:

Depreciation$3,721 loss in value/year
Finance for new car loan$819/year
Licenses, registration and taxes$851/year
Maintenance, repair and tires$0.09/mile

Obviously, if you buy a car used it will be less as you will not pay an average of $819 a year on a car loan. However, even without a lease on your car, your average annual cost of driving is $8,472 which is still more than the average two to three grand spent on public transportation.

Additionally, the AAA report breaks down the cost of driving each type of vehicle. Small sedans have the lowest costs to drive, while pickups and large sedans are the two most expensive types of vehicles to drive. AAA also walks you through how to calculate your driving costs for the year, if you want to find a more specific cost for your vehicle.

Use These 6 Money Saving Tips

Even though public transportation is significantly cheaper than driving, there are still a few ways you can save even more. You can save money on public transportation in a few ways including taking advantage of discounts and incentives, buying bulk tickets ahead of time, and planning ahead.

Tip #1. Check Public Transportation Discounts

Some governments and city councils offer subsidized tickets and incentive programs for using public transportation.

You may also be eligible for a discount if you are:

  • Over the age of 60
  • Either temporarily or permanently dealing with a disability
  • A full-time student
  • Under the age of 16

Tip #2. Purchase a Public Transportation Pass

Seasonal or monthly tickets are cheaper than individual trips. However, typically if you lose your monthly or season pass you will have to pay a replacement fee so once you buy it keep it in a place you won’t lose it!

Tip #3. Avoid Public Transportation Peak Times

Another tip is to travel outside of peak times. Public transport will often charge more at rush hours in the morning and evening when everyone is going to and from work. Fares may be less after 9am and before 12pm. Plus, if you avoid traveling at peak times on buses it can cut your commute.

Tip #4. Travel on Public Transportation Deal Days

Find out if your city has free services or deal days. Often, major cities will offer free bus or tracks services downtown to promote traffic. If you can plan your commute around the free routes, you can save significantly compared to driving. Also check with your local transport to see if they offer special deals on national holidays.

Tip #5. Get Public Transportation Group Tickets

It also pays to travel in a pack. If traveling in a group check if you can often get a group ticket at a discount. Usually, major transport companies will offer a discount if you purchase a two, three, four or five-person ticket.

Tip #6. Watch for Public Transportation Promotions

Finally, follow your transportation system on social media, download the app and sign up for their emails. You may see deals or get coupons that you wouldn’t find otherwise.

If You Already Own a Car

While on average public transportation is cheaper than driving, it may not be cheaper for everyone so you should calculate your own costs.

For instance, if you already own a car it might be cheaper than switching to public transport. In fact, if you decide to both own a car and take public transportation it could cost even more than doing one or the other. You still have to pay for car maintenance, insurance and deprecation even if it just sits in your garage.

Also, some rural communities may not have as robust of a public transportation system so it may be more expensive to use public transport in those areas.

Whatever you decide, you should compare the costs of driving and taking public transportation in your local area among other factors like comfort, privacy and convenience when deciding whether to use public transport or drive.