Car vs. bus

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This is a mini-rant, a short essay refuting a common misconception among users of an Internet forum. If you think this essay is FUD, feel free to explain why on the essay's talk page.

Advocates of public transportation claim that it's cheaper than owning an automobile and thus a useful tool to become debt-free. A well-maintained car is expected to have a 15 year service life, and a bus pass costs $45 per month.[1] This means taking the bus for the life of a car might cost $8100, which in theory is cheaper than buying a new car + registration + fuel + periodic oil changes + insurance, especially with fuel price spikes like those of 2008 and 2011. Insurance alone is as expensive as a bus pass: in the fourth quarter of 2011, GEICO quoted me at least $50 per month. This is on top of an estimated $6,000 for 120 hours of driving lessons before you get your first driver's license.[2] And teenagers can't even work a summer job to buy a first car anymore because in the 2010s, older people have been hogging all the available low-skill jobs.[3]

But people who own a car cite a few advantages:

  • City buses have even less cargo space per passenger than a Smart Fortwo.
  • No fifteen minute walks to and from a bus stop in the weather, possibly across busy highways, possibly carrying all your groceries or other cargo. In the car-centric United States, parking is often closer than a bus stop.
  • No hour waits for the next bus once you have finished your business, and no fifteen minute waits in the weather for a bus running behind schedule.
  • Buses don't run when you need them. For example, one city's buses don't run at night, on Saturday evenings, on Sundays, or on any of six annual holidays.[4] They don't run on Saturdays at all in some parts of town.[5] If you're among the one-third of American workers who work on weekends, especially service jobs at establishments open to the public,[6] the taxi fare for that day can add up close to the bus fare for the whole rest of the week.
  • Passengers are almost free[7] as long as there is enough space in a car. Parents appreciate this.
  • Not having to deal with bigoted cabbie banter.[8]
  • Ordering food from drive-thru-only restaurants. This became much more of a problem starting in March 2020, when restaurants closed their dining rooms to slow the spread of a respiratory virus. Many also closed indoor pickup and neglected to set up a pedestrian pickup window or curbside pickup (delivery to the parking lot), and even those offering home delivery charged a delivery fee or enforced a minimum for each delivery order. Doubling or tripling the bill just to carry it six feet to the parking lot is not practical for everyone.

Some people choose to take a third option: bicycling. This too has its advantages and disadvantages. It has the weather problem to an even greater degree than the bus, but it has low waiting like a car. There are occasional problems with dead red traffic signals, especially in some states. Some fast food establishments have a policy of refusing service to a cyclist in the drive-thru lane, especially after the dining room has closed or during a pandemic. But check your city ordinances to see how you might contest this policy. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, for example, discrimination against cyclists would appear to violate section 74.34(A) of the city code: "Every person riding a bicycle upon a street shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle."

In my own personal case, commuting to work takes 10 minutes by car, 20 minutes by bicycle, or nearly 100 minutes by bus:

  1. 5 minutes (x:53 to x:58) to walk to the bus stop;
  2. 12 minutes (x:58 to x+1:10) to wait for, board, and ride the bus to the downtown transfer station;
  3. 25 minutes (x+1:10 to x+1:35) to wait for, board, and ride the bus to the destination stop;
  4. 5 minutes (x+1:35 to x+1:40) to walk from the stop to the destination; and
  5. 20 minutes (x+1:40 to x+2:00) or 50 minutes (x+1:40 to x+2:30) until the employee's scheduled shift starts.

Still others consider it practical to walk three miles (5 km) to the grocery and carry everything back in a "granny cart".


  1. Citilink Fares
  2. Mia Freedman. "120 hours until you can sit for your driving test. Harsh or smart?". Mamamia, 2009-07-02. Accessed 2016-06-04.
  3. Mark Hill. "5 Reasons the Classic American Summer Doesn't Exist Anymore. Cracked, 2014-07-30. Accessed 2014-07-30.
  4. New Years Day, January 1; Memorial Day, Monday in May 25–31; U.S. Independence Day, July 4; Labor Day, Monday in September 1–7; Thanksgiving, Thursday in November 21–28; and Christmas. Source: Citilink route 9 map
  5. Citilink Route 21 map
  6. Christopher Ingraham. "Nearly one third of the American labor force works on the weekend". The Washington Post, 2014-09-08. Accessed 2015-05-07.
  7. Each passenger adds extra mass that increases the fuel consumption by a few percent, which drivers don't notice in practice.
  8. Ian Fortey. "5 Types Of Awkward People It's Seemingly Impossible To Avoid". Cracked, 2016-09-30. Accessed 2016-09-30.

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