Cycling is second only to walking as the cheapest way to get to work, and it's far more practical over average commuting distances. Here's how it stacks up against other forms of transport for a typical 5-mile each way commute. To get a round number for annual mileage, we've assumed our cyclist will travel for 50 weeks a year rather than 48 as that gives 2,500-miles per year.
Our sample cyclist gets a £750 bike and £250 worth of equipment through Cyclescheme. For a standard rate taxpayer, the real cost of this £1,000 package is thus £750. We're assuming that they'll use the bike and equipment for five years, after which it will become worthless and need to be wholly replaced. (This is close to a worst-case scenario – most cyclists will do better.)
These are the annual costs:
• Depreciation: £150
A fifth of the total amount paid.
• Insurance: £82
This is what specialist cycle insurer Cycleguard quoted for a £750 bike and £250 of equipment for someone living at the expensive SW1A 0AA postcode. (That's the Houses of Parliament, in the middle of London.)
• Breakdown cover: £14
Since many drivers will have breakdown cover, we added Cycle Rescue to our cyclist's Cycleguard policy. That bumped the cost to £96, which is £14 extra.
• Maintenance and running costs: £150
Money for lubricants and for slowly replacing things like tyres, cables, chains, cassettes etc. We're not assuming you do the work yourself: a Gold service at Evans Cycles costs £110, and other shops will be similar.
• Additional food: £0
You'll burn more calories commuting by bike, but these are as likely to come from excess body fat as extra bowls of cornflakes. There may or may not be a small bump in your food bill.
Total annual costs are £396. Per mile, assuming 2,500 per year, that's 16p.
The running costs of car aren't too bad compared with public transport. The AA reckons they're about 19p per mile for a budget car. That's £475 per year for a car doing a very modest 2,500 miles.
For a second opinion on car costs, we used the 'true cost of running a car calculator' on the This Is Money website. For a car doing 40mpg and petrol at 117p per litre, 2,500 miles gives fuel costs of £332. Adding £400 for maintenance and servicing gives £732 per year – or 29p per mile.
But these are just the running costs; it's the fixed costs that make car use so expensive. The AA has fixed costs starting at £1,913 per year. Our This Is Money calculater again put them a bit a higher at £2,080. Adding fixed costs gives total costs of £2,388 (AA) or £2,812 (This Is Money, for which we assumed: £10,000 car, sold for £2,000 after five years of ownership; 40mpg; 117p per litre fuel; £400 maintenance/service; £300 insurance; £50 breakdown cover.)
Driving's hidden extras
Few people buy a £10,000 car for cash. A five-year car loan at 3.5% APR would cost an additional £915 in interest, pushing our This Is Money figure to £3,727. That's a massive £1.49 per mile! It's so high because the mileage figure in our example is so low. This is an important point: if you have a car, it makes financial sense to use it. It's disproportionately expensive to have a car sit scarcely used on your driveway. Cycling to work instead of driving will save you hundreds of pounds every year, but if your commuter bike is a replacement for a (second?) car you no longer need, it will save thousands.
We haven't included parking fees in the costs of driving. Unless your employer provides parking – which has a cost for them instead – you'll pay from around £3 per day for a spot at a park-and-ride up to around £20 per day for an NCP carpark. Even £3 per day is £720 for a 48-week year. If you drive into London, the congestion charge adds another £11.50 per day, which is additional £2,760 per (48 week) year.
A driver who wants to keep as trim as a cycle commuter may well spend £50 per month on gym membership. That's another £600 per year.
Regular rail commuters will buy an annual pass rather than paying exorbitant walk-on fares. The average cost of annual rail pass is 25p per mile, according to figures from Rail Delivery Group and Campaign for Better Transport and quoted by the BBC. So a rail user doing 2,500 miles per year, like our commuting cyclist, would spend £625 on a pass. Most season tickets will cost more than this as rail users tend to travel further. There may be station car parking charges and driving costs to include too.
What about the Tube in London? An annual zone 1-2 Travelcard costs £1,320. If you use that to travel 5-miles to work and back each day, that's 53p per mile. While you could make extra trips at zero additional cost, don't forget you can make additional trips on your bike at negligible cost.
Bus costs are harder to pin down, but an annual pass for buses in London is £848 - which at 34p per mile, assuming 2,500 miles of travel, is a better deal than the Tube. A First Greater Glasgow day pass, by comparison, costs from £4.50 per day. That's £1,080 per year (48 weeks), or 43p per mile for 2,500 miles per year.
With different assumptions, the figures in our examples can be finessed. But here they are as guidelines for a 5-mile each way commute, in ascending order of cost.
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