I discovered the world of public transportation after selling everything I owned including my car to travel around the world. I’m not saying I never used public transportation before that. Rather, I now use it more extensively while traveling and since my return to the US without a car. This article discusses the benefits of public transportation versus owning your own car. I am basing it on personal experience and studies done by others. I would love to hear your opinions on the advantages and disadvantages of public transportation vs a car!
I’ll start with the pros and cons of owning a car. (Note: This also applies to renting a car while traveling.)
Pros of Owning a Car
We are a very car oriented society, especially here in the United States. Our cars are often an extension of ourselves, that home outside the home where we travel to work or on trips and where we socially interact with friends and family. I loved my car and I miss it some days!
- Freedom to roam – a car allows us to travel anywhere at any time
- Status symbol – we are proud of our cars and the investment we make in them
- Control – we decide everything behind the wheel
- Carry more stuff – unless you’re driving a Smartcar, you’re guaranteed to be able to bring more with you
- Place to sleep – hey, we’ve all done it at some point! Don’t judge haha
- Saves time – Definitely a huge benefit is how quickly you can get where you’re going
Cons of Owning a Car
On the flip side, there are some points to consider before buying a car.
- Payment / Investment – used or new, buying a car is a sizeable investment
- Maintenance – the expenses don’t stop with your monthly payment and increase over time with the age of the vehicle
- Insurance, Registration and Licensing – in today’s environment it costs money to learn to drive, register a car and insurance is mandatory
- Parking – not only is it possible to have a major parking expense for trips and work, but our homes may come with parking expenses. This is more common in larger cities. I discovered in Nice, France recently that it could cost up to $30 a day to park a car!! Yikes
- Stress – a leading cause of disease and death, stress is no fun. When we get out on the road there is plenty of it. Even if we lead a relatively stress free lifestyle, driving can introduce stressful situations we cannot control.
Now let’s take a look at the benefits of public transportation in a bit more depth.
Benefits of Public Transportation
Increase Physical Activity
There are a number of studies that have been done more recently supporting the physical health benefits of public transportation. The additional exercise comes from walking and cycling between transit stops. Some studies reveal that just this extra exercise brings a higher percentage of the population to the point of “sufficient daily activity.”
The Victoria Transport Policy Institute in Victoria, Canada published an extensive evaluation of public transportation health benefits in November 2016. They quote from the CDC:
U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends that adults average at least 22 daily minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, to stay fit and healthy. Although less than half of American adults achieve this target, most public transportation passengers do exercise the recommended amount while walking to and from transit stations and stops.
VTPI also points out a decrease in obesity rates by country when compared to increased usage of public transportation, walking and cycling.
Traveling usually involves a lot more walking as you visit your destination and the sights. Walking a lot before you travel, such as when using public transportation, can prepare you for journeys.
Improved Mental Health
While traveling on public transit options, without the stress of driving, it’s a good time to participate in a number of activities that can bring pleasure to your day:
- Sightseeing – it’s not as easy to relax and enjoy the world going by when driving. The public transit may also go through new areas you’ve never seen.
- Conversation – either traveling alone or with others, it’s nice to converse and interact with friends or strangers. It’s guaranteed to be interesting and an opportunity to learn something new.
- Reading – not everyone can read while in motion but those who can could find this another relaxing, efficient and enlightening side effect of public transportation.
Perhaps lesser known impacts on mental health in regards to public transportation are community oriented. I am referring to our ability as citizens of a community to be able to get where we need to go. Not everyone can or chooses to drive. This is particularly true for those with disabilities or those who have aged to the point it is no longer safe to drive. It is vital that everyone in the community have access to food sources, employment, activities, education, medical care, and social interactions (like seeing family and friends). People isolated from these sources can experience depression, anxiety, stress, and potentially more severe health issues. The Mental Health Action Group in UK completed an extensive report on Mental Health & Public Transport.
As covered above in the Cons of Owning a Car section, there is enough of a monthly and annual savings with public transportation to warrant a second look at this option. Take a look at this calculator from the American Public Transportation Association to see how much can be saved.
We all know how much less stress we have in our lives when our financial situation is not weighing us down. How much less financial stress would there be without a car? What can be done with that money instead? Vacation perhaps?
On vacation, a rental car can become a serious expense, especially when traveling for long periods of time. Plus, unless you really want to drop serious cash, the car must be returned to the location where it was rented. Trust me on this one… I wanted to return an Italian car in France and it was going to cost nearly $1,000!!
Public transport fatality rates are a quarter of those of automobiles. A quarter! Shocking. This chart averaging nearly a decade of US fatality data by mode of transport makes me want to never drive again.
So now we see physical improvement, better mental health, and more money in our bank accounts! This is looking very positive and I agree. To be thorough and fair however, I will discuss the downsides of public transportation.
Cons of Public Transportation
This is probably the biggest downside of taking public transit systems. Today we are always in a hurry and everything needs to happen fast. We lack patience and believe that our time is far more valuable than it was say 100 years ago. A 2 hour trip on public transit that could take 20 minutes by car is frustrating to many people. I understand this point and I have had that mindset in the past. On my new path to live to 150 years, I find that my psychological approach to a 2 hour journey in the grand scheme of 150 years on the planet is not as long as it used to be. For me, the benefits are well worth the tradeoff of time.
Along with allowing extra time to reach a destination, it’s necessary to plan the trip and all the connections to avoid adding even more time. In the US, Google has become quite good at suggesting the best routes using public transportation. In other countries, it varies; however, most public transport options are built to get humans to their destinations in the most efficient way possible. Key points when planning:
- Destination of line – buses and trains are often named for their final destination. This will help ensure you’re going the right direction
- Connections – if the trip requires a change of line or mode of transport, take note of the distance between them and the time to get there
- Payment options – sometimes CASH is the only option… be prepared! It sounds old fashioned these days but I just rode the bus recently in the San Francisco Bay Area and I had to have $2.50 exact change.
- Proof of ticket – it can look really easy to ride trains or trams without paying but I don’t recommend it. You never know when the transport police will check and the penalty ticket is much more than the ticket to ride.
There’s always a mixture of people on public transit. Unlike in your personal vehicle, you don’t know everyone you are riding with. Not everyone is comfortable in the company of strangers and situational awareness is important. Stay safe by keeping your belongings close, watching those around you, and moving away from anyone you don’t trust.
Public Transportation saves money, adds exercise to our daily routine, and helps reduce stress associated with driving, expenses and being disconnected from the community. It is safer than driving ourselves and an opportunity to read, relax and converse with others. It does take longer and comes with some limitations that are removed when driving our own vehicles.
Overall, I would choose public transportation over car ownership unless I lived in an area not well serviced by public transportation.