My husband Paul and I have something in common (well, there is more than one thing): we love the public transportation systems in other countries.

Japan's is amazingly efficient. During rush hour and anytime at special stations you can expect to be greeted by men in pristine uniforms complete with bleach-white gloves to assist the crowds onto the trains. And everything runs on time, except for the occasional terrible accident that can't be helped. You're connected to whatever part of the island you wish by train, each cart of which is beautifully clean and well-kept.

It's heaven.

Then there's London's tube. True, I once promptly exited a station and opted for a cab the moment a set of bomb-sniffing dogs had finished their work, but other than that, another great working, efficient system that frees up your time to do things like read and talk to friends.

We both agree that if we had something similar here in Houston, we would opt to go car-free.

Here's why:

There Might be Discounts

Though it's not clear how many employers in Houston offer subsidies for workers, I have several friends who live in cities that get their public transportation partially paid for this way. What a great way to cut down on the cost of it! Also, some metro systems and buses offer student discounts and senior discounts, which is always helpful.

It's a Great Form of Exercise

If I'm completely honest, we both don't get enough exercise. Like, not even close. I have found that the several times I lived in other countries I kept in much better shape because of walking in between stops and to my destinations each day. For example, while living and attending school in Japan, my school that I went to three days a week was literally on top of a mountain! The subway stop was at the bottom of it, and so for those three days I hiked at least half a mile up a mountain to class. Talk about some great exercise.

Savings on Car Ownership + Maintenance

I'm a staunch believer in Beater Cars (I've never had a car payment in my life!). I basically buy a car at around 160,000 miles, pay a few thousand cash for it, and drive it into the ground. Usually there are minor maintenance issues that come up — over the years muffler replacements, windshield replacement, tire replacement, and the like come to mind — but in general I keep the car until a repair costs way too much to make sense for what it's worth.

Other savings you may get include monthly car payments/lease payments, insurance costs, gasoline (our costs are out of control on this one), registration and inspections, routine maintenance, etc. For us, I've calculated that these cost us approximately $6,000/year for our two vehicles…and that's without any car payments!

Note: To figure out your actual savings, of course, you'll have to subtract out the cost of using public transportation.

Gives You More Time…to Think, Read, Work

While I do enjoy driving my car, I also don't have to commute. Paul's commute has been atrocious since he took his new job in March 2014. Not only that, but four days a week he also commutes after work to his college, then home…and all three are in different areas of Houston.

One of the things he requests — and I gladly oblige — is I drive to all places that we go together. As I drive, he remarks about how nice it is that he can relax, look out the window, and see things he doesn't get to see while driving. Of course occasionally he likes to nap as well!

All of this can be had on public transportation also (well, as long as you find a seat, something that is perilous during Japanese commuter hours). You can think, read, work on something, nap, start up a conversation, and in general get a little time to yourself without worrying about red lights and people cutting you off.

So how about it, what do you think? Would you ever consider going from car ownership to public transportation  (if, of course, it is an option for you)? Tweet: Would you ever consider going from car ownership to public transportation? @frugalconfessApproximately how much money per month and per year do you think you'd save?

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.
6 replies
  1. Kirk says:

    Of course not.. the convenience and quickness my car brought to me during work is irreplaceable!! Commuting takes time!

  2. Crystal says:

    If I lived in a city with reliable, safe public transportation, then yes, I’d give up my car pretty frickin’ fast. While we lived in the Netherlands and then Argentina as a teenager and young adult, I loved using the bus systems in both places since I didn’t need a car to get around. Clean enough, friendly enough, and reliable enough is all I need. But Houston is just not a public transpo haven. I live in a northern suburb and the closest bus route starts miles away…

  3. Laura says:

    I agree. While living in Europe I always used public transportation (or in the summer months, to save even more, biked everywhere). My recent move to New England has returned me to the public transportation route and I love to read books and magazines on the train (when it’s not super packed). The difficulty is that I could drive for 20 minutes and cover the same distance I do in 70 minutes (or more due to delays or connections) of public transportation. In the winter, especially, waiting in the cold is NOT fun (especially this past winter!).

    In southern California, though, there is no good public transportation system, so a car is necessary. Still, I found comfort in audiobooks borrowed from the library. So, even though I could not enjoy the scenery, I was still “reading” and the images the book put in my mind helped me stay calm in the five-lane parking lot that is the LA commute. The commute was also a time I would call my East Coast friends (with a hands-free device of course) and catch up with them while I could do nothing else.

    • Amanda says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience! Like you and Crystal, I’m now in a place (Houston) where the public transportation is not great at all (and in some areas non-existent).

      I love your suggestion of audiobooks–I need to get my husband some from the library since he commutes hours each day!

  4. Emily @ evolvingPF says:

    I’m a big fan of public transportation from a sustainability perspective. I used to live car-free and enjoyed it immensely. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily a cost saver. It really depends on the city and where you live, work, and play within it. I recently lived in the DC suburbs for 3 months and commuted by car and Metro and it was VERY costly. The Metro component was probably more expensive (maybe by twice?) than running and maintaining my older, inexpensive car. If I had lived closer to work, of course, the costs wouldn’t have been as high.

    • Amanda says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Emily!


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