According to officials of the new Metrolink commuter line, it may be as much as four times more expensive to drive to work than to take the train. How do you figure out if this is so?
* Vital Stats: The average Los Angeles-area commute is 32 miles round-trip, according to a recent study by Commuter Transportation Services, a nonprofit firm that promotes ride-sharing. Traveling that distance costs $7 on Metrolink. According to the Automobile Club of Southern California, the same commute by car costs an average of $14.88.
But that driving cost--the one Metrolink uses to demonstrate the high cost of commuting by car--includes ownership expenses--sales tax, depreciation, insurance, registration, licenses and finance charges--the costs car owners pay even if the vehicle never leaves the garage.
"Most people won't defer buying a car just because of Metrolink," says USC economist Peter Gordon. "Therefore, it's operating costs you care about."
Operating expenses average 9.7 cents a mile in Southern California, the Auto Club says. Using that figure, the 32-mile round-trip by car costs $3.10.
* Number Crunch: The Auto Club used Southern California prices and came up with its figures by calculating and averaging the annual costs of driving three models: the Ford Escort LX (compact), the Ford Taurus L (mid-size) and the Chevrolet Caprice (full-size). Besides the 9.7 cents-a-mile operating cost, car owners pay an average of $1,655 a year for insurance and $2,717 a year for depreciation, based on a trade-in at 60,000 miles, the Auto Club found.
* Some Comparisons: Using the most frequently purchased Metrolink fare package, a 10-trip ticket, a 94-mile round-trip from Moorpark to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles costs $11 per trip. Using the Auto Club figures, a driver pays $9.12 in operating costs and $29.14 in ownership expenses, or $38.26, for the same trip.
A 62-mile Metrolink round-trip from Pomona to Union Station costs $9. A driver spends $6.01 for operating costs and $19.22 for ownership, or $25.23.
For a 16-mile round-trip from Glendale, the Metrolink rider pays $5. The driver spends $1.55 for operating expenses and $4.96 for ownership, or $6.51.
* Your Costs: To compute operating costs, begin with a full tank of gas and record the odometer mileage. Each time you buy gasoline or oil, write down the number of gallons, the cost and the odometer reading. Also, record payments for tuneups, maintenance and tires and add them to gas and oil costs. Divide mileage by cost to get the cost per mile. Then measure your commute and compute that cost.
To determine the total cost of driving, add the ownership costs to the operating costs. (You can estimate depreciation by calling a finance agency or dealer and finding out the trade-in value of your car. Subtract the trade-in value from the purchase price. Then divide the difference by the number of years you plan to keep the car.)
* Other Factors: Ownership costs may increase when you use your car to drive to work. Some insurance companies lower premiums when a car is not used for daily commuting.
Also, using public transit for work may extend your car's life or increase its resale value by reducing mileage, says Mark Waldoch of Runzheimer International, a consulting firm specializing in travel costs.
* A Note on Parking: A whopping 94% of Southern California commuters have free parking, according to a recent Commuter Transportation Services study. Others pay an average of about $150 a month in central Los Angeles, less in surrounding areas, says the Parking Assn. of California, a trade group.
* Parting Thought: A study for the U. S. Department of Transportation says taxpayers contribute to public transportation subsidies in amounts much higher than rider fares. Commuter trains are "the most heavily subsidized mode of transportation," a department official said. For each train rider on a one-way trip, the government subsidy is $4 to $7. The amount each taxpayer contributes has not been recently calculated.
Adding Up the Cost of Driving
You can calculate the costs of driving to work by filling out this chart designed by the American Automobile Assn:
Gas and oil per mile ( )
Number of miles driven annually ( )
Annual cost (multiply miles driven by gas, oil per mile) ( )
Maintenance ( )
Tires ( )
Total operating cost: ( )
Depreciation. The price you paid for the car minus its current value (divide by number of years of car ownership). ( )
Insurance ( )
Sales taxes ( )
License, registration ( )
Finance charge ( )
Total ownership costs ( )
(Wash, repairs, accessories) ( )
TOTAL ANNUAL DRIVING COSTS ( )
COST PER MILE
(Divide total costs by total miles driven) ( )