The Center for Neighborhood Technology has an interesting mapping tool
up on their website that allows you to combine transportation costs with housing costs to get a better idea of the suburban versus urban decision that many have to make due to financial concerns.
The traditional vision of housing affordability maintains that housing generally becomes more affordable the farther one ventures from the urban center. However, the study has found that transportation costs increase dramatically in suburban and exurban areas, due to dispersed employment, retail, and other amenities.
CNT President, Scott Bernstein explains, “The index tells an alternative story of affordability than we’ve become accustomed to hearing. The real estate pages may list 2- and 3-bedroom homes for under $175,000 in suburban communities. That sounds affordable, right? But once you factor in transportation costs, the bargain goes away. Transportation costs can be as much or more than housing costs. The index protects consumers by divulging those costs and helps planners and decision-makers work toward providing truly affordable housing.”
Given what gas prices have done since the late 90's, there is no question that transportation can have a large impact on a suburbanite's budget.. but mix that in with pricier cars and the importance of "bling" like those 22s some soccer mom's need to "keep it real" and, well, no wonder suburban life doesn't look so peachy.
But can transportation costs really be more than housing costs!? Let me work out a what-if for an imaginary Dude:
Average miles driven per year : 20,000 - sure, this might sound like a lot to some but if you've spent any time outside of urban areas in Maine or other rural states, you know that you gotta drive a lot to get where you're going.
Average cost of gas per gallon: $3.20 - arbitrarily chosen as somewhere close to the current price in Maine. I'll arbitrarily choose 24 mpg as my fuel efficiency too.
Average Insurance premium per year: $900 - This, admittedly, can vary a lot but I'm splitting the difference between what I pay ('95 Saab with liability only) and a friend with payments who must fully insure his Scion.
Car Payment cost per year: $3600 - this is pretty low-ball. I figured on $300/month for a total of $3600 a year. I'll ignore all costs to maintain the car right now, to compensate for the fact that you may sell it for a little cash some day. Again, I'm being generous.
Housing cost: $7980 - I pay this in rent in an urban area for a nicer-than-average apartment with a bathroom for each bedroom. Housing costs in the more suburban and rural areas where you would be if you were clocking 20,000 miles a year are often significantly less, so I'm being generous here.
Total yearly transportation cost: $7166.. Not more
than the housing cost, but getting close. Of course I didn't factor in heat, electricity, and other bills which would certainly push housing well above. But whether it is more or less is mostly irrelevant. It's the addition
of transportation costs that hurts. I know more than one person getting by without a vehicle in the reasonably small urban area of Portland here in Maine (and don't forget we have winters to deal with). Convienent? Not all of the time. But if they can avoid $7000 a year in transportation costs, how does that change the way they live their life? What becomes important? Is a $200 car rental on the occasional weekend such a real cost that one can't overlook the $7000 a year vehicle?