Does Using Public Transit Really Make Financial Sense?

*Video for placeholder because I can’t upload pics anymore*

Common knowledge seems to be that if you need to save money, you should, if available, take public transit as opposed to owning a vehicle. But is that really the case?


*Note—this isn’t going to be correct for everyone. That’s not the point of this. Nor is it advice, or an attempt to justify myself. Rather it’s a question I’m interested to see the results of in different areas. Also anyone who tells you there is a definitive answer either hasn’t done the math or is a flat-out liar :)*

I’m going to use myself as the example here. So lets get some details for a start:

- Single time fares are obviously useless, they will be ignored.

- I live in suburban Toronto, so the TTC would be the transit system I would start on.

- I work in Mississauga, so at some point I’d have to transfer to MiWay.

- I will be assuming a 5-day week, 50-week year.

- Relevant TTC fare options are a $43.75 weekly pass or a $146.25 monthly pass.

- Relevant MiWay fares are limited to the $130 monthly pass.

- Rather than pay twice, there is an inter-system GTA weekly pass for $63.

- I’m going to stretch this over 4 years, as that’s about how long I’ve had my truck. So a little more long term analysis.


- Since I obviously can’t remember every fill up I every made, I’m going to concentrate on commutes only since I have a pretty good idea of how far I can go if I’m only driving to work.

- This is based on someone not having a car rather than someone who has a car already. At least for the initial argument.


So, my options are (a) $3747.50/yr for TO weekly/MI monthly, (b) $3315/yr for two monthly passes and (c) $3150/yr for the inter-system weekly, making it the cheapest by $165/yr. All told that comes to $12,600 for four years.

Now for the truck. I know that doing nothing but commute, I can get 2 weeks (10 days) out of a tank. Lets say 8 days for margin. Over 4 years, that’s 125 fillups. Let’s assume 65L a shot at 1.50/L (in reality, on average, both numbers have been significantly lower than this) so $12,187.50 would be my total fuel used for 4 years. And all told I’ve paid $17,700 in insurance, because I happen to be under 25, male and living in Toronto.


That brings the totals to $12,600 for transit, $29887.50 for a personal vehicle. Seems pretty decisive, right? I mean, over 4 years that’s a $17, 287.50 advantage for transit. Well... not so fast.

In my case, it takes me 15 minutes to drive to work, about 20 to get home. Transit takes a little over an hour (ideally) to get me both in and out again. And if there’s bad traffic, I can dodge it—a bus can’t. But we’ll ignore that for the purposes of this. Upshot is, at 2h5m round trip it’s exactly 1.5 hours longer to take transit.


At first glance, that’s not a big deal. Just get up earlier, get home later. Right? Well, Kinda. If you have set hours, you’re pretty much screwed. If your sleep and end of day free time aren’t worth $4200 a year to you—and they’re probably not—then obviously transit makes more sense. However, I don’t have fixed hours. I can come in earlier if I want to or have to, and can leave later as well. As such, that extra 1.5h has real value. And by spending it on the bus, I’m essentially throwing money out the window. How much? Assuming $14/h (Ontario minimum, significantly less than what I’d be making) and not accounting for overtime, that’s $5250/yr in potential earnings, or $21,000 over our 4 year window. So now, our running total is at $3712.50 in favour of owning a vehicle. On top of that, the weekly passes are only sold in select locations. The most convenient one puts me at least 15 minutes out of my way... not much, but good for $175/yr worth—bringing the 4 year total to $4412.50 in the green.

Of course, then there’s the vehicle to consider. In my case, I spent 24k because I’m a chump. I could have driven off for 21k, but like an idiot I bought the warranty. For this case I’m going to use the 21k number. Take away that from the $4400, I’m back $16,600 in the hole. However.


- You don’t need to spend that much. the $4400 could probably net you something serviceable. Not to mention that you’d probably be able to snag something with better gas mileage, meaning that $4400 grows even more. And remember, that $4400 was calculated from minimum wage.

- The vehicle, if it needs to be, is a saleable asset. Right now, trucks like mine, same year, same mileage, are still out there for around $16,500. That takes me right back to breakeven—or where breakeven would have been if I hadn’t made the warranty mistake. I assume are smarter than me in that regard, so I’m not including it.


Admittedly, there are things like service/tires/etc... to which I say my ACTUAL surplus before vehicle purchase is nearer to $12k. That more than covers anything I’ve put into this thing, many times over. And if you ARE earning minimum wage you’re not paying 21k anyways.

Worst case scenario, around here, you break even and have a convenience to show for it. Best case, if you already have a vehicle available (and many do) taking transit becomes equivalent to literally burning money.


For those of you that made it this far, congratulations. Have some old Top Gear as a treat. Because hockey’s almost back:

TL;DR do the math ymmv

Also interested to see someone poke holes in my argument. I’ve gone through this a bunch but I wouldn’t be shocked if I forgot something.

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