Friday, March 23, 2012

Transportation costs - up, up, up!

As the price of gas continues to increase at unprecedented levels and a summer of very expensive driving looms, it's got everybody's attention.

A recent article at the Tenneseean website laments that Nashville residents are currently paying almost 30% of their average income in transit costs.

According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology, transportation costs have risen 39% in the past decade. (Frankly, that seems low to me. General inflation in a decade is probably 30%, and I'd say transportation expense is rising meaningfully faster than general inflation, mostly because of fuel prices.)

Usually we think of housing expense when we're choosing where to live. This tendency is reflected in urban sprawl - people buy a house out in the suburbs someplace, because it's cheaper than a comparable close-in house. (And in many cases, once they have made the move, their only realistic transportation option is driving... because their destinations are too far to bicycle or walk to, and the area isn't served by public transportation.)

The CNT suggests that housing expense should ideally be less than 30% of your household income. But they go on to say that housing AND TRANSPORTATION expense combined, should ideally be less than 45% of that same income. In other words... it might make more economic sense to buy a more expensive house that's less expensive to get to, than a cheaper house that costs a lot to get to. They have a cool but somewhat unsettling website... it has two "zoomable" maps of populated areas. On the left is a map that highlights where housing expense is more than 30% of income. On the right is another map of the same area, that highlights where housing and transportation expense combined exceed 45% of income.

The Housing/Transportation expense website can be seen HERE.

When I go out bicycling or motorcycling in "the country," I frequently see a "little bit o' heaven" - you know, a pastoral piece of land far from the hustle and bustle of the Big City. And I momentarily ponder to myself, "Wow! What a nice place to live!" And it would be! But then another reality sets in. How expensive would it be - not only in money, but in time and the non-tangibles like stress and aggravation - to get from that heavenly place, to where I have to be five days a week? And suddenly I'm significantly more satisfied with my close-in suburban neighborhood, where my door-to-door bike commute is 15 minutes or less each way. Maybe someday when I only have to go to the Big City once a week instead of every day, Heaven's Half-Acre might be more practical.