The Cost of Commuting

Do Metro’s fare hikes mean it’s time to skip the train and return to driving?

By: Rodger Nayak

It's come to our attention that we should have used the IRS's formula for calculating per-mile cost of driving in formulating this post. While Metro fare hikes do make riding the system more expensive, they don't make suburban commutes more expensive than driving when the wear and tear on a car (not to mention drivers' sanity) is factored in. Washingtonian regrets the error. 

 

Getting to work in DC from the suburbs is both time-consuming and expensive, and it’s about to get pricier. Metro’s fare increases, which include an 18-percent hike in subway fares, will only add to the burden of the daily commute.

To calculate whether taking Metrorail is still worth it, we’ve calculated the rush-hour cost of taking the Metro into the city from various points on or outside the Beltway and the estimated cost of driving into DC from those same places. Every time, we found driving to be the cheaper option, particularly if you take your car to the subway station and pay to park in a Metro garage or lot. Of course, this doesn’t factor in the cost and frustration of sitting in Beltway traffic. But considering the delays and air-conditioning breakdowns that have made evening commutes so excruciating lately, it may well be worth considering whether it’s time to brave the region’s roads and leave those SmarTrip cards tucked away.

Note: When calculating the cost of driving, we assume car mileage of at least 20 miles per gallon and a fuel cost of $2.70, the average price of a gallon of gas in the Washington area as of June 20, according to AAA. But this is still a rough estimate, because unless you have a hybrid car, your miles per gallon will no doubt plummet each minute you spend stopped in traffic on I-270 or Route 123. We’ve also added the cost of parking in a commuter garage once you reach the city, which in Northwest DC typically runs about $10. All Metro fares were calculated using Metro Trip Planner at wmata.com, and driving distances were calculated using Google Maps.


From Vienna to Metro Center (round trip):

Metro:
Fare before fare hike: $8.70
Fare after fare hike: $9.90
Parking: $4.50
Total before fare hike: $13.20
Total after fare hike: $14.40

Driving:
Gas (16-mile commute via I-66): $2.16
Parking: $10
Total: $12.70


From Springfield to Metro Center (round trip):

Metro:
Fare before fare hike: $8.80
Fare after fare hike: $10
Parking: $4.50
Total before fare hike: $13.30
Total after fare hike: $14.50

Driving:
Gas (14.2-mile commute via I-395): $1.92
Parking: $10
Total: $11.92


From Shady Grove to Metro Center (round trip):

Metro:
Fare before fare hike: $9.20
Fare after fare hike: $10
Parking: $4.75
Total before fare hike: $13.95
Total after fare hike: $14.75

Driving:
Gas (22.3-mile commute via I-270): $3.01
Parking: $10
Total: $13.01


From New Carrollton to Metro Center (round trip):

Metro:
Fare before fare hike: $7
Fare after fare hike: $7.90
Parking: $4.25
Total before fare hike: $11.25
Total after fare hike: $12.15

Driving:
Gas (ten-mile commute via US-50): $1.35
Parking: $10
Total: $11.35