Bikes can cost anywhere from $400 to $3,500, depending on your budget and your needs. Even a brand-new, high-end bike costs about 90% less than the average used car. Public transit costs vary, but one household can save $10,000 a year by using public transportation instead of a car. And walking is free, other than perhaps a good pair of shoes.
Long-term economic costs to car-free living
Besides the hidden costs of going car-free, there are also long-term negative economic consequences, said Michael Smart, an associate professor at Rutgers University who studies automobile ownership.
Smart’s research shows that families with a car experience an average income growth of 1% every two years. But car-free households experience an average income decline of 7% during that same time period. Smart said this is because people without cars can’t commute as easily to work, making them more likely to be late, unreliable, or unable to take certain jobs. And that can hurt their income.
“The high cost of owning a vehicle is probably lower than the cost of living without one,” Smart and his coauthors wrote in a 2021 paper, “The Poverty of the Carless.”
Smart himself never got a driver’s license because of his environmental convictions. He even managed to live car-free for years in the notoriously auto-dependent Los Angeles. But he also understands that he’s an anomaly.
“I would like people to drive less, but I have tremendous sympathy and understanding for why people drive so much,” he told Insider. “We’ve set up society to strongly encourage — and in some cases, really demand — that you drive a lot.”