Americans spend about one-fifth of their household incomes on transportation, mainly on car expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. We drive an average of 29 miles and 55 minutes a day, 12,000 miles a year. Commuting represents a big chunk of the cost—$7,823 on average and up (not counting parking), says the AAA Motor Club. Add near-record gas prices, now more than $3 per gallon, and typical driving costs head toward $10,000 per year. “Transportation costs are the second-highest family expense after housing,” says Frank Beal, executive director of the civic planning group Chicago Metropolis 2020. “It exceeds food, education, recreation, or anything else.”  And spending is rising faster than housing costs. Consider: From 1992 to 2003, housing expenditures increased by 3.6 percent while transportation costs jumped by nearly 9 percent.

Chicagoans can take some relative comfort: We spend less on driving than people in many other big cities, and less than the national average. Houston leads the nation in household spending on transportation (20.9 percent), followed by Cleveland and Detroit (20.5 percent), Tampa (20.4 percent), and Kansas City (20.2 percent). Chicago ranks 20th (16.9 percent).

By the Numbers: The Average Costs per Mile

Data show that driving a small sedan costs on average $6,217 per year. Compare that with a large sedan ($9,380 per year), a minivan ($8,639 per year), or an SUV ($9,997 per year). Here’s a breakdown of the costs of driving per mile (based on sedan models, 15,000 miles per year):

Source: AAA Motor Club (driving costs in each category are based on average costs for five top-selling models selected by AAA)

Drive Less

Fed up with how much you’re paying at the pump or commuting to work? Alderman Ed Burke is considering holding hearings on a Loop “congestion fee.” By then you may already have several good alternatives to daily driving that won’t make you break into a sweat (unlike biking or walking). There are the old standbys: the commuter train, the bus, and the el. Newer options include car sharing services like I-Go and Zipcar, where for an initial fee members can “rent” cars at hourly rates with insurance, maintenance, and gas included. Car sharing can save drivers about $3,000 a year, says Sharon Feigon of I-Go, not to mention plenty of car-ownership headaches, but it isn’t ideal for daily commuters. For that, consider a vanpool—-a PACE-operated carpool for 5 to 13 employees who live in the same area.


I-GO cars



$75 initial fee, $25 annual renewal, $6/hr, 50 cents per mile. Business rates available $25 initial fee, $50 annual fee, $8.10 to $9/hr, 180 free miles per day. Business rates available Passes between $52.65 and $139/ month based on miles Between $60 and $144 depending on miles and number of riders
Gas, insurance, cool cars, a non- profit with environmental policy Roll over unused driving credits with monthly plans, reserved parking Time for primping, phoning, email, sleep They give you a van and wash it. Volunteer driver does not pay. Conceivably cheaper than the el!