Air Quality

Published on August 14th, 2014 | by Cynthia Shahan


The Full Cost Of Driving: 34 Cents Per Minute, Not 5 Cents Per Minute

August 14th, 2014 by  

I bike because I love to. However, also, every time I get in a car, I have this uneasy feeling that I am taking too much. David Levison did meticulous work taking this issue apart and turning it inside out. It does take too much. His result was that we pay 34 cents a minute (the full cost of driving) instead of the illusory 5 cents per minute. But will that make us stop driving, or just feel a bit uncomfortable?

David Levison, an engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, from Transportationist, breaks it down with this tidy summary of his diligently calculated post:

  • $0.05 fuel (currently paid, including gas taxes)
  • $0.075 vehicle ownership
  • $0.05 Repairs, oil, and maintenance (converting to a per minute charge)
  • $0.05 insurance (converting to a per minute charge)
  • $0.0133 additional fuel tax for transportation infrastructure (replacing vehicle taxes and general revenue)
  • $0.10 externalities (excluding crash externalities – see insurance)
  • $0.34 Total

We pay as we breathe. This is a core issue — a worse cost. The cost to our lungs. Rex Weyler in EcoWatch warns: “A great reckoning awaits humanity if we fail to awaken from our delusions. Earth’s delicately balanced systems can reach tipping points and collapse.”

Although David Levison is unfolding the full cost and delusion of driving and Rex is of honey bees, the point is that we are suffering from a delusion. Both men are on the same page. Are we to become like great civilizations that rise in short-term satiation and collapse?

Wikimedia CommonsCar2Go charges on a per minute basis. Credit: Dirk Ingo Franke (CC BY 3.0 license)


It is not simply how much money we are paying — it is the untold price of our planet, our children’s futures. Levison’s entire post is worth a read and ends in respect to time and money:

As the adage goes, “time is money”, and if we were more directly aware of the cost of our travel, we would spend far less on it. This implies we over-consume travel compared to a system that charged users directly for their full costs. As we move towards more efficient and equitable transportation funding, using road pricing, and an economy with vehicles as a service (car sharing, ride sharing, cloud commuting) we should expect significantly less travel demand.

The full cost of driving needs to be better understood by people, one way or another, if we are truly going to address the climate, environmental, and societal challenges we face from too much driving.

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About the Author

is a Mother, an Organic Farmer, Licensed Acupuncturist, Anthropology Studies, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

  • Doug

    The cost per minute required too much math for most people to understand. Stated in hours, however, the cost is easier to understand at $20/hr. Many Americans pay for to drive their cars per hour of operation than their hourly wage.

  • shecky vegas

    More hippie drek. There’s nothing wrong in trying to reduce your carbon footprint, but to break it down into such minutiae is just ridiculous.
    You want to REALLY reduce your carbon footprint? Die. Just die. That should do it.
    Oh, wait, then there’s all that decomposing corpse stuff to deal with. Anybody got the numbers on that?

  • dcard88

    Only a hybrid sedan can operate for less than .10 per minute for fuel. What else is he getting wrong? even at $3.50 per gallon a Prius would cost .06 per minute. I get 30 per gal in my 4 cyl so it cost me about .11 per minute.

    • Mike Dill

      I agree that the numbers in this article seem bogus. I also would like to see the underlying assumptions that were used.

    • cynthia Irene

      Transportationist, Seems David teaches this information as well.

      • Douglas Card

        Only hybrid gets 35 mpg at 30 miles per hour. My 4 cyl gets about 25 mpg at 30

  • Kyle Field

    Interesting way to look at driving. I personally see driving as one of the many luxuries that technology has afforded me. I do not see it as a guarantee or a right but as a luxury that allows for many things.
    Having said that, I do agree that it is important to understand the full implications of that luxury and having done so, to move towards models that are more sustainable. This includes driving less, buying more responsible vehicles (hybrids, range extended EVs, EVs) as well as using alternate forms of transportation (train vs plane, bike vs car, ebike vs car, public transit, etc).
    With that context, I appreciate the unique perspective shared and will add it to my mental index which helps me continually shape my approach to life. 🙂

  • MarTams

    Well, I earn about $180/hr when working. When I drive, I am losing $3.00 per minute. According to Elon Musk, driving an EV would save me $360 per day on carpool lanes. And extending the same logic, if I walk to work, I would be losing $18,000 per day. The point is, it is pointless to discuss the full cost of driving per minute. It would have truly been helpful if the cost per mile is shown and all the underlying assumptions.

    • Kyle Field

      Clearly you can afford to drive and it financially makes sense. Many people only make $10/hr (US) or less and if they have to drive a few miles to work each day, that cost can add up – sometimes without being seen as directly related to the driving. This helps add context to that.

      Also…being that this is a clean tech article on a site specifically for such topics, the intent is to raise awareness to help people reduce their negative impact on the environment and more importantly, move away from that and have a positive impact on the environment and others by sharing this knowledge. I hope you’ll find some application for this info in your life or the lives of others you interact with.

      • Thanks, Kyle. I was afraid for a bit that no one was getting it. 😀

  • Odie

    To follow your point through to its logical conclusion, what is the cost of living per minute, in dollars as well as environmental impact? The best thing for the environment is to not do anything, and indeed not even exist.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Well, I would say that you’re part of the environment and doing nothing might be bad for you, but this is philosphy rather than clean technology, so it might be best not to go into it.

    • I think you’re going off the deep end a bit there. This is a calculation of the full cost of driving, rather than one small slice of it. The researcher decided to put it as cost per minute instead of cost per mile for some reason. That doesn’t make me think that life is all of a sudden worthless.

    • Patrick Linsley

      Okay fine then take out the ‘externalities’ column and you still have $.24 per minute. Which is still makes automobiles a very costly form of transportation.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Autos are costly, but most people are willing to pay the bill.

        We probably should worry less about people driving cars and put our efforts into giving them cars which cause the minimum amount of environmental damage.

        Imagine a car that is built entirely out of sustainable materials and powered by 100% renewable energy. Make it quite, pollution free, and very safe for both occupants and for pedestrians/bike riders.

        If people choose to spend part of their lives working to afford a machine like that should we care?

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