The Cost of Transportation: an analysis of Electric Scooters
Updated: Mar 29
In 1660, New Amsterdam, the settlement that would later become New York City, had a population of barely 1,500. Over the next 350 years, it would swell like a balloon, reaching nearly nine million people spread over 300 square miles, making New York City both the most populous and the most dense city in America.
With those kinds of crowds, it can be tough to get where you need to be. Business Insider rated New York city as the fourth most congested city in America, with people spending an average of 133 hours per year sitting in traffic. It can be a serious struggle to even get to where you want to be, much less doing so cheaply, quickly, or safely.
Unless you’re one of the lucky few who manages to live within walking distance of your work, you’re probably paying for transportation. While these costs vary immensely based on individual characteristics and preferences, a cost-benefit analysis of public transportation, micromobility, and other modes can help determine the most cost effective way to get where you need to be.
Spoiler alert; walking is still the most cost effective. With an upfront cost of $0, a fuel cost of $0, and maintenance costs of $0, you don’t have to pay to walk around. However, it can be exhausting, slow, and hazardous for your health depending on where you walk and how hot it is. Walking, and for similar reasons, biking, are not for everyone or every situation. As Liza Corsillo at GQ says, “Unless you are an alien who doesn't sweat, you should never bike to work in a suit.” Fortunately, other options exist, with varying pros, cons, and costs.
Taking the Subway
The simplest cost to calculate is public transit. New York City owns and operates an extensive subway and bus system, running every 2-10 minutes during rush periods, minimizing wait times. A monthly pass costs $127, giving you unlimited access to the entire network for 30 days. The subway travels at about 55mph, making it by far the fastest and most efficient mode for longer trips. Unfortunately, it’s not perfect. The New York subway suffers from some reliability issues, as this NYTimes Calculator illustrates. Take this random commute, which is about a 2 mile trip;
While the commute is typically around 20 minutes, it sometimes ends up being a full 50% longer. The subway is also host to a number of other problems, including rats, giant rats, rat attacks, pizza-eating rats, and more seriously, a massive hygiene crisis and health risk.
Driving a Car
Owning and driving your own car gives a great deal more freedom than any other mode of transportation. It is suitable for both long and short distances, has temperature control, can carry luggage or groceries, and so on. However, especially in a city, the costs may not be worth the benefits.
Buying a car upfront is out of the question for most people, and the average monthly payment across the entire US is about $448. Insurance payments in New York average to about $149, so we’re already up to nearly $600 per month, on average, just to own a car. If you want to store the car, that can cost anywhere from $300 to $1000 depending on where you live and how long you’re willing to walk, but we’ll be generous and say that you get a great deal and pay $300. If you actually want to drive the car, then you’ll be paying even more, since residents of New York State pay an average of $52 on gas, though this is likely slightly higher than the average for the city, as rural drivers tend to drive more miles than urban ones. Maintenance costs vary greatly based on driving habits, but it's generally wise to reserve about $50 per month to keep your car in good condition. Of course, this doesn’t account for accidents, or crime. Before we total up the costs, there’s one last factor to be aware of; opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is a way of measuring how much you lose from not being productive. If you sit and stare at a wall for an hour, you don’t just make no money, you actually lose money because you COULD have spent that time working. New Yorkers lose an average of 11 hours per month sitting in traffic, and with New York City’s average hourly wage of $33 per hour, that ends up being $363 spent doing nothing every month.
To sum up, we have;
● $448 for Ownership
● $149 for Insurance
● $300 for Parking
● $52 on Gas
● $50 for Maintenance
● $363 for Wasted Time
Which gives us a total of $1362 every month. It's absolutely true that a car has some major advantages over public transportation, but do those advantages justify over ten times the cost?
Renting a Scooter
In the past few years, several new modes of transportation have arisen, enabled by increases in technology. Apps like Uber and Lyft have pioneered the ride-sharing market, and the electric scooter sharing market is being explored. While scooter technology, pricing, and legality are still being refined, there are plenty of viable options across the world. One of those in New York City is Levy Electric, offering both scooters for purchase and rent. Buying a scooter has an upfront cost of $500, and multi-day rentals start at $0.15 per minute. Buying a scooter, while cost effective compared to multi-day renting, does come with additional costs.
Fuel isn’t free; the electricity to charge a scooter costs... about half a cent per mile. Maintenance on a Levy Electric scooter is very easy to DIY, and costs are low and infrequent. Of course, if even that is too much work for you, then renting on an hourly or minute basis is extremely cheap, and always a good deal. How much renting costs on a monthly basis is possible to estimate roughly. A Portland, Oregon experiment found that the average trip length was 1.1 miles, and people took an average of 5 trips per day, so about 5 and a half miles per day. With the Levy Electric Scooter’s max speed of 17mph, we can generously say that you can average 10mph across the whole trip, meaning that it will take 33 minutes to get your entire day’s driving in. At the Levy Electric’s rate of $0.15 per minute, you pay $4.95 per day. Since that’s an average, we multiply to get the monthly rate of $148.5 per month, which only slightly loses to the subway in terms of cost effectiveness, while avoiding the issues with reliability and hygiene and retaining the freedom to set your own schedule.
While a great deal of trips within the city can be substituted between the three modes of transportation discussed, a number of others can’t. No one would expect you to make a trip to Boston on an electric scooter, just like you wouldn’t take a train to go down the block. Electric scooters are best suited for short trips or First Mile/Last Mile transit. It's best to think about your needs and which mode suits you best. As a general guideline, trains are best suited for longer trips across congested areas, cars are best suited for suburban and rural trips, while renting a scooter is most cost effective and convenient for multiple trips within cities up to a total mileage of up to 12 or 24 miles between chargings. If that sounds right for you, check out the Levy Electric Scooter App for rentals or purchase a scooter at Levy Electric.