Is driving or the train less expensive?

In today’s SacBee article by Tony Bizjak, California just got 125-mph trains. Here’s why they still can’t outrace your car, it is claimed that driving is less expensive than the train. The example given is Sacramento (SAC) to Oakland Jack London (OKJ) round trip. The article says “A price check by The Bee last week found basic Capitol Corridor round-trip train fares – with no monthly pass or other discounts – of $50 to $54 for the Sacramento-Oakland ride. That is typically more expensive than the cost of gas and vehicle wear and tear on a car drive that distance.”

First, the undiscounted Capitol Corridor ticket price is $58 round trip, though there are many discounts. But I’ll stick with the price of $58. I use the IRS mileage rate, 53.5 cents per mile for this year, to calculate driving costs. I hear people all the time claim that it costs them much less to drive, but realize that this is a real calculation the IRS does each year, and it IS the average cost. Unless this is Lake Wobegon, where all cars are “below average,” this is the best number to use.  Driving from the Sacramento station to the Oakland station is 82 miles, so 164 round trip. Calculated cost is $0.535 x 164, $88. $30 more than the train. Of course this is a solo trip. If two people are going, then it is $116 train and $88 driving, advantage driving. However, once you arrive at Oakland, you have to find parking. There is no free parking within 1/4 mile of Jack London, and even that is places most people would not want to park at night. Parking rates in lots and decks (parking garages) is commonly $15 for the day, though there are a wide variety of choices. Add that to your trip cost if you are driving. 

My point is not to give Tony a hard time. He is just repeating information he hears all the time. I hear it all the time too, including from transportation advocates who should know better.

Amtrak discounts include AAA, NARP, military and veteran, senior, disabled, and children (2-12 50%, under 2 free). Capitol Corridor promotions include steep discounts for additional passengers in a group, such as the current Take 5 Weekend Deal and ongoing Friends and Family, and sports and entertainment co-promotions. Every situation is unique, but these discounts and promotions can often bring the train cost down below the driving cost even for groups of people. 

Of course there is the environmental responsibility comparison, and for that one driving always loses.

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