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Urban vs suburban living: Comparing real and intangible costs

Real Estate Technology with Realty Sage

By Maggie Hartman, Sustainability Content Writer, Realty Sage.

The intangible gains of public transit.


So, let’s be real ­­– no one can deny the incredible buzzwords that are walkability, livability, commuter-friendly, and the like. These terms are quickly becoming commonplace and these lifestyles are in high demand. But at the center of these idealist, urban communities are powerful public transit systems. Public transit is the glue that holds walkable and sustainable communities together, providing access and freedom to local citizens. Anything from buses to metros, light rails to trolley cars, and even ferries are considered public transit.


Popular Public Transit


But you may be wondering – just how in demand is public transit, actually? The simple answer is VERY in demand. In 2018 alone, 9.9 billion trips on public transportation were taken by Americans and in 2017, the Washington D.C. metro system alone served 4,586,770 people. Nationally, public transit usage has increased 21% since 1997. Even millennials want in on the fun and consider public transit the best way to digitally socialize, as well as a great tool for connecting with communities.


Comparing the Costs


That being said, your next question is probably “well what are the costs and benefits of living in a commuter-friendly neighborhood?” To answer that question, let’s break it down by evaluating living costs in commuter-friendly and noncommuter-friendly neighborhoods.


Tangible Costs and Benefits


Beginning with Fairfax, Virginia, the county has “some public transportation and is somewhat bikeable” with a midrange walk score.

  •        Rent - The average apartment rent paid in Fairfax is $1930 per month.
  •        Commute Costs - In addition to paying rent, citizens who commute into Washington D.C. must consider the cost and length of their daily commute. Driving from Fairfax into Washington D.C. is a 40 mile round trip, and at an average cost of $2.50 per gallon of gasoline, each day of commuting will cost around $4.25 which amounts to $85 per month in gas costs. But I am not done yet.
  •        Parking - Renting a parking space in Washington D.C. averages at $240 per month.
  •        Time - In addition to financial costs, commuting brings time costs. The commute from Fairfax takes 1 hour, meaning commuters spend an average of 2 hours per day traveling to and from D.C.


In contrast, Arlington, Virginia has “good public transportation and is very bikeable” and has an overall upper range walk score, with the Clarendon-Courthouse, Virginia Square, and Lyon Village neighborhoods having 90+ walk scores.

Phew! We just covered a whole lot of statistics, so let’s add them all up and compare. Once the Fairfax living costs of rent, commuting, and parking are added together, they total $2255 per month. Commuting also costs 2 hours out of every person’s day.

In comparison, Arlington dwellers pay an average of $2392 per month when accounting for rent, commuting, and walking or biking to the metro. In addition, commuting from Arlington takes only 1 hour per day. So all in all, living in a commuter-friendly, walkable neighborhood is marginally more costly, but it also means gaining back 1 hour of every single day, which is something no amount of money can buy.


Photo credit: unsplash.com


Intangible Benefits


Although the financial and time costs are highly important, there is another side of public transit that needs to be considered in order to have a holistic picture. We will call this side “intangible gains” because no amount of money can buy these benefits and they have no physical presence – they come as a natural result of utilizing public transit.


First of all, using public transit is highly beneficial to the environment. Annually, 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline are saved through the use of public transit. This is equivalent to approximately 300,000 cars being removed from our highways daily. In addition, this means that our highways do not need to expand in order to accommodate more cars, thus reducing maintenance and the negative impact that concrete has on storm water runoff.


There are also personal intangible benefits, such an the 1 hour gained back from every day, as we discussed; a wide variety of transit options to many locations, offering freedom to citizens; and a safer ride, as transit is 10 times safer than a personal vehicle. In addition, more than two thirds of people increases their daily exercise by walking to public transit stations. Research also suggests that “social opportunities increase when driving decreases.”


Not only do the environment and individual citizens benefit from transit use, but so does the community because 87% of transit utilization has a direct impact on local economies. Public transit systems do this by creating new jobs, increasing job access within the community, revitalizing existing areas of commerce, and saving money on infrastructure targeting cars.

In conclusion, living in a commuter-friendly neighborhood may be marginally more expensive, but some things in life have no price tag. Those include extra time, an active lifestyle, environmental care, ease of accessibility to many locations, local economic growth, and a sense of community. When compared to costs, the intangible gains of commuter-friendly life are far more lasting and impactful.   


If you are considering a commute-friendly home, check out www.RealtySage.com. After searching by your preferred location, refine your home search by choosing a “Commute-friendly” filter. Each home’s listing page will include detailed information about its walkability and public transportation accessibility.



Posted by
Kari Klaus
Founder and CEO of RealtySage.com
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