Put a number on it

I’m usually happy to see numbers enter a calculation instead of bromides like “people here just won’t go for that” or “that’s not how Americans want to live their lives.” When people start talking about how much things really cost, for better or worse, I think that usually means we are starting to have a serious discussion. A few examples:

The Wall Street Journal had a recent article (via Market Urbanism) on how recent cuts to public transit in NYC had affected real estate sales in several neighborhoods. One real estate agent describes trouble selling properties that were served by a long running express bus route which was recently cancelled.

“The buyer who buys in Astoria is looking for a cheaper price and to get into Manhattan quickly,” said Ms. Palmos, adding that she is having the same problem with a condominium building in Upper Ditmars, north of Astoria. Apartments there that she said would have easily sold for $500,000 with the express bus nearby are now languishing on the market at prices about $420,000.

Anecdotes aren’t data of course. But it’s not a stretch to say that you could probably assign a rough number value to proximity to transit in New York. If $80,000 is the market value of that particular transit service for a single unit, imagine how much “value” was destroyed in that neighborhood by the loss of a bus.

Elsewhere, a new site Abogo (via Planetizen) will give you an estimate of the average transportation costs for a given neighborhood. Their goal is to help you “discover how transportation impacts the affordability and sustainability of where you live.” (Interestingly, the average transport costs for my neighborhood are exactly on with my “regional average” while my estimated CO2 emissions are nearly 20% lower than regional averages. I suspect this is due to the impact on their algorithm of a nearby subway stop in my area.)

While numbers like this are so general as to be of questionable accuracy, they do point to a welcome trend. Increasingly it seems that people are making the connection that sustainability and environmental considerations are not just little adjustments you make after you’ve set up your life the way you want it. But that our life choices like where we live have big, direct impacts not just on our environmental impacts but also on how expensive our lives are.

Transportation costs are notoriously difficult for the average person to estimate. The main reason may be that transport costs are an odd mix of small daily incremental costs (gas, car wash), larger annual costs (registration, insurance), and large unpredictable costs (repair, maintenance). This mix tends to lead to people underestimating what they actually spend on transportation which can have a large impact on the choices they make.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Metro’s in-house blog The Source, wades into the debate on how well people estimate their own transportation costs. They don’t reach any conclusions beyond noting the confusion between daily incremental costs and overall costs and point out that transit users estimate their costs lower on average. I noticed though that taking a rough average of their poll respondents’ numbers gives an estimate of less than $200/month in transportation expenses. By contrast the Abogo estimate I got for the region is $719/month, nearly four times more than The Source’s readers self-estimate. Looks like there is still room for improving people’s awareness of their lifestyle’s costs.

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