Toronto's Martin Goodman waterfront bike trail

How much money does biking to work in Toronto save you?

Of all the working stiffs in the city of Toronto, very few are able to walk from their homes to their places of employment in a reasonable amount of time. If you're the type of person who works in the Financial District and has a fancy King St. condo, or a professor who resides in the Annex near your office and lecture halls at U of T, then more power to you. But those types of perfect marriages of domain and employment are few and far between.

For the vast majority of workers, a commute is a necessity. It can also be a costly one. Methods like driving, cabbing/ride-sharing, or even taking public transit are inconsequential to some, but critical for others. Transportation costs add up quickly, which is why distance tends to be such a major factor for minimum wage or low-paying jobs.

But thankfully there is an alternative that accommodates the reality of a long commute without requiring you to fork over much money: biking. The case for biking is multi-faceted, but when it is explored through a monetary angle, it's basically the same principle as the one being conveyed in a popular proverb: "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." Paying for gas, lifts, and transit fare are continuous expenses; buying a bike is a one-time transaction that continues to pay dividends for years and years.

Granted, there are maintenance and gear costs associated with biking. But as you'll quickly realize if you keep reading, they're much easier pills to swallow than the alternatives.

The cost of biking to work

While some commuters are fully equipped to bike when they decide to make that a part of their routine, others have some purchasing to do first. Depending on how much one wants to invest in their rides, it could take a bit of time before the investment is fully recouped and rides are considered to be 'money that otherwise would've been spent on transportation but is now in my wallet.' Usually though, that won't take longer than a few months—or a year at the most—to achieve.

So to get a sense of what kind of initial and ongoing costs a rider will have to generally pay in order to bike to work, here are some charts with that information.

Initial costs

Item

Cost

Necessity Level

Basic road bike

Appr. $100-$300 used, $500-$1,000 new

Required

Decent helmet

Appr. $30-$150

Required

Functional lights

Appr. $50-$150

Required if riding at sundown or later

Sturdy lock

Appr. $20-$120

Required for street parking

Fenders

Appr. $60-$100

Optional, but recommended

Bell

Appr. $5-$15

Optional

Floor Pump

Appr. $25-$100

Required

 

Cost for everything at an average price (used bike): $612

Cost for everything at an average price (new bike): $1,162

Ongoing costs

Item/service

Cost

Necessity level

Tube/tire replacement

Appr. $20 for tube, $50 for tire

As needed, likely once per season or so

Standard tune-up

Appr. $75

Recommended twice a year

Chain replacement

Appr. $40-$70

Once or twice a year

Other new parts

Depends, but typically $50-$75 per year

As needed

 

Average annual cost for everything (assuming there are no unexpected costs): $337

Summary

For someone who had no previous biking equipment and wanted to buy a used bike, becoming a commuter would cost approximately $949 in the first year and approximately $337 every year thereafter. If that same person chose to buy a new bike instead, he or she would pay approximately $1,499 in the first year and approximately $337 every year thereafter.

Bear in mind that those tabulations are done under the assumption that the rider is taking the bike in for the recommended amount of maintenance. If it rarely requires maintenance, or the rider simply chooses to invest in tune-ups and chain replacements less frequently, then that annual cost could end up being much, much lower in reality.

The cost of taking transit to work in Toronto

Transit in Toronto is no small expense. Compared to many cities, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has extremely high fare standards—which rarely stay stagnant for long.

It's safe to assume that if someone was commuting to work by TTC every day, he or she would want to invest in a Metropass. The point at which it becomes more valuable to use a Metropass than individual tokens is after 48 trips. Given that the average month features 22 work days, and that commuting by tranist requires two trips per day, a commuter would only need to take four additional non-work trips for a Metropass to make sense—an amount thay he or she would probably want to hit regardless.

Purchasing a Metropass every month of the year would cost $1,755 in total. If we factor in how someone would handle a typical two-week vacation, it's only slightly different. That scenario would likely involve the commuter buying 11 Metropasses ($1,608.75) and 24 individual trips at $3 a fare with a Presto card, which adds up to $1,680.75 in total.

The cost of driving to work in Toronto

The problem with trying to come up with any sort of standard cost expectation for driving to work in Toronto is that it is so subjective and dependent on the individual's situation.

Need-a-Loan recently did an investigation of how much it costs to own a car in Toronto. That survey essentially tabulated all the costs of ownership (license and registration fees, insurance, gas, and parking) that didn't involve the actual car purchase or maintenance, since those vary so wildly from driver to driver. The figure that it estimated the average driver would pay was $5,918.20.

The cost of cabbing/ride-sharing to work in Toronto

Ride-sharing is hard to pin down as something with cut-and-dry pricing, but let's try and get some estimates of what it would cost a Toronto commuter on a daily basis. For accurate quotes, we'll use the Uber fare estimator.

Case study 1: Someone has a modest 10 km commute from 200 Annette St. in the Junction to 200 Queen St. E by the Garden District. The cheapest Uber options from that distance (UberX, UberWAV, and UberASSIST) would all cost about $19-25 per trip. Averaged to $22 and extrapolated over the course of the year, that would cost $11,176.

Case study 2: Someone has a quick 2 km commute from 20 Amelia St. in Cabbagetown to 300 Queen St. E in Trefann Court. The cheapest Uber options from that distance (UberX, UberWAV, and UberASSIST) would all cost about $7-9 per trip. Averaged to $8 and extrapolated over the course of the year, that would cost $4,064.

Conclusion

Here are the breakdowns of what you can expect to save by biking compared to each possible alternative.

Biking vs. transit

As we know from the sections above, these are the fees associated with biking and transit:

  • Average annual bike upkeep costs: $337
  • Average materials price (new bike): $1,162
  • Average materials price (used bike): $612
  • Annual transit costs: $1,608.75

 

Now, it's fair to say that the average biker won't want to be biking during the winter months. So let's suppose that he or she bikes for 8 months of the year and buys Metropasses from December to March. In a typical year where riders aren't buying a bike or any of the accompanying materials, they can expect to save $686.75 compared to transit riders. Those brave souls who bike year-round stand to save $1,271.75. Anyone who needs to buy the aforementioned things can adjust accordingly.

Biking vs. driving

If we go with that high-variance estimate from above, driving to work in Toronto is a $5,918.20 expenditure—and that's before you factor in loans and maintenance. And if we also go with the assumption that a biker takes four months off during winter and takes transit, biking is still $4,996.2 cheaper than driving.

Biking vs. cabbing/ride-sharing

As the earlier case studies indicated, even the cheapest cabbing and ride-sharing trips will likely add up to thousands of dollars over the course of a year. Compared to the commuter who was going just 2 km to work, a biker would save $3,142 per year.