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Posted 07/29/2022 in Amazing Savings Stories

Bike or Walk to School: How Much Will You Save?

Bike or Walk to School: How Much Will You Save?

Let’s be honest.   This article is not intended for everyone.  Kids’ commutes to and from school vary, depending on where they live, how far they live from the school, and the availability of adult supervision.  This article is aimed at people whose kids who live “too close” to their school to qualify for public bus service and whose path to school is deemed safe by the parents and kids.  


Katherine S. used to drive her two kids the almost 2 miles to school each day.  “They both have bikes, but weather’s unpredictable.   If they were biking home in a downpour, I’d feel like a horrible parent, especially when driving them fits my schedule most of the time.”  Since so many parents drive their kids to the same school, traffic gets backed up for about 20 minutes during drop-off and for about 30 minutes during pick-up.   “There are always people trying to be first in line, because their kids have to hurry to ballet class or Scouts or something right after school.  I just don’t leave the house until about 10 minutes after the last bell so I can avoid all the mama drama.  I’m never the last car in line, but my kids know I’ll be pretty close to the end.”


Katherine drives a Honda Odyssey and calculates she gets about 19 MPG (miles per gallon).  The last time she filled her tank, it cost $4.13 per gallon.  “We live less than 2 miles from the school, but it’s just over 2 miles driving,” she adds as we estimate how much she spends on gasoline solely for transporting her kids to and from school.  We decide to use 2 miles.  Since she drives it in each direction, twice a day, that’s 8 miles per day.  Since she pays $4.13 per gallon and gets 19 miles per gallon, she pays $4.13 to drive 19 miles, or 22 cents per mile.  Multiply the 8 miles per day times 22 cents, and it costs $1.74 in gasoline per day to drive her kids to and from school.


Katherine laughs.   “That’s nothing.  That’s less than a lottery ticket.”


But it’s for one day.   We multiply the $1.74 times the 180 days of school each school year.  The total is just over $313.  Katherine’s not laughing now.  She shrugs a little then tells me, “Next year, my daughter starts middle school, and my son will still be in elementary school three more years.  I’m going to have to drive two different places, so this is going to go up.”


We pull up an online map and see the middle school is also less than 2 miles from Katherine’s home, so her middle schooler will not qualify for public bus transportation either.   The middle school is not far from the elementary school, but in their town, elementary school starts at 7:30 A.M., high school at 8:30, and middle school at 9:30.  “I’m not going to sit there for 2 hours.  She’s probably going to want to sleep in.  So I’ll be driving 16 miles each day next year.”  We estimate it will be $616, assuming the gas price doesn’t change, which we both know isn’t a smart assumption.


Katherine makes a face.   “That’s too much.  What do you suggest?”


I counter with, “How many kids in your neighborhood can you fit in the Honda Odyssey?”  


Minus the two front seats—kids under age 13 aren’t allowed in the front seats in Katherine’s state—the Odyssey seats 6 kids.


Several of Katherine’s neighbors are in the same boat as Katherine, driving their kids to school most days.  Others let their kids walk or ride their bikes to school.  I asked Katherine to think of all the reasons her kids shouldn’t ride their bikes or walk to school.

“Walking would take too long,” she began.  “But biking would be okay.  Our neighborhood is really safe, nothing happens here.  There’s a crossing guard at the busiest intersection.  So long as they stick together, I know the older one would look out for the little one.  My only concern is the rainy season.  The sidewalks get slippery and all the kids get soaked and their backpacks get soaked.”  She pauses to think of other points in favor or against not driving her kids to school.   “My kids are pretty good at waking up early and being ready, so I don’t think that would be an issue.  They might not want to do it, but it’s probably something they should be doing.”


Katherine, like most people, would like to lose a few pounds but never has the time.  If she rode her bike to her kids’ school, she would get a short burst of exercise twice a day—four times a day if she did the middle school route, too.  “It wouldn’t be very much, but it’s more than I do now,” Katherine smiles.


Would it upset her schedule to bike with her kids to school?  “Sometimes we pass a kid on a bike, and my kids wave out the windows to him, and then we get to the street where traffic is backed up waiting to get into the drop-off lane, and the kid pedals right past us.  So I know it takes about the same amount of time to ride a bike to school from our house as it does to drive.”


We discuss Katherine’s options.


  • Carpool with a neighbor or two.  This requires getting to know the neighbors and making sure there aren’t any deal-breaker scheduling conflicts.  For some families, a morning carpool works but after-school activities make pick-up carpools impossible.
  • Offer a paid ride service, picking up and dropping off other people’s kids.   Katherine felt squeamish about asking neighbors for money, but as we talked about how this could save her neighbors $313 or $616 in a year, she agreed that if she could explain the same math we went through, some people might truly want to pay her rather than drive their own kids.
  • Bike with her kids to school.  
  • Bike with her kids in a “bike train” picking up other kids along the way.  Parents who want their kids to have a little adult oversight let their kids bike with the group, building their independence.  
  • Focus on rainy days.  No parent wants their kids riding slippery sidewalks during a rainstorm or dealing with lightning.  “There are always more parents picking up their kids on rainy days.  It’s a safety issue.”  If Katherine offered a carpool or paid pick-up service specifically for rainy days, she could keep kids safe and reduce her expenses.  


After Katherine thought through her options and further considered things that could disrupt a pattern—like having to carry a bulky science fair project to school—she decided to talk with her kids.  As predicted, they weren’t thrilled to switch from being car riders to being bike riders, but they weren’t upset about it either.  She let them know they could invite kids along their path to school to “join the parade” and pointed out a few friends each might want to invite—kids who were often car riders.  


“Maybe with more people biking, it will seem like the cooler option to the kids,” Katherine hoped.   “And since I know it saves me money, $300 this year and $600 when my daughter starts middle school, I’m going to stop spending it and set it aside, for the kids’ college funds.”  


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