Friday, September 17

Consumers need full disclosure of transportation costs

If Walkscore put walkability on the real estate map (it's getting better all the time, by the way), the new online tool Abogo might do the same for transportation affordability. Just type in an address and the home gets placed on a map showing average transportation costs for the surrounding neighborhood and the region. This is what you can expect to pay on a monthly basis if you choose to live here. Seeing this number in black and white may help diffuse the old drive-til-you-qualify myth - that you can find more house for the money the further from the city you move. Living in lower densities may pose less up-front costs per square foot, but the ongoing cost of getting to where you need to go on a regular basis is real and likely much higher. Abogo puts a number on that reality.

 The site is developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, who have been amassing an armful of data on transportation and housing for years now. Their Housing and Transportation Affordability Index presented this data last spring to tell the story of affordable living choices from a metropolitan area perspective, and the H+T Index site has already been incorporated into plenty of policy discussions, including the federal Sustainable Communities Initiative. Abogo is the next logical step, because it narrows the story to the consumer level where any real change in the marketplace will have to occur. Markets work best when information is available. As a homebuyer, the basic housing cost information is in your face. You literally have to write the check for your mortgage. Transportation costs are more nebulous, hidden in gas prices, insurance costs, saving for the next vehicle, parking, etc. Because of this, they have not typically figured into the home purchasing decision to the same degree.

I wanted to see how I stacked up out of curiosity. As a new homeowner, this tool is less useful to me now than it would have been a few months ago when we were looking, but it does put my home location in context. Abogo lists my block group as $830 a month in transportation costs for the average resident. We happen to keep meticulous budget records, and, from what I can tell, we’re  spending around $200 per month for transportation. This includes amortization on the vehicle, which is oldish and no-frills. We’re a family of three – pretty average on that account.  The difference probably arises out of the fact that I bike to work, and neither of us use the car every day. When we do drive – to the grocery for instance – it’s usually just a mile or so. Then there’s the occasional out of town trip.

I guess this means we have an extra $630 in our pockets each month just for some of these simple lifestyle tweaks. (Or it could mean the models are out of whack, but I've read through the methodology and it seems sound to me.)