app-201703-money-saving-commuters

When Chez Tonelli commutes from the NSW Central Coast to his office in western Sydney there is always a trade-off – does he pay the $4 toll on the M2 motorway to avoid the congestion coming into Parramatta or does he suffer the 22 sets of lights on Pennant Hills Road – and possibly lose valuable work time?

A bad traffic decision could extend the 80-kilometre commute from one hour and 10 minutes each way to about two hours. Most of the time, Tonelli rolls the dice.

It's not just the commute. As a regional manager for a retail finance company, he and his 13-car sales team need to travel throughout NSW. His Toyota Yaris clocks about 1000 kilometres a week, which means two petrol refills a week at about $60 each. Within an hour's driving on any given day he has seen unleaded petrol prices vary from 94c a litre to $1.24. "I don't know why prices differ," Tonelli says. "It doesn't always make sense."

As for tolls, he estimates he is paying about $70-$100 a week in his travels across NSW and the toll-heavy parts of Sydney. How could he cut the costs of the commute? Tonelli says he needs an app that accurately shows oncoming traffic conditions and for his team, a reliable telematics system that analyses individual driving techniques. "I can then see who is driving most cost-consciously and being a competitive person, I can always try to improve on my personal best."

Tonelli's commute is not unusual – especially in Sydney. The national Transport Affordability Index launched in August by the Australian Automobile Association revealed that an average family in western Sydney paid $22,000 a year in overall transport costs – about 17% of annual household income.

A two-car Sydney household (which also uses public transport) pays $419 a week in transport costs, which includes rail/bus, car loan payments, registration and licensing, insurance, servicing, fuel and tolls (but not parking). Brisbane was the next most expensive at $380 a week and Melbourne, $352. Weekly transport costs are lowest in Hobart ($278) and Adelaide ($287).

AAA spokesman Nick Tyrrell illustrated the difference between living in the north-west of Sydney and north of Brisbane. The Gateway Motorway (toll cost: $4.13 each way) connects the north of Brisbane directly to the city, but in Sydney, a driver could easily use the M7 ($4.64) the M2 ($6.24) and the Harbour Bridge ($2.50-$4) to reach the CBD. "In toll terms Sydney is about double the cost to a typical household than it is in Melbourne or Brisbane," Tyrrell says.

What can be done? Just keeping a car is expensive. According to RACV figures, a Toyota Yaris driving 15,000 kilometres a year will cost the owner $7000 to run and a Ford Territory, $12,500. Tyrrell says smart bargain-hunting for fuel from independents potentially saves motorists about $700 a year.

NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury says the biggest weekly cost is in the car loan repayment. "Don't just go to the financier you bought the car from – we always encourage new car buyers to shop around," Khoury says.

Car-sharing schemes allow people to split the cost of a ride with other commuters. The best known are shareurride and GoGet, while Uber will launch its UberPOOL service in capital cities in the next few months. Among the best established is the not-for-profit Community Carpooling Association, which has set up ride-sharing arrangements for 4000 members in NSW. It has two pools in Sydney (Sydney Car Pool and Western Sydney Car Pool), pools in Brisbane and Adelaide and is setting up a system in western Melbourne. It is free to join.

Spokeswoman Gillian Edwards says members set up a profile of their commute online, put in a start and end point and allow a matching system to seek another commuter living within a radius of five kilometres, who is going to the same place. The two people negotiate anonymously and there have been no "incidents" since the association started in 2009.

Telematics, which diagnoses driver habits, is another cost saver. Ian Davidson, co-founder of the GOFAR – a fitness tracker for your car – says its device has helped drivers reduce emissions, and ultimately costs, by an average of 6% to 12%.

The company's dashboard "dongle" is linked to a car's diagnostic system and glows blue when driving is efficient. It glows pink then red when the car is being driven poorly.

Davidson says while the device is designed as a driver's aid, the data it generates has been vital for revealing ways to improve commuting.

GOFAR found that a 15-kilometre commute in a Mazda 3 on Sydney's Pacific Highway required 20 minutes in traffic if the car left at 10am, but double that time in traffic – 39 minutes – if it left at 8am. Economy improved by 34% to 5.9 litres/100 kilometres at 10am from 8.9 litres/100 kilometres at 8am. CO2 emissions fell from an average three kilograms at 8am to just 2.1 kilograms two hours later.

"Any forward-thinking boss who uses flexible working arrangements will benefit from happier, more refreshed employees. It's cheaper, greener and safer to go a bit later and you're spending far less time stuck in traffic," Davidson says. The company is looking to help drivers use their data to cut insurance premiums.

Janelle Gonzalez, who co-owns mobile mechanic network Blue Toro, agrees, saying that reducing drive time by 30 minutes a day can save drivers as much as $1000 in fuel a year for the average four-cylinder car – as well as reducing wear and tear.

Gonzalez advocates downsizing the car, or switching to a hybrid or diesel motor. "Downsizing from a less fuel-efficient seven-year old Mazda CX-9 to a two-year-old Mazda CX-5, for example, will save the average commuter $1650 a year in fuel, or $32 a week," she says. "Switching to a hybrid or diesel car could save even more."

There are, of course, many more ways to cut the costs of a commute. Use more public transport, trade in the car for a scooter or bicycle or even move to a regional town.

Davidson at GOFAR says the company has analysed its drivers and found that even despite some having long commutes, on average their cars were unused for more than 96% of the time. If the cost of keeping the car is between $7000 to $12,000 a year, then why not rent it out, he asks. "Put your car on a car-sharing network that other people can rent. Instead of it sitting there and doing nothing, let it pay you back. If you see your car as an asset, then make it a liquid one."

 

This article was originally published by The Age on 6 September 2016. It represents the views of the author only and does not necessarily reflect the views of AMP.