Photo courtesy Uber.

I Don’t Own, I Uber

A year after selling my car and going full Uber, I crunched the numbers. Guess what I found.

A little over a year ago, I moved to London and as part of the move, I sold my car. This was a big deal for me as a native of LA, where car ownership is celebrated, no matter how bad the traffic gets. I owned a 2004 Toyota 4Runner with 140k miles (not all VCs fly in private jets to work). I am not a “car person,” but I loved my car because it almost never broke down in our ten years together. But, the move meant it had to go, and so it was sold for next-to-nothing to a really nice dad with two kids.

While I may have been sad to see my car go, I wasn’t concerned about being car-less because — when not on strike — public transportation is pretty good in Europe, and Uber is nearly ubiquitous in major cities. I knew Uber was more expensive in London, but everything was more expensive in London and I had factored that into my decision to move in the first place.

What I didn’t expect was that depending on Uber (UberX specifically) would actually be cheaper than owning and driving a car. Much cheaper. Yes, the company says this, but I didn’t think it was realistic yet.

Well, it is. At least for me.

I’ve been back in SF for a couple of months and have been wondering if I should buy a car. So, I compared my transportation expenses over the past two years. There are some obvious caveats, but here’s a quick break-down:

Car (August 2013-August 2014)

Apartment Parking Space: $350/month x 12 months = $4,200 [1]

Gas: 23 gallons x $3.75/gallon = $86.25, $86.25 x 52 weeks = $4,485 [2]

Insurance: $133 x 12 months = $1,596 [3]

That’s $10,281/year right there for just the basics, not factoring in normal servicing, repairs, car washes, other parking, tolls or tickets (and there were tickets). And of course, that’s not including the amortized cost for the purchase of the car in the first place. It’s just the bare annual minimum.

This also doesn’t include the additional Uber, taxi or public transportation fares I had throughout the year when I wasn’t driving — for example, after drinks or when traveling in other cities.

Uber (August 2014-August 2015)

Total cost: $4,655.79

That’s a dramatic difference in cost. But to be fair, I had to rent a car 3–4 times in the last year for an additional $1k or so combined. And of course, like the year before, this doesn’t factor in public transportation costs, etc.

Now obviously there are some significant caveats to my comparison. My cities and schedule changed in this time period (though the Uber-only year includes three months in SF). I could have driven a much more fuel efficient vehicle, taken public transportation down south to Sand Hill more often, found cheaper parking (though I’m not actually sure that would have been possible in SF), etc. This is not an exact science.

But if anything, I was traveling more miles in Europe and riding with Uber more frequently because it was dependable and familiar to me.

And that brings me to the part of the comparison that can’t be quantified: peace of mind. Owning a car — particularly in a city — can be stressful. There’s no fewer than a dozen startups in San Francisco trying to fix just the parking hassle (on-demand valets! driveway-share marketplaces! etc). Not having to deal with a car is a luxury — a cheaper one for me. Even when I commute down the peninsula, the combination of a train and Uber for last mile reach is vastly preferable to the hell that is the 101.

Uber has reached such high city density, geographic ubiquity and price diversity that it can truly be an economical replacement for car ownership for some people. There are dozens of factors that make the trade-off right for me, and that’s obviously not the case for everyone, everywhere (families are an obvious example, though Uber appears to be working on that). But it will increasingly be the right choice for more people as the company reaches even greater density and rolls out new services.

It’s worth doing the math for yourself.

***

[1] Apartment parking isn’t cheap in SF, I believe this is true in other condensed cities as well.

[2] The 2004 Toyota 4Runner has a 23 gallon tank with roughly 15–17 mile fuel efficiency. Pretty bad, but remember, this was an old car. My commute from home to KP in Menlo Park was 70 miles round trip and I’d go down to the office 2–3 times a week. The rest of the time I was commuting around the city or out of town on the weekends. I filled up my tank roughly every week and looking at a historical almanac for SF gas prices that year, $3.75/gallon seems about the average. San Francisco has the most expensive gas in California.

[3] My car insurance was $1,600/year, it probably would have been slightly less if I had a newer car.

[Disclosure: I’m an investor in Uber like literally thousands of other people. I believe it’s good business to invest in products and companies you love, if you can.]

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