Ride or Drive offers insight on different types of transportation

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Even though he bought his first car last year, graduate student Matthew Haley still uses his bike to navigate to and from campus to avoid the hassles of parking and traffic. With high parking fees and competition for spots, students have been utilizing ride-hailing to get around Austin rather than driving their own cars. 

The UT-Austin Energy Institute developed the comprehensive calculator rideordrive.org to offer consumers the chance to explore whether owning a car is worthwhile by testing different factors. The site went live early last week.

Research associate Todd Davidson said he and engineering professor Michael Webber were motivated to develop the site by the public’s increasing reliance on mobility services, such as Lyft and Uber. He said the site’s goal is educating the public on their choices, taking into account the non-obvious expenses related to car ownership.

“The cost of ownership often focuses on the sticker price of the car or the loan rate, and oftentimes they stop there,” Davidson said. “There are other costs that are maybe less obvious, which include say the maintenance of the car or the registration.”

Other hidden costs are parking and even maintenance of home garages, but the most important factor in solving the question of car ownership is time, Davidson said.

“The crux of the question is the time you spend behind the wheel driving a car,” Davidson said. “We started counting for some of those non-obvious costs, and we get a much better picture of the overall ownership — how much we need to spend, really, to maintain and operate our vehicles.” 

While graduate student Matthew Haley owes a car, he bikes to campus to avoid parking garages. 

“I played around a bit with (rideordrive.org) and realized that owning a car is probably a bad idea for me,” Haley said.

John Adamo, president of Longhorn Energy Club, said the questions raised by Davidson and Webber are timely, especially with concern growing over excessive emissions. 

“When it comes to energy and transportation, that’s an intersection that obviously has a lot of implications in where the next generation of our transportation system goes,” said Adamo, energy and earth resources graduate student. 

The purpose of this research is not to force people to give up their cars, Davidson said. 

“We don’t intend with this calculator to insist car ownership should be replaced,” Davidson said. “We’re more so trying to assess the status quo and figure out ‘Can we do even better? Can we supplement car ownership with something that makes life even more efficient and potentially more affordable?’”