Cars & College Don't Mix

Curtis Rogers

The pandemic had an effect on many industries, and no one could have predicted the wild swings felt by the transportation industry. Air travel decreased, crowding fears kept many people off transit, and Americans hit the road in large numbers, pushing the cost of vehicles and fuel higher. Supply chain issues are currently crushing new vehicle inventory, with no short term solutions appearing. 

Speaking of higher prices, few costs have surged over the years like college tuition, but one costly factor of college life is not often mentioned: car ownership. A friend recently broke down the living expenses of his two children in college, and realized that the “cheap college town” was actually more expensive since that student also needed a car. The “expensive” housing in the big city suddenly becomes a better deal when there’s no vehicle to pay for. Housing might appear cheap in Lubbock, TX, but higher rents in Austin or Miami look better when an undergrad doesn’t need a car. While each city is different, new mobility options are finally catching up to the convenience of the personal car, and the option of car-free living is now available in more places.

In the last ten years, the smartphone has created new ways to get a ride, rent a car, borrow a scooter, and even have groceries delivered. The average car sits idle for 95% of its life, and that number goes up for students living on campus, leaving many personal cars collecting dust. Each trip using a mobility service will incur a cost, but it’s cheaper compared to the cost of a car, insurance, registration, fuel, maintenance, parking permits, speeding/DUI tickets, road tolls, fender benders, etc.

Despite the recent mobility innovations, many college students own cars for the convenience of getting home when they need to. Hometown trips are important enough to take on the cost of the car, and while plenty will continue to do so, there are new options for people that are ready to drop the burden of ownership. City-to-city mobility is one of the fastest growing transportation sectors, with new businesses getting creative in how they move people -- that's where Hitch comes in. Beyond the savings, there are also safety benefits. Road trips are often taken after sleepless nights studying (or partying), and letting someone else do the driving makes the road safer for everyone. 

While plenty of parents will continue insisting their child take a car to school, there’s no better time to consider testing out other modes. A monthly mobility allowance of a few hundred dollars would still be cheaper than the cost of having a car, and it eliminates the risk that the vehicle could be a total loss at any moment (e.g. theft, distracted driver, hail storm). Cars are great mobility tools, but there are also some heavy lessons and harsh consequences when considering the dangers involved. Living car-free might not eliminate the risks completely, but it certainly decreases the chances of driving while drowsy or after drinking.

Access to great mobility no longer requires owning a car in American cities. As students prepare for school in the fall, it’s a great time to consider the price of convenience, and how the smartphone can provide quality, dependable transportation without the headaches and expense of a personal vehicle.