Warning: What follows is a number-heavy post that is much more about finances than scooter-riding. Proceed if you’re into that sort of thing!
About a year ago I bought my first motorized two-wheeled vehicle. After a year of MCATs, interviews and campus visits, Helen had chosen Penn State College of Medicine to spend the next four years becoming a doctor. She would be living in Hershey, approximately 100 miles from our current apartment in Philadelphia.
Knowing that she would be close by was comforting, but there were still questions about how often I would be able to see her. While I only work three days a week, and have the ability to work from home (or Hershey) some of the time, the public transportation options are not ideal. The easiest way to get to Hershey is through Amtrak’s Middletown train station. Tickets are $25 on weekdays, or $30 on weekends, each way. I’d also have to use two Septa tokens $1.80 each to get to and from 30th street station in Philadelphia, and bug one of Helen’s friends to make the drive out to Middletown (6.8 miles of fast roads that I would be unsafe to bicycle on), usually bribing them with a coffee or a burrito.
Because I live in a city that is extremely bike friendly I have no desire to own a car. Insurance alone would cost between $100-$150/month, or the cost of two round trips by train, before gas. Not worth it for a vehicle I would rarely use for anything else, so I started looking at motorcycles and then their more fuel-efficient and easy-to-drive cousins, scooters.
Scooters are typically much smaller than motorcycles, with engine displacements of between 50 and 150 cubic centimeters (cc) compared to around 250cc displacement on even the smallest motorcycles. Scooters typically have their engines in front of the rear wheel, creating a storage space below the seat not available on motorcycles. Because scooters have shorter wheel bases and tires, they are less stable and often incapable of reaching highway speeds. Scooters also automatically change gears, so riders are not required to learn how to use a clutch and a foot pedal to change gears like on a motorcycle. Because they are smaller, scooters often get better gas mileage.
After a lot of research I settled on a 2013 Honda PCX 150. The 150 is descriptive of the 150cc engine size, large for a scooter. It can easily cruise at 55 before topping out around 68 mph. It also has a larger than typical 14 inch tire size, and is rated at 104 miles per gallon. Also important was the fact that it was a scooter from a major brand with several dealers in the area. I read multiple horror stories about cheap off-brand scooters with small malfunctions involving parts that are simply not available.
Driving a larger scooter requires a motorcycle license, which in Pennsylvania is easy to acquire. The learners permit cost $10 and about an hour of studying while waiting in line to take the multiple choice test. With a permit I was able to sign up for a free safety course, which concluded in my license test. The course included two days of boring lectures and word problems followed by two days of riding lessons (on motorcycles provided for no cost). The riding lessons were very helpful, and I would highly recommend the course, even though the first couple of days felt like a waste of time.
After passing the test I was licensed and ready to start riding. Since then I’ve put approximately 1,700 miles on the scooter with no significant problems. Driving is a blast, and I’ve tracked the mileage through Fuelly.com at 97.7 mpg over the life of the vehicle so far.
But, am I really saving money? I decided to track down as much data as I could over the first year of my scooters life to see what the cost of ownership actually was. Here is what I came up with:
Out the door purchase cost of the scooter (new) plus taxes, tags, registration, one year of insurance and a DOT certified helmet: $4,258.89
Total gas (1700 miles): $55.96
Oil: $30 (I bought an 8-pack of the appropriate oil, and I did the first oil change myself)
Other equipment and upgrades (Includes windscreen, additionally trunk space attached, riding jacket, riding boots, and second helmet for passengers): ~$1,000
Total cost of ownership: $5400.81
Expenses not incurred (includes 8 round trips visits to see Helen 1.5 of which included transporting Helen, and approximately 17 non-bicycle friendly errands run around Philly, 7 of which included Helen):
Amtrak: $495 (8 round trips to Middletown including 2 at weekend rates, plus 3 one way tickets for times I took Helen to or from School on the scooter)
Septa tokens: $106.20 (9 tokens for Helen for trips we’ve taken together, 50 tokens for me)
Bribing Helen’s Friends to pick me up/drop me off at Middletown: Approximately $25 in coffee/burritos.
Total savings: $626.20
Total cost minus total savings equals a cost of ownership of $4,774.61 after one year. In other words, I’m $4,774.61 in the hole vs. just paying for public transportation.
This doesn’t bother me at all for a couple of reasons. The first is that I anticipate the operational costs of the scooter to remain under $200 a year. Operational costs are things like gas, insurance ($88/year), registration, oil changes, ect. If I repeat this years numbers in expenses not incurred, I’d bring down my total cost of ownership by $426.20 every year, or $1,278.60 over the next three years. That would drop the amount of money I was paying for the convenience, exhilaration and fun of owning the scooter to $3,496.01 over the four years Helen spends in medical school, or about $874/year.
The other reason is that I imagine that my use of the scooter will increase. Helen has another two months of school this year, which means I’ll probably make another 2-3 round trip visits during a period last year in which I made zero. That alone would represent a major increase in money saved over public transportation. Additionally, while Helen will take summer off this year, in years 3 and 4 of med school, she will be away year round, which means a lot of additional trips during the warmest, best riding weather of the year. I imagine my use of the scooter will increase somewhere between 25% and 30% next year, and double by year 3.
Assuming a 25% increase in usage next year, and an additionally 75% in year 3, followed by the same usage in year 4, my cost of ownership (vs public transportation) by the end of med school should be about $2,087.08, or $521.77/year. In that time, I anticipate putting 8,925 miles on the scooter.
Currently the suggested retail value of an earlier version of the bike (a 2011 PCX 125, which had a slightly lower MSRP at the time) is $2,110 according to kelly blue book. Assuming the value of my bike is similar in two years, I could sell it and end up in the green, even when assigning a value of $0 for convenience and fun factor!