The cost of commuting to Silicon Valley

Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft employ tens thousands of people in the San Francisco Bay area including many talented people driving close to 100 miles round-trip every day to work for these big companies. AAA released today their 2006 driving costs report and I decided to run the numbers to associate a conservative cost with a commute to these companies.

How much would it cost to drive a Toyota Camry to work every day from the city centers of San Francisco, Berkeley, or Alameda? Prices below include conservative costs from AAA for average fuel consumption, maintenance, tires, insurance, license and registration, loan finance charges and depreciation costs. AAA estimates a per-mile cost of $0.49.

According to Salary.com the median Senior Web Developer in Sunnyvale is paid $99,000. Commute costs from San Francisco would account for about 14.3% of this person’s salary after taxes.

Commute costs

San FranciscoBerkeleyAlameda
Average$8,776$10,941$9,192
Yahoo!$9,393$11,495$9,762
Microsoft$8,573$10,769$9,012
Google$8,362$10,558$8,801

A monthly pass on San Francisco public transit is $45, or $540 a year. Can local startups compete for talent with these multi-thousand person companies? I think so.

Costs likely higher

The cost-per-mile used by AAA includes national average numbers that are cheaper than urban centers such as San Francisco where it costs more to insure a car or hire a mechanic. The AAA cost-per-mile number uses last year’s gas price of $2.405 a gallon and not the current price of $2.717, a 13% increase.

Behind the numbers

Milage includes a roundtrip drive from 4th & Market in San Francisco, University & Shattuck in Berkeley, or Park & Encinal in Alameda including bridge fare. Not included is the two hours one might spend in the car every day when driving with no traffic.

Yes, I know there are public transit options. Some companies offer a free shuttle either for the entire trip or from train stations. Public transit from the East Bay to Silicon Valley does not seem to exist, but CalTrain is one option from San Francisco.

10 comments

Commentary on "The cost of commuting to Silicon Valley":

  1. Joanna Ramberg on wrote:

    Thanks for the numbers!!!

    I used to travel everyday from San Francisco to Sunnyvale. Pretty much killed my old Honda Civic! These days when I job hunt, I account for gas and mileage onto my base rate for salary.

    Needless to say these days, most hiring managers will probably still try to lowball you anyway. So I probably will not be commuting much to Sunnyvale anymore! (Of course, I’m speaking for those who are working at startups in Silly Valley near Google, Netscape, or Microsoft.)

    I now have a nice easy drive from Daly City (or San Francisco if I’m going to figure skating beforehad) to San Bruno. Needless to say, I don’t plan on job hunting any time soon now. ;-)

  2. Ryan on wrote:

    There is Amtrak for people in the East Bay. The train starts in Sacramento, works it’s way through Richmond and Oakland, down through Fremont and Santa Clara before ending the trip across the street from the Shark Tank in downtown San Jose (see the Capitol Corridor).

    I commute to Yahoo! in Sunnyvale from Folsom. I actually did a little crunching of how much I was spending on gas (among other things).

  3. Jackson West on wrote:

    I used to take the Amtrak from Oakland to Sunnyvale, with about fifteen minutes of biking at either end. Problem is, they’re slowly cutting service on the Capitol Corridor line (Sacramento-Oakland-San Jose).

    Interesting that 14% number — especially considering most people generally pay at least 40% of their pre-tax income on housing, and some in the Bay Area pay as much as 60%. Doesn’t leave a lot of money for savings.

  4. Bill on wrote:

    Those numbers are really high! I wouldn’t be surprised if the relative cost of commuting here in Canada were a bit higher because of our taxes.

    How often do these companies let you work from home? If you could save the drive a few days a week it would save a lot of dough…maybe work from “theoffice?”

  5. Niall Kennedy on wrote:

    Many companies allow employees with a long commute to work from home once a week.

  6. Ryan on wrote:

    My manager at Yahoo! allows me to telecommute from Folsom 2 days a week. Before Yahoo! I worked for EarthLink in San Jose who let me do the same thing.

  7. Ian Kennedy on wrote:

    Your Alameda number is way too high. Park & Encinal is right near my house and I actually *have* a Toyota Camry and work at the Yahoo in Sunnyvale. I usually shoot straight down the East Bay so no bridge tolls saving $4/day. I would suspect the other East Bay folks do the same.

    I use my car mainly for the commute and it works out to a tank a week. Given recent gas prices, I’ll put that at $40/week which works out to $2080/year. My car’s an old one with tons of miles so I’ve been racking up some bills for some pretty major service but even with that I don’t expect my total commuting costs to clear $4k for the year. Once I spring for a new hybrid, expect both these costs to go down. . .

    Time is another matter (1 hr. each way) but I’ve got the Om & Niall show to make those productive :-)

  8. Chad Walters on wrote:

    Yahoo (where I work) runs WiFi-enabled shuttles for employees from San Francisco. Google has a similar, more extensive program, I believe.

  9. Tantek on wrote:

    Having commuted nearly every weekday for almost five years from SF to Mountain View, there are additional psychological/stress costs, even when taking shuttles and/or Caltrain, that commuters may not even realize. You get so used to the “daily strain” that you accept it as part of the stress of work.

    That is, until you quit your job in Valley(tm) and take a job in the City(tm) with a “short transit only commute”. No more worrying about shuttle/Caltrain schedules and rushing to catch the last shuttle because you wanted to fix one more bug before leaving. Just walk out to the MUNI (sometime before midnight) with the confidence that one will be along in mere minutes. Seriously, the change in commute alone felt like it lifted a huge weight off my shoulders.

  10. Rob on wrote:

    Ouch.

    Fwiw: My best commute was a 10 minute walk across a park. Nice but with a couple feet of Ottawa snow and 40 below, 10 minutes was enough to start feeling tingly. At least I could wear sandles in the summer.

    My worst commute has to be the one I have now, 25 miles each way including a trip across the Windsor/Detroit border. The toll, gas, and maintenance definitely take a chunk out of the paycheque.