To many people, the wait is inevitable and only a minor irritation. To others, it is a major headache and adds extra costs to doing business. “It” is commuting to and from work and the lost time caused by this.

I read about a study that compared time spent in rush hour from 1990 to 2000. It was estimated that in 1990, U.S. drivers spent an average of 16 hours per year in rush hour traffic. That figure mushroomed to 62 hours in 2000. That averages about 24 minutes a day, based on the five-day work week, for rush hour alone.

In Houston, for example, a 2001 Urban Mobility Study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University showed that the average commute time, including rush hour, was 86 hours per year, an average of 33 minutes. The same study showed that in the 90s, the U.S. population increased 1% while vehicle miles traveled increased almost 20%.


I decided to crunch a few numbers on a website calculator ( to come up with some average costs that HVACR contractors might face in their day-to-day business. In my hypothetical example, “commute distance” is miles traveled between service calls, not from home to work.

This calculator used six variables (not including parking fees). The variables:

  • Daily round trip commute distance. (I filled in 10 miles as an average between service calls.)

  • Days per month usually worked. (I filled in 22, which varies according to vacations, holidays, weekend work, etc.)

  • Automobile average miles per gallon. (I guessed and filled in 13.)

  • Cost per gallon of gas. (I used current prices in my area, $1.50.)

  • Cost per mile for maintenance and tires. (National average is $0.042 per mile.)

  • Cost per mile for financing, insurance, depreciation, and taxes. (National average is $0.34 per mile.)

    The monthly cost of gas for each service call is $25. The monthly cost for maintenance and tire wear is $9.24. And, the monthly cost for insurance, depreciation, and taxes is $75. The total monthly operating cost per service call is $109.24. (Don’t forget applicable parking and/or toll charges, either.)

    Now take that $109.24 and multiply it by the number of service calls the average tech makes and the number of vehicles you have on the road. Let’s say your techs average five calls a day and you have 10 vehicles. That adds up to $5,462 per month. Some contractors may average more than five runs per vehicle per day and travel distances vary between rural and urban communities.

    If you get a moment, go to the website calculator and fill in the numbers from your business. You may be happy — or distressed — about the results.


    What the calculator didn’t show was the amount of time and money wasted in rush hour traffic. If you discount the “normal” commute times and figure in only rush hour traffic, the additional costs are staggering.

    The Texas A&M study showed that the cost of traffic congestion nationwide totaled $78 billion, representing a cost of 4.5 billion hours of extra travel time and 6.8 billion gallons of fuel wasted while sitting in traffic.

    A couple of visitors to The News’ HVACR Forum (at had some thoughts on longer commutes.

    “I would say my travel times have doubled on average,” noted Glen Harrison. “I live north of Chicago and it takes me two hours to make the 50-mile trip into the Loop for one customer I service down there, and that’s to arrive at 8:00 a.m.”

    Another visitor, C. Wright, said, “In Dallas, TX, the average port-to-port is 45-75 minutes, with every major traffic artery under construction. Traffic has definitely gotten much worse in this locale over the years, but in particular the past three years.”

    It would be nice to find a cure for these problems, knowing full well that the costs of commuting go up dramatically when rush hour is figured into the equation. But Harrison added something that got me thinking: “On the other hand, if I head west, I can make the 20-mile trip to our shop in 30 minutes.”

    Wouldn’t it be great if HVACR contractors could schedule calls that go against the traffic flow? If you are already doing that, great. If you aren’t, but you have other suggestions, please drop me a line.

    Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); (e-mail).

    Publication date: 07/15/2002