Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Calculating the Commute

How much money do you save by taking transit every morning? When you calculate the Metro delays, late buses and packed cars is it worth it compared to stop-and-go traffic? Commuting calculators have the solution; enter the price of gas, the distance, how many days you work, and your mileage to see the difference. (You can of course, do the math yourself.)

I filled the application on hypothetically; I assumed that I drove five days a week (I’m also in a carpool, so I might drive two or three days a week), and I calculated the more expensive version of my transit commute instead of the friendlier Metro ride to RideOn bus, which totals $8.80. I valiantly fought the urge to add some sort of fee for potential parking tickets.

Even with my amazing gas mileage (it’s a little over $40 to fill) I’m surprised to find out that I’d save $121.75 a month. It makes me want to reconsider my carpool, considering that my monthly payments are $199. (Note: the calculator will list your “monthly” cost. It looks like the figures are your weekly cost. When I added the fees individually the money saved was still the same.)

I find numerous incentives in riding transit already: I’m one less car in congested traffic, lessening the commuting pain for others; I’m making less of a damaging impact on the environment; I have the opportunity to read, write, or craft, things I can’t do behind the wheel; public transit provides unique experiences in people watching. I’m also used to relying on transit. Owning a car is new to me and in addition to a lifelong obsession with DC transit, I needed MTA’s services in college to get to my job in Baltimore.

How much did I save in the incredibly stressful and generally unreliable commute I used in college? $42.00 with the estimation that the trip cost $3.50 a day; at the time I was on a discounted rate using a student pass so I may have saved more than $50. It’s not a car payment, but $42 in college would have covered pricey art supplies. As it was, I couldn’t afford to get around anyway, but the anxiety I face when I remember the MTA mishaps is quelled knowing that if I had chosen the method was saving me more than I anticipated.

So how much would you save? Most buses are $1.25 per ride if you use your SmartTrip card and Metro fees vary by station. Baltimore readers, your one-way ride is $1.60 and an all day pass is $3.50. (A weekly pass is $16.50.) Gas in the district is around $3.70 but the pumps near my house have been at a steady $3.59 for more than a week now. If the rates are killing you, try to find the lowest price in your area.

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