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Transportation Options

Like most people, I drive my own vehicle to work every day. I regularly explore alternatives to this because it feels like I am being inefficient or wasteful. I drive alone in a V8 powered, Ford F-150 pickup. Yes, I am that guy. The guy that all of the activists and politicians and electric car makers have their sites set on. I am in the target demographic, too. My round trip commute is under 20 miles, I am middle income, I usually buy new cars instead of used (not counting old fire trucks and Country Squires), and I like technology.

For the record, I do think that global warming is real, however I also believe in capitalism. I want to save money on commuting, and I like being kind to the planet. A good alternative commuting strategy should decrease my commuting costs, not increase them, and it should not reduce the amount of time that I have with my family because the alternative commuting option is slow.

Let's break down my options. My truck averages around 13 mpg in my normal, weekly use which includes short freeway bursts and in-town driving. Yes, that is terrible, but I actually do use my truck for carrying things, towing things, and driving Scouts to remote mountain trails, so I can't just swap it for something smaller. My commute involves dropping off my son for school, but for the sake of this exercise, I am going to start my calculations from the transit plaza that I pass after I drop him off.

On my way to work each day I pass right by a transit plaza that has a shiny new parking garage. There is a bus that leaves from the plaza and, for reasons understood only by bus route planners, it goes *almost* to my office. I say almost because it gets a couple of blocks away, and then turns off of the main road onto a side street. With the walking time from the nearest stop included, Google Maps estimates my bus commute at 41 minutes to cover the 8.5 miles from the transit plaza to my office. It estimates the same distance in my truck as taking only 15 minutes. The price of the bus ticket is $2.25 each way, so I start to save money if gas prices are more than $3.44 per gallon. Today, gasoline prices are $3.63 at the station next to the transit plaza, so all of that works out to a grand total of 25 cents in savings per day in exchange for only spending an extra 52 minutes per day commuting. Put another way, I get to purchase 52 extra minutes with my family, per day, for the sum of 25 cents per day.

There are other benefits to riding the bus, of course. I tried the bus this morning, and it wasn't raining, so I got to walk outside on a nice day. I also had time to answer some work emails with my smart phone. Still, 25 cents a day is not a huge savings. What really baffles me, however, is that the parking garage at the transit plaza has a lot of reserved parking spots for electric cars and compact cars. If I had an electric car or a compact car, it would make zero sense to ride the bus unless I had a huge commute because it would be much cheaper and faster to just drive - the exception being if I had to pay for parking at my job. However, bus routes being what they are, you never want to ride the bus if you have a huge commute. My bus takes 41 minutes to go 8.5 miles, and that is with no bus change. If you add a bus change in there then it is easy to get bus trips that are an hour and a half, one-way.

OK, so the bus makes almost no sense for me. How about a commuter car? I ran the numbers for that option, too, and I took into account driving my truck less, and assumed a commuter car with a city mileage rating of 30 mpg. There are not too many vehicles that get real world, city mileage of 30 mpg or more, and most of those are dreadful, but let's assume that I can find one that doesn't make me lose my will to live. I average around 15,000 miles per year in my truck and I assumed that I would replace 12,000 of those miles with a commuter car. That might be on the high side, but I am trying to use the best numbers. Figuring in the cost of additional insurance and licensing, I might be able to save $1500 per year if I had a commuter car. Maybe. Best case. The cheapest, smallest, plainest, dullest new car available would have payments that add up to more than $1500. Banks don't like to make loans on really cheap, used cars, either, unless the loan is for a short period of time, so the payments would once again be more than $1500 per year if I tried to buy a cheap, used car. I could buy a really cheap car for cash, but most cars that are that cheap get mileage that is as bad or worse than my truck, or they have a huge amount of miles on them and the repair bills would kill any savings that I might get.

If I had an electric car, I could save another $1200 or so, but the cheapest electric car is a Nissan Leaf and that is $31,000. The monthly payments on an electric car would be much more than the gas savings I would get from not driving my truck. My personal conspiracy theory - based on no evidence whatsoever - is that car makers are using electric cars as an excuse to jack up prices because each one of them is just about double the cost of an equivalent, gas powered car. 

I could ride my bike to work except that there are a lot of big hills, and it is frequently dark and or raining. Yes, I know some people do it and I have a name for them: Crazy. Seattle traffic and weather and terrain is just not bike friendly for normal commuters.

After all of this, I can only conclude that the best way for me to get to my workplace is to drive my V8 powered pickup. Your results may vary, but before you invest in an alternative method of commuting, I suggest that you look at the numbers very carefully.


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