Talkin’ Transit: Drive

Photo courtesy of
‘twilight drive’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99′

Through a very lucky break I’ve had a free parking pass for my office building over the last month. It’s given me a chance to drive into the office on a regular basis, and to compare that commute to my regular Metro commute. The things I do for you fine readers!

First, let me make it clear: I think that a viable public transit system has to be at the heart of any reasonably sized community. We just cannot afford another half-a-million cars on the road.

Having said that, from time to time (at least once a week) when I ride Metro, I get the urge to drive again. Every time I look at Metro’s site and see “delayed” (as I write this, the Orange and Blue lines are delayed) I want to get in the car and go.

The common wisdom is that you’ll sit in traffic for a lot longer than your Metro commute. Or the rage and annoyance you feel will be unhealthy. Or the pollution you create … etc. I’m here to tell you that if you have control of your schedule, if your bosses are flexible, and if you like to drive, commuting by car is a much more pleasant way to go.

I understand that my experience is little more than anecdotal: it works for me, but it’s unlikely to generalize to many of you. But I do believe there is a nugget of data there; companies should consider allowing more flexibility for their workers as working staggered hours and from home can help with commutes.

Photo courtesy of
‘All Around Me’
courtesy of ‘Paul Frederiksen’

Here’s my situation: I commute from the Courthouse neighborhood of Arlington to my office a few blocks from the White House. It is a little over four miles. My Metro route is the Orange line from Courthouse to McPherson Square. My morning drive is Route 50 to the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge to E St. to 18th to H. My evening drive is 13th to K St, across the bridge and back on 50. I usually need to be in the office by 10a, and I often work until 6p. Some days, I have to be in the office before 8a (sometimes before 7) — more on this later. I work from home one day a week, on average.

My Metro commute, including my walk from home and the walk to the office, is about 20 minutes, if everything is on time and I catch my usual trains. The cost is $1.80 ($2 at the end of the month). That works out to about $68 ($76 under the new fares) a month (two trips a day, 18 days a month). It’s a very attractive price point, a very short commute, and it’s going to be impossible for me to beat that with any form of transportation that doesn’t involve sweating a lot.

My morning drive is just about 15 minutes. The later I leave, the faster my drive time. My evening commute is about 25 minutes. Yes, I realize this is an amazing commute by car. Further, if I do have to be in the office early, my morning drive is cut to 8 minutes, and the evening drive to about 12. Let me tell you, I’m not a morning person, but driving in at 6:30a is almost worth getting up — you’d never hear me say that about riding Metro at that hour.

So, what does this drive cost me? Using the trip cost calculator on GasBuddy, I discovered that my round trip cost is $1.14 (based on premium gas, my car’s specs, 8.8 miles round trip, and average cost of $3.178 per gallon). That’s about $21 a month. Huh. Look at that. (As an aside, realistically, I’ve found I’m putting in about 16 gallons of gas a month, which includes other driving, that’s about $50 in gas).

Wear and tear should probably be factored in, and I’m going to use the Commuter Page’s (PDF) numbers for maintenance, repairs, and depreciation (about $0.22 per mile). That adds another $34 to my cost, bringing the total to $55 a month for driving.

My actual commute is fairly pleasant. Traffic seems to be more about the timing of the lights rather than people driving like idiots. When it does get bad (and it does), I can fire up some music and be that guy who is “singing” at the top of his lungs. I have my car with me, so a trip somewhere other than home is easily accomplished. Staying late, whether at work or for dinner downtown, is no longer a chore because I won’t have to wait 20-30 minutes for a train, or hop a cab to go home.

Of course, my free ride will end later this summer. I’ll very much go back to riding the Metro. I’d like to say it’s because I am a reasonable and pragmatic man, and that I should do as I preach. And I do preach public transport. But I’m not going back to Metro because of that. It’s the $255 a month price tag for a parking spot that’s going to send me back to my beloved delays on the Orange line.

Now, here’s a fun video I did the other night. I’d had dinner downtown and was heading home. I set up my camera on the front of the dash, and set off.

Born in Lebanon, Samer moved to DC to go to college. A lot of good that did him. Twenty-two years later, he still lives in the area. When he’s not writing for a blog or tweeting incessantly, he wanders the streets (and the globe) photographing whatever gets in his way.

14 thoughts on “Talkin’ Transit: Drive

  1. It’s nice to hear some support for driving! Too many of my city friends take pity on me for driving to work (in the beltway, barely), mostly because it means I’m not down for 6:30pm happy hours. But the reality is that I have a car anyway, I don’t want to live in any neighborhoods near my work, and I’m not interested in a forever commute requiring trains and buses (constant waiting around). Not to mention I’m no longer teetering between tightly-packed bodies carrying numerous totes full of my lunch, gym clothes, etc. So for now at least, happy hours downtown will have to wait. Satellite radio and air conditioning reign.

  2. From Courthouse to Downtown DC by bike, you’d probably take about 20 minutes on the way in (that downhill from Courthouse to the Key Bridge helps) and maybe 30 minutes on the way back out.
    So, about the same as your Metro commute times – you get to hop on your bike and choose when you want to go (and as a bonus you don’t have to worry about traffic and having to get to the office early or late to beat traffic.)

    You’d also save money on a) gas, parking, and wear-and-tear to your car and b) SmartTrip refills. Plenty of DC bloggers have done comparisons of the costs – head over to Washcycle and I’m sure you’ll find something.

    Now you’ll come back and say that you don’t want a method that makes you sweat a lot. Does your office have a gym or locker-room facility where you can shower or at least change?

    My daily bike commute is only a little shorter than the times I mentioned above and I just take a shower right before leaving and then change into my suit and tie at the office (carry them folded nicely in my messenger bag). My hunch is that if you tried the bike ride a couple times, you’d see that its not so physically demanding as to work up a real sweat.

    Have you thought of giving it a try so you have something to compare your other commuting options to?

  3. Okay, hang on, before we get into Yet Another Bike Practicality Argument, can I propose some ground rules so it doesn’t turn into another Festival of Judgment About Personal Hygiene like the last one did?

    1. The only person who knows how much he/she is likely to sweat during a given period of physical exertion is the person doing the sweating.

    2. The only person who can decide how much sweating on the way to work is practical for them to deal with is the person doing the sweating.

    3. A person’s assertion that they sweat more than they can efficiently deal with as a practical matter is not a sign that their personal hygiene or medical care is substandard.

    Bilsko, I’m not at ALL saying you’ve run afoul of any of those ground rules; I just recall some needless snark by several commenters on the last post to get into a debate about biking in the summertime and I’d like to nip in the bud any speculation about the glandular status of people one only knows online before it gets started.

  4. @iEatDC: You’re choosing sitting in your car alone over spending time with friends? If this is supposed to sound like a convincing reason to drive in DC, it’s not working.

  5. @Bilsko, while I appreciate the bike argument and, in fact, have a lot of sympathy for it, I’m not a bike guy. I had a bike years ago, and used it so infrequently, I didn’t know it had been stolen until I was told by a neighbor.

    I have walked to and from the office, and on nice days I love the hour or more it takes. But DC’s nice days and my days where I have the time seem to be in eternal conflict. Even then, if it’s higher than mid-sixties, I only walk home, as I’m too sweaty for work. We’ve got no shower or gym facilities, and I’m not the kind of guy that takes a change of clothes to the office.

    I’m sure that biking everyday would be healthier for me but, for various reasons, it’s not really something I’m interested in. Besides, this post was inspired by my surprise at how painless driving is, especially if you are close in and have free parking.

  6. @Tiffany…I was just getting ready to pounce and slam down the reply hammer til I saw the note at the bottom of your reply. Snarky commenting session averted.
    I agree that these commuting posts can all-too-quickly deteriorate into that type of discussion, which is preceisely why I went light on the recommendations and instead posed a set of questions for Samer to consider – and its clear that he’s already given thought to some of them.

    I’m glad I get to work every day by bike – but I’d be lying if I said that there aren’t some days where hopping in the car for a 10 minute drive to work is infinitely more appealing than hopping on the bike for the 10 minute ride. (And both are *always* more appealing than waiting around for the bus and dealing with that.)

  7. I am grappling with the same question. I work out by AU on New Mexico Ave and I live around Chinatown. It’s an easy walk to Gallery Place and then I take the N2 bus from Dupont. The bus drops me off at the front door of my office building. The trip costs somewhere around $5/day. (I’m still not 100% sure. Sad I know). The total commute takes about 40 mins.

    I can drive and there is parking that I can use, but it’s a few blocks walk. If I wanted to park in our garage it’s $13/day and that is not worth it. My commute if I drive, is about 30 mins.

    The pros for using Metro are that I don’t have the frustration that is Mass Ave. I am not bogging down the roads with another car.

    The cons of metro are I’m mad that they keep raising prices and I still don’t feel 100% safe. Granted, you never know when you’ll get robbed or pick pocketed, but I fell that I have 100% more likely hood of that happening in Metro then I do in my car. Also, really Metro? Another 10 car train and a bus driver that caused an accident and now his his job back? I just don’t have a lot of confidence in Metro.

    Also, I CAN’T stand the loud, large groups of teenagers that hang out around Gallery Place and I hate how everyone bumps and pushes and then runs down to the Green/Yellow lines that are downstairs at Gallery Place. (I understand why you do it, but it still bugs me).

    One HUGE con of driving is that I know someone is going to hit my car or I am going to have a fender bender. Not that I am a bad driver, but I feel that it’s inevitable.

    I just can’t decide if it’s worth it to drive or to Metro. So until I can be an adult and make up my mind, Metro it is.

  8. This analysis and commentary is interesting but kind of irrelevant – as you admit, the only reason you’re driving is you have a free parking space downtown worth $255/month. Take that away, and the whole argument of this post goes down with it. Right?

    “Of course, my free ride will end later this summer… It’s the $255 a month price tag for a parking spot that’s going to send me back to my beloved delays on the Orange line.”

  9. @ Just161: It might be irrelevant to me, or to others that can’t afford to (or won’t) pay for parking, but that doesn’t cover everyone. There are quite a few people who are willing to pay, and many others who get free parking as a benefit.

    I know people who do drive to work every day, and I couldn’t quite understand how or why they would do so. When I got the option to try it (after 16 years of doing the same commute by Metro), I leapt at the chance. I expected to be rather annoyed and to want to go back to Metro, at least some of the time. That wasn’t the case.

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