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.
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.