Greater Greater Washington

Tysons commuter tries transit, becomes a convert

At least one Washington commuter is making Take Transit Week permanent. My cousin decided to hop on the bus after a collision this summer, and she hasn't looked back.

Here's how it went that first day in mid-August (the other voice you hear is mine):

My cousin loves her cara 2009 Infiniti G37 coupe. But her enthusiasm to drive was significantly curbed in June when she accidentally rear-ended someone in heavy rush-hour traffic for the second time in two months. Not only did it give her jitters behind the wheelher insurance payment doubled.

Knowing that taking transit saves money, burns calories, and frees up time, I decided to make The Ask. Since I was commuting downtown for the summer, I suggested we take the bus to the Metro from the stop right outside her development in central Tysons Corner. Before the accidents, she would have laughed it off, but instead she said yes.

Now that my cousin's been riding a while, I asked her a few questions.

Has switching to Metro saved you money?

The cost of using Metro per month is $196 (bus + train). Parking at the office is $270/month plus $284/month in gas. So my total monthly savings is $358. Additional pluses are less mileage on the car as well as wear and tear on the tires. Also there is less chance of getting in an accident (my personal favorite).
Are there other pros or cons to switching to transit?
Cons: I don't love being stuck at the mercy of bus and train schedules. Also, driving can take less time. The 11-mile commute by car ranges from 30 minutes on the best day to 90+ on bad days. My transit commute takes about 50 minutes, door-to-door. Plus, I like to have the option to stop on my way home which you cannot do as easily on public transportation.

Pros: On the other hand, it's less stressful than driving. I used to arrive at work all stressed out from the traffic delays, constant construction and really poor driving going on around me. I can work on my way in as I get service for the BlackBerry on the bus and train.

I've found the buses clean and air conditioned. The timetables seem to be pretty accurate. And having two different bus routes within 1 block of my home is convenient.

The bus drop-off at West Falls Church is covered so I don't get wet when it's raining. A dedicated, separate entrance to the train platform is provided from the bus area as well. The vast majority of the time I even manage to get a seat both ways.

To top things off, I can get a pre-tax benefit through my firm's WMATA SmartBenefits program.

Was it easier or harder than driving on the earthquake, hurricane and flood days?
In general, it was easier. While there were delays on transit, the traffic seemed way worse.

The day of the earthquake, it took almost twice as long due to the lower speed limit on tracks during the structural inspections. On the Thursday that Tropical Storm Lee blew through, I waited an hour for the buswhich I expected. But I equated traffic around Tysons to what one would see on Christmas Eve: gridlock. I was very glad to be on the bus.

What are your words of wisdom to anyone considering a bus/Metro commute?
My advice would be to try it for a week, take the time to do the math and calculate the savings. And keep an open mind.

I begrudgingly (still) have to admit I am a public transportation convert. Check back with me in November when the cold and snow has settled in.

If you haven't tried transit, give it a whirl. You might just become a convert, too.

Crossposted at The Durable Human.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Jenifer Joy Madden is an independent journalist and founder of DurableHuman.com. Vice chair of the Fairfax County Transportation Advisory Commission, she got her start in transportation planning by organizing a multi-purpose trail system where she lives in northern Vienna. 

Comments

Add a comment »

$284 a month in gas? Seems way, way too high....

by Michael on Sep 27, 2011 3:11 pm • linkreport

"Cons: I don't love being stuck at the mercy of bus and train schedules. Also, driving can take less time. The 11-mile commute by car ranges from 30 minutes on the best day to 90+ on bad days. My transit commute takes about 50 minutes, door-to-door"

Hmm. That must be someone who hasn't expereince the joys of mysteriously broken Orange line trains. Because there are bad transit days as well.

Let's do some math: 22 mile commute. 2009 Infinity G37. Let's assume 15 MPG -- EPA rated 18. 7.3 gallons a week. let's say 8 gallons a week, 32 gallons a month. At $4 a gallon that is $128 a month.

by charlie on Sep 27, 2011 3:29 pm • linkreport

I commend your cousin's courage! Not just for trying transit, but also for agreeing to be in a video about it on GGW.

by Miriam on Sep 27, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

I have ridden the Fairfax Connector 425/427 buses! Thankfully they run frequently at rush hours to W. Falls Church.

by Transport. on Sep 27, 2011 4:23 pm • linkreport

If we can assume that the "grudging transit convert" reported her actual savings on gas, she is illustrating the great hidden benefit of transit use: Transit riders travel less far. About half as far as car commuters on average. People speculate about whether it is lifestyle, personality, choice of residence, job location, or limited access to cars. What GTCs experience suggests is that, even when the only thing that changes is the mode of travel to work, distance travelled goes way down (right charlie? To save $284 on gas, she must have been averaging something like 45 miles a day in the car).

by egk on Sep 27, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport

maybe she miscalculated. whatever. fact is she DID save on parking and gas vs metro, and that is WITHOUT transit benefits, and without looking at wear and tear on the vehicle. Plus her commute appears to be shorter in time, and less stressful.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 27, 2011 4:44 pm • linkreport

I'll bet that savings number is from the IRS rate for mileage (currently 55.5 cents per mile, IIRC).

11 miles one way, 22 miles round trip, average out to 21 work days a month, and that's 462 miles per month. Multiply that by the IRS rate, and you get about $256 per month.

That rate is supposed to include gas, depreciation, insurance, wear and tear, etc.

by Alex B. on Sep 27, 2011 5:26 pm • linkreport

And tires. And mileage...which she is including as an extra expense.

So, In terms of cash, she is $202 ahead, versus the $358 reported. That is assuming, of course, she was paying for parking. If your employer paid for pakring...and that was within the parking benefit so it would be tax free...you woud actually SAVE about $70 in cash flow by driving.

It is legitimate to try and put a number of wear and tear due to commuting, and the IRS number is one attempt. It is mostly a failed attempt, and I'd say get rid of it.

The lady in question drives a new car, so deprication is a real issue. Of course, that car plummted in value when she crashed it twice already....

But I'm glad to have antother crappy distrcted driver off the road.

by charlie on Sep 27, 2011 6:15 pm • linkreport

Given an 11-mile each way commute in an Infiniti G37 coupe, the claimed savings in gas costs ($284/month) doesn't make any sense. Even assuming she averaged only 18 mpg and gas cost $4/gallon, her monthly gas bill for the commute shouldn't be much more than $100.

If the $284 is supposed to represent the total cost of the car commute rather than the cost of gas only, as suggested by Alex B, it still doesn't make sense. Since she's still paying the fixed costs of ownership (depreciation, financing, insurance, etc.) then the relevant cost is the marginal cost per mile, not the average cost per mile.

by Bertie on Sep 27, 2011 7:14 pm • linkreport

If we can assume that the "grudging transit convert" reported her actual savings on gas, she is illustrating the great hidden benefit of transit use: Transit riders travel less far. About half as far as car commuters on average.

The most recent (2009) National Household Travel Survey found that the average commute distance by private vehicle (car, light truck, or motorcycle) was only about 20% higher than the average commute distance by public transit. 12 miles for cars vs. 10 miles for transit. Despite this modestly higher average distance, car commutes took much less time. 23 minutes for cars vs. 53 minutes for transit.

by Bertie on Sep 27, 2011 7:24 pm • linkreport

She rear-ended someone for the second time in two months? She has no business driving. I'm glad she found transit.

by ksu499 on Sep 28, 2011 8:44 am • linkreport

I am wondering why some people think that comments judging somebody's driving skills are relevant to a post about somebody reluctantly trying transit and coming to find out that it's really not so bad.

by Miriam on Sep 28, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

"So, In terms of cash, she is $202 ahead, versus the $358 reported. That is assuming, of course, she was paying for parking. If your employer paid for pakring...and that was within the parking benefit so it would be tax free...you woud actually SAVE about $70 in cash flow by driving."

but then to be apples to apples, you'd want to include the transit benefit. Which her initial calculation does not do, despite the fact that she actually gets one. If you take her REAL situation - where she DOES get a transit benefit but NOT free parking - she comes out ahead even if you do a realistic cost for gasoline and assume all other auto cost are fixed (which seems very unrealistic to me). OTOH if you are going to ignore employer benefits, like the transit benefit, why would you toss in free parking, even if it were available?

Seems to me like some folks have a lot invested in wanting to show that this transit convert isn't saving money.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 28, 2011 9:55 am • linkreport

This woman rear-ended 2 people in 2 months? I'm glad she's off the road.

by ceefer66 on Sep 28, 2011 9:55 am • linkreport

and is depreciation really a fixed cost? Last time I was in the market for a used car, odometer mileage was an important factor in the price, as well as the actual age of the car.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 28, 2011 9:58 am • linkreport

"I am wondering why some people think that comments judging somebody's driving skills are relevant to a post about somebody reluctantly trying transit and coming to find out that it's really not so bad. "

Maybe driving in has put them in a bad, snarky mood.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 28, 2011 9:59 am • linkreport

@ceefer66:

Two observations about driver skill: 1) operating a motor vehicle is actually quite complex task, one beyond the capacities of a non-trivial number of people; 2) the Dunning-Kruger effect predicts that those least competent to drive are also those least competent to assess their own shortcomings.

In short, most people think they're a "totally awesome driver", but most people are wrong.

by oboe on Sep 28, 2011 10:05 am • linkreport

Don't forget that she isn't getting anything like the EPA mileage in stop-and-go traffic. If her ideally 30 minute commute takes 90 minutes, that extra 60 minutes is all fuel consumed, no extra distance traveled.

by Sarah on Sep 28, 2011 10:06 am • linkreport

My guess is that she just plugged her commute mileage, car make/model, etc into a trip cost calculator that uses the same IRS number to get that cost she cited. I don't know why else she'd cite $284 as an exact number for gas costs - given that gas prices fluctuate, I'd imagine most people would round that off, unless they had an exact figure from some source to cite.

That $284 a month certainly isn't the cost of gas for her commute, but it likely is near the per-month cost of car ownership. Trying to break down the cost any more than that probably isn't a useful exercise.

by Alex B. on Sep 28, 2011 10:10 am • linkreport

Miriam is right that the post is meant simply to tell the story of someone who gets to know a new form of travel which she can now use judiciously. Math calculations aside, I'm hoping folks read (and watch) it and make the effort to check out the bus where maybe they had never considered it before. Open minds may be the key to taming Tysons traffic now and in the future. FYI: this Tuesday, 7pm at Freedom Hill Elementary, is a report on the Tysons Metrorail Station Access Management Study which surveyed Tysons-area residents about reaching the new Metrorail stations by transit, walking and bicycle.

by J J Madden on Sep 28, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport

@AlexB is probably right about where the numbers come from. However, I disagree that $284 is good proxy for car ownership costs. And the article already tried douple counting (less mileage on the car and tires).

@Sarah; EPA city rating is 18. I was giving her 15. To be honest, on that stretch (Rt. 7 and 66) it isn't hard to get about 20. So, I think the EPA city rating is about right. Very few cars get less than 15 MPG.

@Walkerinthecity; if you use the IRS mileage rate, then deprecation is fixed. You point about transit benefits vs. parking benefits is true. However, my experience is almost nobody leases a monthly spot in downtown DC at $270 a month unless their company is paying for it.

@Miriam; yes, she was a bad driver. A woman driving an overpowered (300HP) Inifiniti who accidently rear-ended two people in two months. Sorry. And it becomes relevelant because transit, for her, is a way to avoid the difficulties of driving. As I said, it is a powerful argument for transit.

Left unsaid is why she just does drive to the Orange line and metro in to work. Lack of parking at EFC is a problem, but WFC has lots of parking. She has claims a 11 mile commute; it is almost 10 miles from WFC into downtown. I'd say the low cost option is walk or take a bike to the WFC station.

by charlie on Sep 28, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

Yall are sick. Just read the article and move ON!

And I'm assuming you've ALL met this women and been in a car with her . . . Oh, you haven't? Then how do you know she's a bad driver?

There are a whole NUMBER of reasons that she could've had accidents in sch succession, but you will never know. It's called amnesty.

I DO, however, love the story. I am always trying to "convert" people, so this story is inspirational.

by preZetter on Sep 28, 2011 11:27 am • linkreport

"@Walkerinthecity; if you use the IRS mileage rate, then deprecation is fixed. "

depreciation as an economic fact is either fixed or not, regardless of what the IRS says. I would suggest its partly fixed and partly not fixed. In which case it makes sense to include SOME depreciation cost to the gasoline and mtnce costs.

"You point about transit benefits vs. parking benefits is true. However, my experience is almost nobody leases a monthly spot in downtown DC at $270 a month unless their company is paying for it."

And since she is no longer paying for parking, she seems to be one more example that fits your experience, eh?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 28, 2011 11:56 am • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity; minor point, but I have to disagee.

I think Alex's theory is basically correct; she took the IRS number and calculated it as "gas", rather than what it is -- a guestimate on all vehicle costs. So as a rough estimate, you can go with that.

But you can't double count depreciation.

And depreciation isn't "real". Or rather, it isn't cash flow. This lady has a newer car, and when she sells it she'll see the effects. But most drivers in Virginia don't see that. I think the average value of a car in Arlington is about 6000. There is almost no depreciation there, but every time a transit advocate talks the use a higher depreciation rate.

Cash flow is more imporatnt than depreciation.

Why I am making a big deal about this? Well, we have this federal transit benefit. It makes getting into the city from the outer suburbs very very expensive -- if you don't work for the feds. Driving is often cheaper. And let's be honest, riding the orange line out to WFC is not going to be fun.

Why don't we have more direct buses from Tysons to downtown. A $3 express bus would be faster and cheaper than this system.

by charlie on Sep 28, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

@preZetter -there are only 4 reasons to hit another car from behind when driving: 1)break failure, 2)driving too fast, 3)following too close, and 4)not paying attention.

if you rear-end someone and your brakes are working fine, that makes you a bad driver. Of course driving skill can improve. You don't have to be a bad driver forever. 1)Slow down, 2)Leave more space, 3)Pay attention, 4)Check your cars' brakes

by Tina on Sep 28, 2011 12:23 pm • linkreport

I disagree that cash flow is more important than depreciation - the latter is still a cost. As I find out when my car wears out and I need to buy another. sounds low for the average value in arlington - I would certainly suspect that for DC commuters living in North Arlington, or in Tyons, its higher than that. And of course older cars tend to have higher maintenance costs, and lower MPGs than newer cars.

I dont see that the transit benefit raises the cost of metro. Metros costs are what they are. Maybe its cheaper to drive for some. Of course it depends where you live, where you work, and what you drive. For THIS particular person transit is cheaper. Thats all this story is about, I think.

Express buses are costly to operate (or do you think metrobus is making gobs of money on the buses to the Pentagon, which are MORE than $3). Plus you get congestion on DC streets that way. Way back before metro was built (I visited then) the buses downtown were becoming a congestion issue). While it may make sense to add DC bound buses from NoVA here and there, I dont think they can or should be a wholesale replacement for metrorail.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 28, 2011 3:35 pm • linkreport

@charlie

"And let's be honest, riding the orange line out to WFC is not going to be fun."

I don't understand. What's your problem with riding the orange line? I ride it out to WFC every day. Sure, sometimes I have to wait for as long as 6 or 7 minutes for a train, but in general I wait a couple of minutes, it shows up, I ride it to WFC. I guess I wouldn't classify it as "fun," but I certainly don't consider driving anywhere in the DC metro hour at rush hour to be fun.

"Why don't we have more direct buses from Tysons to downtown. A $3 express bus would be faster and cheaper than this system."

Well, okay, if you set the price lower, it will cost less than the other option. Excellent point. If they lowered the price of riding the metro, it would also be cheaper!

But no, it wouldn't be faster--unless you built some system for getting express buses around the stop and go traffic on 66. Turns out that we have a system for bypassing the traffic; it involves riding the parallel metro tracks. And we've even come up with a way to extend that metro to Tysons so that you'll no longer have to transfer to a bus. But yeah, I guess it would make a lot of sense to duplicate those efforts with express buses.

by Gray on Sep 28, 2011 4:05 pm • linkreport

AWalker:

Cash flow is more important than depreciation because you save all of the cash you don't spend on the car. Even if you save wear and tear, the car will still depreciate.

by Alex B. on Sep 28, 2011 4:49 pm • linkreport

That $284 a month certainly isn't the cost of gas for her commute, but it likely is near the per-month cost of car ownership. Trying to break down the cost any more than that probably isn't a useful exercise.

If she's interested in a serious comparison of costs, of course it's a useful exercise. She can't seriously claim that she's saving the total average cost per mile of owning and operating her car, because she still has to pay a large share of that cost. All she's saving is the marginal cost of the commute. For 2010, AAA estimates operating costs (fuel, maintenance, tires) for a medium-size sedan at about 17 cents per mile. So for her 22-mile roundtrip commute, assuming she commutes to work 5 days a week, she'd only be saving about $80 per month in operating costs. We can add a little for savings in mileage-based depreciation and mileage-based insurance costs, but the bottom line is that she isn't likely to be saving much more than $100 a month in car expenses. That's a far cry from the $284 she claims.

by Bertie on Sep 28, 2011 9:02 pm • linkreport

"Cash flow is more important than depreciation because you save all of the cash you don't spend on the car. Even if you save wear and tear, the car will still depreciate."

the issue there is that part of depreciation is fixed with respect to mileage, not thats its not cash immediately out of pocket.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 3, 2011 11:29 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or