In which I Become a Bus Commuter

Since moving to Redmond, Washington in 1999, I have always felt a little guilty about the fact that I commute by car to my job at the University of Washington in Seattle. I am “part of the problem” for this region and, really, the world. My guilt hasn’t been lessened by knowing there is excellent bus service between Redmond and the University district.

Still, I love cars and I love driving. I love the freedom of having a car nearby to use on a whim (even if I rarely ever take advantage of “whims”). One of my cars is a convertible. I like driving with the top down.

Today I became a mass transit commuter. I started the process two weeks ago by purchasing a wireless broadband card for my laptop computer. The card gives me access to the Internet in almost any major population center in the United States. It works through the cell phone network, but delivers performance much better than dial-up (although not as good as cable-based broadband). So, I am sitting on the bus, on my way to campus right now, writing this post.

What inspired me to become a mass transit user? I would like to say that I decided to do “my part” against global warming, to reduce air pollution, to minimize consumption of fossil fuel, and to cease being part of the traffic congestion problem. But that would only account for a small portion of my justification.

No, the biggest reason is…money. I spend something like $1000 per year for the privilege to park on the University of Washington campus. I telecommute at least one day a week during the school year and three days a week during the summer. That means I park on campus something like 200 days per year. So it cost me $5.00 to park each time I drive. The cost of gas alone must be something on the order of $5.00 each trip. I’ll not count the wear and tear on my cars, since I always purchase second-hand cars, and I do all of the maintenance and repair on my own cars (it’s a hobby–these days I only drive Alfa Romeos).

So sometime in the next few weeks, I will surrender my precious parking permit in order to join the “commuter program.” For about $300/year I’ll get a blanket bus pass and be able to purchase packets of daily automobile parking passes for $3.00 per day (but limited to something like 150 days a year). I’ll save $400 to $500 per year in parking and another $1000/year in fuel costs. In exchange, I’ll spend $800 per year for the wireless broadband service. (I’ll save another one or two hundred bucks in Internet access from hotel rooms and airports, too.)

In the past, I could justify the expenses of driving to campus because of the time savings. A 25 minute commute each way by car is closer to an hour each way by the most convenient bus route (the 540 bus). The times when I have taken the bus, I’ve found it difficult to read, so I’ve never been able to capitalize on the time spent on a bus.

Now, with a wireless broadband card, and I hope to turn much of my commute into productive work or hobby time (you know, like blogging).

The other reason I’ve switched to the bus is the exercise I’ll get by walking to and from the bus at each end. I really need the exercise, and carving out time each day for the treadmill has not been entirely successful. One of the routes available to me (545 bus) is only a 20 minute bus ride, and stops under the Montlake bridge at the southern edge of campus. The walk to my office near the northwestern corner of campus is a vigorous, uphill 15 or 20 minutes.

I figure each day I walk to and from the bus (this entails a lot of hills) I add a few seconds to my lifespan. More importantly, each trip makes my health a little better during whatever lifespan I have remaining.

By the way, if this paper (pdf) is correct, my mortality risk decreases ten-fold by taking the bus over driving a car. But, my risk increases ten-fold for the portion walking over driving. I figure there is no net change there.

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8 Responses to “In which I Become a Bus Commuter”

  1. Tree Frog Farmer Says:

    Ok,Darryl, I also commute. It was an effort to make the change, even though I have a relatively good bus commute: no transfers. I estimate I saved about $1,500 a year.
    I used to compete for a vanishing pool of free parking spaces. . .having to arrive earlier and earlier. When I finally made the break, I discovered that while I had to be very disciplined to make my bus, I also felt quite liberated in some unexpected ways. I get to work about 25 minutes early, and have time to make coffee, blog, and check e-mail before plunging into work.
    As an added bonus, I was able to use the tax exemption program to buy my metro passes with before tax dollars. I believe you are eligible as well.

  2. Darryl Says:

    “I discovered that while I had to be very disciplined to make my bus, I also felt quite liberated in some unexpected ways. I get to work about 25 minutes early, and have time to make coffee, blog, and check e-mail before plunging into work.”

    Excellent point! Of course, what I didn’t fess up to is that disciplined time management is not a strength of mine! But, I’ll get into the swing of it.

    Re: metro passes. The University participates in the U-Pass program. I have no idea whether that is pre-tax or post-tax dollars, but it’s a bargain either way.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Chad (The Left) Shue Says:

    Darryl,
    I have been bus commuting from Everett to Redmond (round trip) for a year now. It takes me 3 buses (and a co-worker for the last 1/2 mile) for the 2 hour trip from the Everett Transit Center to the Bear Creek Park and Ride in the morning. I don’t have wireless access like you do but I use the time to compose things for my blog to be uploaded later or to read news articles I have downloaded to read during my commute.

    I take the 545 from Bear Creek in the afternoon to Seattle and then the Sounder commuter train back to Everett. It takes the same two hours but is a much more pleasant trip. My company (Microvision) subsidizes $40 of my $90 Puget Pass. I really save quite a bit and have adjusted to the time pretty well.

    I certainly have seen an increase in ridership with the increasing gas prices. I am looking forward to Sound Transit increasing their WiFi Routes. Right now they are WiFi on the Seattle to Stanwood route and I had limited access on the Sounder last night. I am pleased to hear that you have joined the commute.

    Peace,

  4. Jon Stahl Says:

    Darryl-

    Congraluations on “voting with your feet” for less congestion, less stress and a healthier lifestyle!

    :-)

  5. Darryl Says:

    Thanks, Chad and Jon, for the support. Chad that sounds likes a brutal commute whether by car or bus. I guess the real test will come during the winter weather….

  6. joanie Says:

    I’m sort of wondering . . . with all due respect . . . why we who live in the City are having to subsidize your transportation needs. Perhaps all those savings could be put to better use saving those of us who walk or bike or even drive short distances off the main arterials to work some of our hard-earned dollars.

    So nice of us to help you out . . . even though our property taxes are going up, up, up . . .

  7. Darryl Says:

    I suppose it is the same reason that I pay for other people’s kids to attend school, even if I don’t have kids, or the reason pacificists must pay for the military, or the reason that people who live nowhere near water pay for a U.S. coast guard, or the reason that people who don’t ever fly pay for an air traffic control system and much airport infrastructure, or people who never get a disease in their life must help pay for the National Institutes of Health….

  8. Joanie Says:

    Okay,okay . . . I pay for all those things, too! But, the transportation subsidy has always eluded me. Seems like there oughta be some little penalty for choosing to live so far from work. Like maybe a road toll or something. Besides, the stuff you mentioned isn’t so easily targeted to the specific user. We never know when we might need/use the services generated by the National Institute of Health; or when the Coast Guard is going to intercept criminals or aliens or whomever might be here to alter our society . . . or when a plane may decide to detour into our private domicile. I mean really . . . those services are equally shared because they are pretty much equally needed.

    The transportation one . . . not so clear. Also, an educated electorate justifies public school. Although I’d be the first to admit it ain’t doin’ so well currently.

    I wonder if they’ll ever institute a subsidy for me for living and working in the same neighborhood . . .?

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