Wednesday, August 16, 2006 at 3:06 pm by Darryl
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.