Monday, December 17, 2007

It Was Worth A Try

Back in July, I got a new position at work that didn't require me to drive as often as I had been. It also meant I was no longer entitled to having half of my monthly parking fee reimbursed. I crunched the numbers, and it appeared I could save some money if I stopped driving and started taking public transportation. Luckily, I do live an area that has great bus and subway systems. I also live and work in relatively safe neighborhoods. So, I decided I would try it out for a few months and see how it went.

While there have been some trying times...bus was late, bus was too full to stop, bus was early, bus didn't show up, bus was really overcrowded, A/C went out on the Metro on one of the hottest days of the summer, Metro was delayed, Metro was temporarily shut down due to "suspicious package," Metro was packed, and the weather has ranged from blazing hot to freezing cold to extremely windy to pouring rain to slippery ice and snow...all-in-all, it has been a positive experience!

Sure, I gave up a few things when I stopped driving, like my freedom to come and go when I wanted or to load up on groceries at the store by my office before heading home. However, I've found the advantages to taking public transportation far out weigh all of that. Here the benefits:

1. It takes the same amount of time as driving but is generally less stressful.
2. I can read or do other things on the bus/train and while waiting at the stop/platform. I've found keeping a magazine stashed in my bag helps pass the time nicely.
3. I get a little exercise walking to and from my home and office and up and down the escalators in the Metro stations.
4. I get to "experience" the city -- complete with the daily hustle and bustle of the busy sidewalks. It reminds me fondly of the time I spent studying in London in college (where I didn't have a car).
5. I hear live music nearly every morning and some evenings. The street musicians make me smile because it sometimes seems like a movie soundtrack. For example, one gray morning as it was just beginning to rain, the guitarist outside the Farragut North station started playing Rain Drops Are Falling on My Head. Very cool!
6. I'm doing my part to help reduce congestion on the roads and emissions in the air.
7. Most mornings the bus drivers are really friendly and great me with a chipper "Good morning" as I board, and a warm "Have a nice day!" as I exit. It gives me flashbacks to nice bus drivers from elementary school.
8. The Express newspaper distributors are also very welcoming outside of the Metro stations. I don't know where they get their energy so early in the morning, but between them and the bus drivers, they help me get in a good mood.
9. I get to mentally prepare for the day at work and to wind down from the day on my commute, rather than worrying about driving in the crazy DC traffic.
10. I actually get to work and leave work on time because I have to -- I have a bus/train to catch. If I am late, it's usually not my fault.
11. I save the daily wear and tear on my car.
12. I don't have to worry about driving in bad weather.

I get all of these things, plus I've saved money. Between August 1 and December 31, I've estimated that I've saved $300 by changing from driving to work to taking the bus and Metro! In truth, it's probably more than that because the price of gas has gone up since I calculated my average driving cost.

Yes, the price of Metro fare (train and bus) is going up starting January 6. Based on the information on Metro's website, I will be paying 60 cents more per day or about $12 more per month. However, the bus fare will remain the same for people like me who use a SmarTrip card, which is fantastic. That's a 10 cent/day savings. I also don't see any information about the bus transfer fare changing, which is good. Metro has said that they are going to be improving service with the fare increase. Luckily for me, I will actually personally reap the benefits. They are adding 3 more buses to my route in the morning and two more in the evening. Yippee! Maybe that will smooth over some of the frustrations that I do experience on my commute.

So, in the end, my public transportation experiment was worth a try! I'll stick with it, even through the cold of winter.

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