Sunday, March 6, 2011

Week # 10: Transportation

Part of my role is to convince employees at my company to avoid driving during their commute by carpooling, vanpooling, taking a bus or train, cycling, or walking. I have not followed my own advice as much as I should, despite the fact that my employer offers some excellent incentives. This week I'm figuring out my cost of driving and pledging to leave my car in the driveway occasionally.

First, I'm going to separate the cost of DRIVING from the cost of OWNING. If I leave my car in the driveway for a day, I am obviously saving on gas and a little bit of wear and tear. However, I am NOT saving money on things like car payments and insurance. Those expenses are going to be there every day until I eventually sell the car, whether it sits in the driveway or takes me to work. For today, let's just look at the gas, since it's the easiest thing to quantify, and a hot topic in the media again. (For a detailed breakdown of all costs of owning a vehicle, AAA puts out a very good annual Cost of Driving analysis, although the gas price they used is now a little outdated at $2-something).

My main commute (to the primary job) is 14 miles one way, so I put 28 miles on my car in a typical day with no side trips. Most cars would burn at least a gallon each day. I drive a Prius, so my challenge will be tougher. It's an older one so I average 42 miles per gallon. Doing some quick math, I use about 2/3 of a gallon each day, so I'll use a constant of 0.67 gallons saved for each day I can leave my car in the driveway.

The price of a gallon of gas has been fluctuating. These days a price change can happen while you're putting gas in the car, if a recent news report is to be believed. I want to use actual numbers, so I will hang onto the receipt from my last gas purchase and use the price of the gas that is currently in my tank to calculate savings. The last price I paid was $3.85 (yikes!) so if I can eliminate one commute, my savings are: 0.67 gallons x $3.85/gallon = $2.58. There are a couple other commutes I occasionally make which are much longer. Using similar math, I could save $8.98 or $7.52 per day, depending on my destination for the day.

Okay, then... what are my alternative commute options?

TRAIN: I love riding the train when opportunities present. Metrolink trains are smooth, clean, go where I need to go, and run on time more than 95%. Unfortunately, they are a little bit pricey for this challenge. A ten trip pass is $59.50. Taking my employer's 50% subsidy into account, my cost is $29.75. I could choose to deduct that amount from my pay as pretax dollars. Many employers do offer participation in pretax transit programs - similar to medical reimbursement programs - because employers also save on payroll taxes for the amounts employees choose to set aside. So I might save another 30% on the $29.75, bringing my estimated cost to $20.83. Dividing this cost by 5 days (a ten trip ticket is really five round trips) my daily train cost would be approximately $4.16. That's more than my daily cost of gas. I am actually surprised by this... for me to save money by riding the train, gas prices would have to rise to at least $6.21 per gallon, and that would just be a penny better than break-even. I would like to think that's beyond the realm of possibility, at least for a few years. So for my primary commute, the train doesn't help me with this challenge.

When I travel to one of the alternative locations, my employer will expense mileage. I don't expense my driving because then I'm not practicing what I preach, but I would expense train tickets. My employer likes that because the train is far less expensive than the per mile rate they would pay me for that distance (if I bothered to file the paperwork), so it's a win for both. I can save about $8.98 by taking the train on the days I'm making the secondary commute, so the train will work occasionally.

WALK: Too far. If I left now, I might make it to work on Thursday.

VANPOOL: The fares at my company are subsidized and VPSI provides great vehicles and maintenance services. Unfortunately, vanpools are on a fairly set schedule. My employer does offer a certain number of taxi rides at their expense if I get stuck having to stay late after riding a vanpool. That would help, but I'm a little too close to work for a vanpool fare to be really efficient for me.

BUS: My employer is in Orange County. The local bus provider is OCTA. They have gotten together on something called an EPass (Employer Pass). Employers can choose to provide a free annual pass to employees. OCTA bills the employer only for rides actually taken, at a reduced rate from the regular daily fare, and capped at a monthly rate that is a discount from the regular monthly pass. It's free, so I have an annual bus pass in my wallet. Have I used it? A couple of times in a pinch. It does take a while to get to work... the shortest commute time listed on OCTA's website is about 75 minutes compared to my 20-30 minute drive. But the price is right, and I can at least be productive using my iPad during the commute, so I'm not going to count it as much of a time loss. For my primary commute, this is a good option to save the $2.58 per day.

BIKE: Hmm. I probably should give this a try this summer. That will require some advance planning... changes of clothes in the office when I get there, shower supplies (there are showers available at work but they're generally BYOS (sundries)), and I'll need to review a safe route. 14 miles is not a small ride and will still take well over an hour to complete. I'll have to work up to that. I'll start by putting some air back in the tires and getting my bike tuned up. By the way, Bike to Work Week is May 16-20.

On Friday, I took the bus to work to kick off my effort. I found that there's also a lot of additional walking that takes place getting to and from stops, which is a fringe benefit of this challenge. I'm carrying an iPod Nano with a pedometer and passed 10,000 steps in one day for the first time. It would be great if I lost a couple of pounds along the way, and with the car in the driveway, even though I drive a Prius, I still saved about 15 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere just by leaving it in the driveway one day. As with other cumulative efforts, I'll update transportation savings as the year goes along.

Commute savings so far: $2.58.

Total savings to date: $1,366.76.

Next week: Ducks Bucks.

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