Use Public Transportation for a Cheaper Commute

By , January 9, 2016

Since beginning a long series of essays on frugality, I’ve recalled this post that I wrote several years ago. It doesn’t apply much to our current situation, but for those of our readers who are on grid, it may be worth considering:

If you live in an area that provides public transportation—bus, train, light rail and the like— consider using it whenever possible. Although I realize this seems to defy the ideal of self-reliance, and some consider it treasonous to suggest giving up the use of one’s private vehicle now and then, I’d like to raise a few points for your consideration:

Using public transportation is . . .

  • Economical. If you’re willing to compute the cost of operating your vehicle, remember to include expenses beyond the cost of fuel and fluids: wear and tear/maintenance, parking fees (if any). Some people might add the cost of washing the car more often? I don’t include insurance, because you’ll pay that whether you commute by car or not. Although, if you’re seriously committed to public transportation, you might find your insurance rates going down through reduced yearly mileage figures. Compare these monthly expenses to the cost of a monthly bus or rail pass (usually the cheapest fare available).
  • Time wise. What could you do with the time you now spend behind the wheel if someone else took care of the driving? When I commuted by bus I read, wrote, napped, listened to the radio, visited, dreamed. What I didn’t do was stress over traffic!
  • Better for the environment. True, many municipal systems aren’t fuel efficient or ecologically sound, but they’d have to be heavy polluters indeed to match the emissions that would result if their average ridership drove cars instead.
  • Healthy. A recent study indicates that regular public transportation patrons get more exercise, mostly from walking to and from depots. However, I wouldn’t discount the workout of “surfing” the hand bar after giving your seat to the elderly. Using public transportation gets you out and moving in the fresh air at either end of your commute. Daily exercise is good for you!
  • Altruistic. For you, public transportation may be an option, but for many people, it’s their only way of getting around. Your support of local public transportation ensures that these systems continue to be available for the needy.

Using local public transportation for commuting and other travel is a big step in our independent, automobile-oriented society. Here are a few things to consider when leaving your car at home:

  • Cost. In most cases, it should be cheaper to use public transportation, but it’s not safe to assume that. Look at all the costs involved to see if it makes sense. Include economic factors, time, and quality of life in the equation. See if your workplace subsidizes public transportation use—some do!
  • It’s not all or nothing. Use public transportation when it works best for you, rather than trying to use it exclusively. Sometimes you need the advantages provided by driving yourself. Examine your schedule from the point of view of public transportation, and fill any “holes” with your personal vehicle.
  • Refuse to be defined by your transportation. Your “ride” is not you. Consider transportation a means to an end, not the end itself! Don’t let your car or public transportation shape your self-image—hopefully there’s far more to you than that.
  • Take charge. Although one attraction of public transportation is its passivity, allowing others to do the driving, taking full advantage of public transportation requires personal initiative. You’ll need to get to the nearest bus stop or terminal, and from your drop off point to your workplace. Figure out the best routes, experiment to see if others might not provide better advantages. Be flexible and adventurous!
  • Expand your horizons. A largely unspoken resistance to public transportation is that it brings one in contact with “less desirable” populations. Yes, you will inevitably rub shoulders with the unwashed, the drunk, and the mentally unstable, but if you lack the courage and open-mindedness to meet your fellow citizens in one of the safer public environments available, you’re probably not the type who reads this blog anyway. I have done this much of my adult life, and I don’t have room here to describe the life lessons, heartwarming encounters, and other valuable experiences I’ve had interacting with fellow commuters. For me, it’s part of the adventure.

4 Responses to “Use Public Transportation for a Cheaper Commute”

  1. Jon Marshall says:

    I drive bus for our local system here in Utah. I enjoy it. We have a fare free system which makes us one of only 2 in Utah. Its a great asset for our area. Whenever i travel i always try to take local transit to see what is different with where i work. I recommend it.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Jon, isn’t that what they mean by the term “busman’s holiday?” I wish more public transportation would go fare free, but I know that in this day and age, that’s practically impossible.

    My hat’s off to you! Yours is a challenging job, it seems to me–you have to stand your ground (or sit your seat) no matter what comes at you. I’ve known some true heroes in your profession.

  3. Angie says:

    Big-city girl myself, originally.

    Many, many people over the years have expressed horror that I took public transport. They demanded the “freedom” of a car, and how could I possibly live without one?

    Seriously? I literally never owned a car until I moved to Alaska. Once upon a younger time in the big city, I worked 12-16 hour night shifts. It was wonderful to relax on the subway after a double shift and just read or write. Time on public transport is YOUR time.

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Editor’s Note: If you saw Angie’s car, you’d wonder that she isn’t lobbying hard for public transportation in Haines. It’s almost as old and banged up as our Jeep!

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