Riding the bus

A busI have an almost pathological aversion to spending actual dollars. I don’t think I’m alone; one of the favorite tactics of financial bloggers for someone who has trouble controlling their spending is to tell them to spend cash for everything. For that reason, it’s usually not a bad thing. An aversion to spending leads naturally to frugality. Unfortunately, it also means that I haven’t been riding the bus much. I know intellectually that $1 isn’t much, but my hindbrain yells to me that it’ll be $2 for the round-trip, $3 if we stop at the grocery store. And $3 is real money. I could get a shirt for that at Goodwill!

In reality, it probably costs just about as much to drive the same places, what with gas prices, maintenance, and parking. But apart from parking, I don’t have to pay that immediately and in cash. They’re disconnected from my travel experience.

The big exception to my penny pinching is travel to campus. As a student, I always hated coming in to campus because it was such a hassle. The metered spots, when they were open, had a 1 hour limit, which isn’t enough for a whole class, let along several classes. To park anywhere else, you had to have a parking pass ranging from $80 to $300 a semester. Even then, those passes didn’t guarantee you a spot. It just meant that you wouldn’t be towed if you found one. The expensive passes let you park anywhere, but the cheaper passes gave you fewer options. Many times during a semester, I had to drive around for fifteen minutes or halg an hour until someone in the right type of space drove off and I could park.

And it was stressful. If I didn’t find a parking spot in time, I’d be late for class. That’s bad enough as a student, but I lived in fear of it as a teaching assistant. My only real accident happened while I was desperately trying to find a spot on a snowy, icy day. For a while, Maggie lived in a place about twenty minutes’ walk from my building, so I’d park there and walk in when I needed to get to campus. The twenty minute walk was so much nicer than twenty minutes of circling in my car, hoping to find a place.

At the time, I tried taking the bus occasionally, but we were slightly further south than the furthest south route, so the bus only ran once an hour and took 30-45 minutes to get to campus. Depending on class times, that meant I’d often have to take a bus an hour and half early. The bus also stopped running relatively early, so I could be trapped downtown if I had other errands to run.

This semester, I’m back on campus Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, I’m also on a different bus line. This bus comes every half an hour and only takes 15 minutes to get downtown. We’re also situated right along a loop, so I have two chances to catch the bus, which makes me much more comfortable about getting to campus on time. Given all this, any my memories of car stress before, I planned to get a six-month pass. It’s a little cheaper if you use the bus quite a bit but, more importantly, I’d no longer have to pull cash out of my wallet to ride the bus. My pacified hindbrain could imagine that the whole thing was free.

The icing on the cake is that with my new ID, I actually can ride for free! The new route also uses hybrid buses, so my environmental impact is even smaller. What a great win-win scenario!

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5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    arduous said,

    January 14, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

    your new id?
    does the school pay for your bus?

  2. 2

    Andy said,

    January 14, 2009 @ 6:34 pm

    Cars cost a lot more than anyone imagines. The most recent figure I saw was $8,700 per year on average for Americans. That doesn’t factor in the cost of a garage either (since many spend $50k more for a house just because of the garage). The problem is, once you own a car, it’s cheaper to continue using it. The more you drive, the cheaper per mile it becomes.

    Buses are great, but other than the occasional ride or the dedicated bus commuters, I don’t think buses work well for most others. As you said, to get on and off several times costs more and requires more waiting. For those looking for many stops, carsharing becomes a good option too. After my experiences with walking and biking to work, I would never live in a place that would require a drive or bus trip.

  3. 3

    Will said,

    January 14, 2009 @ 7:38 pm

    Arduous : Yep, the university pays the local bus system so that students and faculty can ride for free. Apart from being awesome for students/faculty, it helps the university reduce parking needs which helps them out. And the bus system gets some consistent capital, which is nice too.

    Andy: Definitely! It’s easy to just look at the sticker price on the car (or a gallon of gas), but it’s hard to factor in maintenance and opportunity costs. It’s even harder to connect those with how frequently you drive, so as you say it seems to cost less every mile that you drive.

    Now that Maggie and I are down to one car, the inconvenience factor mitigates that somewhat.

    I agree that buses tend not to work well unless you have a regular schedule. If you’re not used to the system, it’s too hard to figure out how long it’ll take you to get anywhere, especially if you have to change buses.

    On the other hand, I’m so glad that I could take the bus yesterday rather than having to walk or bike through the snow! I also managed to get pretty far along in Paul Krugman’s latest book, which was nice.

  4. 4

    Andy said,

    January 14, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

    But biking in the snow is fun! It was 4F this morning, which has turned the remaining slush into solid pieces of ice.

    I rode to a cyclotouring meeting the other night in an 8″ snowstorm. (I have a personal thing against driving to cycling events.) I’ve got a great halogen headlight as well as 2 flashing taillights and several reflectors, and had an amazing ride that night on my mountain bike. Earlier that day I went for a 23 mile ride on my road bike (equipped with 700×28 “winter” tires) just as the snow was approaching. The ride was to check out the waterfalls north of where I live, which was a spectacular view. I could have driven, but where’s the adventure in that? I know… it probably seems crazy, but when someone once asked how I started riding in winter, my reply was “I just didn’t stop riding after summer!” I have to make life interesting somehow!

  5. 5

    cinco said,

    January 15, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

    I didn’t know before I got one that most government jobs will pay either your parking fees or your transit costs. Of course with a car you’re also paying for gas, maintenance, and the car itself. So free parking is nice, but not much of a savings when compared with totally free transit. The system my job uses rounds up to the nearest dollar for each day’s usage, so I have a little extra for weekend travel, too.

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