Thursday, August 7, 2008

Resetting Assumptions on Energy Use/Mass Transit

The rising price of energy has caused me to rethink many of the assumptions I have about how I should live my life. Like many Utahns, I love to drive my car. I get to listen to the music I want to listen to, or the radio show I want. I can multi-task down the street with and egg mcmuffin in one hand, and a diet coke in my cupholder. However, that freedom has become rather costly.

So, I have decided to make a concerted effort to use mass transit. Through my employment, I already get a free bus pass, and that makes the opportunity cost of commuting in my vehicle doubly high. So what is the cost of a daily commute? My commute is 60 mile a day roundtrip. My car gets about 25 mpg on these commutes. So it takes 2.4 gallons of gasoline every day to go to work and back. 2.4 times $4 per gallon equates to $9.60 a day. For five days, that equates to $48/week or nearly $200/month.

If you take into account all factors such as vehicle wear and tear, you could use a basic mileage rate to estimate the costs of commuting via personal vehicle. Let's say you use $.50 per mile as the reimbursement rate, and you multiply that by the 1,200 miles I use in that commute, that is $600/month that can be saved by using mass transit.

Where I have to reset my assumptions the most is whether to use mass transit on my days off. I must confess, that I have never, no not once, used mass transit in Utah for anything other than commuting. However, tomorrow, I'm taking a day off work to see my doctor. I visited UTA's website and they have a trip planner at that allows you to put in your beginning and destination points and you are given options on how to get there. A trip that would've taken 45 minutes, now will take me two hours using mass transit. However, I would save $25.60 in gas and a total cost of $80 for all things considered. For a four hour roundtrip, I would save $80 or $20/hour. Though that isn't what I make in my day job, I haven't made that kind of money before in any of my part-time jobs.

I've tried to approach energy use rationally and implement a conservation approach on the basis fiscal responsibility and self-interest. I already miss the freedom to take off during my lunch break and go to the restaurant of my choice. However, packing a lunch is also saving me money as well. I also dislike the extra hour I take every day to commute using mass transit. But on top of saving money, I recognize that I am doing my part to reduce our dependence on oil that seems to flow most freely from one of our planet's most unstable regions. Oh, and there is that greenhouse gas thing as well.


Anonymous said...

I think one of the biggest assumptions that has to be reset when converting to mass transit is scheduling. You briefly touch on that as your 45 minute trip became a 2 hour trip. I think there are hidden benefits to changing that assumption.

For me it is liberating in a way to set aside more time for the traveling and fewer destinations to get to in a day. Other factors such as the egg mcmuffin and the diet coke work largely the same on a bus as in the car. Even the music issue can be solved with your MP3 player of choice.

The freedom of not being in the same kind of hurry to get everywhere and do everything is something that I think everyone should at least experience for themselves.

Obi wan liberali said...

Good point on slowing down. One thing I do on the bus is catch up on sleep. I also catch up on my reading. I read alot of books, and it is just as easy to read them on the bus as it is at home, sometimes easier.

It does require some discipline to be at a certain place at a certain time and to plan ahead. But people in other countries are used to it, why can't Americans do the same thing? As the price of gasoline goes up, people will have to choose between mass transit, or driving their car. I've decided to start moving away from my dependence on my car.

Urban Koda said...

As with everything there are pro's and con's to mass transit.

I like the time to sleep and read, without the danger of driving into oncomming traffic.

The big negative for me right now is that I'm spend almost 4 hours a day commuting to and from work. Although to be honest with traffic congestion in Davis county the way it is, on some days spending only 4 hours isn't a bad deal at all...

I think as more people adopt mass transit and UTA gets a better handle on managing that increased rideship effectively, hopefully times will decrease.