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Mass Transit & Gasoline Prices: Time to Go Public? - Articles Surfing
How do you get to work every day at the beginning of your shift? How do you get home? For many of us, our commute is a routine as unchanging as eating and sleeping. A large number of us get to work every day by driving a personal vehicle. We take it for granted that we are taking advantage of the most cost-efficient and satisfying means available to arrive promptly and ready to work.
But the swiftly rising price of gasoline should be an urgent stimulus to make us re-examine our commuting strategy. Across the U.S., the price for one gallon of regular-grade gasoline has risen from about $1.50 two years ago to today's $2.60, and it is uncertain that prices will level off any time soon, much less decline.
These realities prompt us to ask, does commuting by driving a personal vehicle up to five days a week provide us the best combination of cost, or time use, or life-style? Or should we seek a better solution?
Gasoline savings: compelling reason?
Many workers, including me, have opted to leave our vehicles safe at home and brave public transportation. Each of us has our own reasons. Now the price of gasoline gives us one more, and we find it fairly compelling.
In my own case, I live about 17 miles from work. My 1992 Mitsubishi gets about 24 mpg, which means that if I drove it to and from work, I would be spending about $17.70 a week just for the gas. Instead, I buy a monthly Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) pass and pay only $10.00 a week. By riding DART, I cut my transportation costs nearly in half! If I had to pay for parking, as many of you do, I would save even more.
Other reasons count for more
But wait, there's more! In fact, saving on gasoline is not the primary reason I decided to "go public" several years ago. I used to drive the congested freeways of Dallas to get to work; during rush hours it would take me 30 to 45 minutes. I had so many close calls--so many split-second swerves and jamming of the brakes--that I began to think that it was inevitable that I would be involved in an accident of some kind, maybe even a life-threatening one. Do you ever feel that oppressive sense of impending doom?
Now, I drive two miles to the DART station in my suburb and ride the light rail. I usually get off at the Pearl Street Station and take a good, 15-minute, fast walk from one end of downtown Dallas to the other, a distance of about a mile. There I catch a bus that takes me to within one block of my office, where I arrive almost exactly one hour after boarding the train. In the afternoon, I reverse the route, often walking up to half a mile before boarding the downtown-bound bus.
When I have the time and inclination, I walk farther. I disembark from the train at City Place, climb the two extremely long escalators from the train station 160-feet below the surface, and walk all the way to the office, three miles to the west. At the rate I climb, I step up 42 times on the lower escalator and about 57 on the upper one. Then it's another 42 steps up to the surface exit. Most of my hike to work is on Katy Trail, which skirts a string of parks along Turtle Creek. Katy Trail was recently extended to reach the American Airlines Center, which connects me to HI-Line, Turtle Creek Blvd., and the office. This fall, a walking trail is being constructed that will lead from Katy Trail right past my building along Turtle Creek.
The exercise I get regularly, enforced by being integrated into my commute routine, is my main reason for "going public." But almost as important is all of that ride time I get on the train and the bus. I can read at least 30 minutes each way. Do you have the opportunity for an hour of reading five days a week? I cannot begin to list all of the books I have read on my commute, but it is a long list.
What others say
Do other employees share my preference for public transportation? Melissa, a Chicago customer service representative does.
She says, "I take the train (the el green line) to work every day. I work a split shift, noon to 8 p.m. I live in Oak Park, Illinois (the first western suburb), eight miles from the office. From door to door it takes 20 minutes. During my commute I enjoy reading, people watching, and defusing if it was a hard day."
"The best thing about taking the train is the convenience of not having to worry about parking. [I avoid] the congestion of traffic, and with the high pay of gasoline, it is very cost efficient. And I am always guaranteed some exercise every day with the walk to and from the train. The worst thing about commuting is that sometimes the trains run late."
With commuter trains, light rail, subway, buses, and van pooling, Chicago seems to have one of the best public transportation systems in the country. But other cities are rapidly catching up. Detroit, however, lacks a light rail system, beyond its "PeopleMover" that makes a tight loop in downtown. According to an article The Detroit News ran on July 7, 2005, "The region is the largest in the nation without a comprehensive subway, commuter rail or high-speed bus network." Officials there, however, promise that this will change in years to come.
"Our public transportation system is terrible," says Nancy, a Detroit human resources assistant, "and we don't have a rapid transit system in the Metro Detroit area. I wish we did, but I guess this is the Motor City; they want to make sure we all buy cars."
Mark, a Detroit customer service rep, agrees. "There is no viable public transportation system in Detroit. We make cars."
Eddy is a manager who lives about 17 miles from his work just out of downtown Dallas. He says, "I think we should all ride public transportation at least once in a while to remind us how fortunate we are. That being said, I support anyone's right to drive a car to work. As gas prices go up, I think we should figure out ways to reduce our dependency on oil products. One of the things I choose to do is to ride the bus periodically. I think I am fortunate because I live nearby to a transit station (1/2 mile) and can walk to and from it. Most people have to drive to a station.... I would like to see our company run a test to help fund riding public transportation (maybe buy half of a monthly pass or something like that)."
Eddy acknowledges, "Because of our shift work, many of our people can*t use public transportation." This sentiment is shared by a second-shift typesetter named Brandy. "Dallas has no good public transportation for me to use from North Richland Hills to my job, at the hours I work. I would have to take two buses, and as I work till 11 p.m. (at a minimum), the trains do not run. Also, being a female, I am not crazy about waiting outside on the corner at 11 p.m. at night for a bus to take me downtown, then another bus to the train station."
These are certainly valid concerns, and there are no easy solutions for our employees in Dallas. For other cities, however, especially Chicago and eventually Phoenix, where the rail station is in the immediate area of our office building, public transportation may be more viable even for second and third shifts. Several employees walking together would be a partial solution.
Another issue for bus passengers is the lack of seat belts and shoulder belts. I have been in two bus accidents without injury, but one sudden stop sent me sailing four or five feet forward. I managed to grab a post and only received a minor bruise. Since then I have selected my bus seats carefully, opting for the three or four places where I am against something solid should the bus stop suddenly. Of course, I then have to worry about being the cushion for other people's landings. My seat of choice is right to the rear of the back door. Only one person is likely to slam into me there, and people seldom sit in that particular seat.
Not "going public"?
Other workers have their own reasons for avoiding public transportation. Violet, a Dallas sales support supervisor, says, "I only live seven or eight miles from work, and I always get to work in 15 minutes. My commute gives me time to myself, and I like that." Gwen, a Denver sales rep, uses her 36-mile drive to phone clients and return calls. "It also gives me time to reflect," she adds.
Roberta, a staff accountant at Dallas, has a 25-mile drive. She says she spends the 40- to 45-minute commute listening to Christian music. "It gives me time to switch gears from work mode to wife mode," she says.
Do your own analysis: Is now the time for you to "go public"?
Take a serious look at the variables of cost, time commitment, health factors, and available transportation. Your decision will probably depend on the priorities you have and the special situation that you alone best appreciate.
One consideration should probably be left out of your analysis: class status. As Eddy says, "I also think we have many, many people in America (and certainly at our company) who think they are too good to ride the bus or train. We need to realize that we are all just 'folks' when it comes right down to it and that the man or woman next to us in the bus are just regular people, no matter what they look like or what color they are."
Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).
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