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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saving money on your commute. . . .

As I was eavesdropping on the light-rail (Max) system the other day, as I often do, I listened in on a conversation between two gentlemen discussing their commute. They talked about how long it normally takes to get to work via driving versus public transportation (not much less, when traffic lights and other drivers are taken into account), and more importantly, they went into great detail (to my delight) about how much they're saving by riding the Max versus driving their "gas guzzlers" (their words, not mine).

One of the men explained that he pays $20 a week to ride the Max (clearly, he doesn't have a TriMet pass, as I think this might save him some money), while it costs him $57 per week to fill his SUV's gas tank each week! That's a $37 a week savings, which would be, let's see, $148 in savings per month! Each of the men felt that riding the light rail system was a much better option than spending the money filling their gas tanks.

A few weeks ago, I broke down the cost of riding the Max versus how much it would cost me to drive to work, including gas and parking. I calculated that I save over $100 a month by not driving to work! It appears that with the recent rise in gas prices, which aren't supposed to decrease any time soon---if at all---Americans are seeking public transportation options and driving less than ever before! According to this article on CNN, Americans drove 11 billion miles less this March than in March of 2007! That's a 4.2% decrease! Meanwhile, Americans took an astounding 10.3billion trips on public transportation in 2007, an increase of 2.1% over the year before.

Although this may be an unpopular opinion, I'm kind of happy to see gas prices rise to the levels they have (we've enjoyed artifically low prices for decades anyway). If the rise in prices forces local governments to invest in public transportation options for people in suburban and rural areas, and if people are then enticed into saving energy by carpooling, driving less, and weatherizing their homes to save on heating and cooling costs, then a $2 or $3 rise in gas is a benefit to the environment. So far, I've been able to keep my gas usage steady: my home gas bill was $4.24 last month, which is even lower than it usually is in the summer, and my auto fuel cost has hovered around $40 a month, although I'm having to be more and more creative about getting around without using my car.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great blog. Enjoy reading it. Have a question if you don't mind me asking. You indicated that your gas bill for your home was $4.24 last month. How much does your electric bill run per month, and is your hot water tank electric or gas? I've chopped my electric bill down from a staggering $96 per month to a much more manageable $40.50 per month. In my case I live in a large condo with my wife and 3 kids. For that $40 per month, I'm keeping a 20 cu foot freezer going, a 17 cu foot fridge, 2 pc's, 2 tv's, and a dishwasher going. The drop in my bill is directly attributable to CFL's, and putting timers and on/off switches on everything (those tv's and vcr's and cd players etc all leak electricity looking for the remote). Anyway, would like to know what your electric bill is running. As a point of comparison our condo is 2300 sq feet, with 4 Br's and 3 1/2 bathrooms.

stackingpennies said...

I think it is great that gas prices are forcing people to think responsibly about driving.

But the public transportation won't improve over night (or even within weeks or months), and some people just don't have a choice, and the gas prices are really hurting certain people. (I'm not including myself. They are an annoyance to me)

My view is that gas prices should have increased slowly over time, with the extra cost going to taxes for public transit, roads, and infrastructure. Not to oil companies around the world. This isn't good for our country.

Finally Frugal said...

@anonymous: WOW! $40 for a 2300 square foot condo is pretty amazing. Just think how much lower that could go if you unplugged TV/DVD etc when you're not using them. My May electric bill was $43 for a 990 square foot house (3 bed, 1 bath) with electric water heater. This was more than I budgeted (I estimated $30) and I think this is because I take lots of baths (love baths) and because I've been washing my hair at night (and then taking a short shower in the morning). I have long hair, and dislike spending so much time drying it in the morning. I may need to rethink this if my electric bills stay high.

@Stacking Pennies: yes, the high gas prices are going to hurt. But I think that's what our country needs to jump start some conservation habits and investment in alternative transportation. Because we are used to thinking short-term, it's been much easier for us to waste energy. Because of the high prices, we'll need to come up with more creative (and hopefully healthier) ways of getting around.

Jill said...

I totally agree that MAX (light rail/public transportation) is the way to go if you commute everyday. I rode the MAX everyday when I was attending PSU and my husband just switched back to riding instead of driving. In addition to the gas savings, my husband really enjoys the stress savings. Instead of paying attention to stop-and-go traffic and crazy drivers, he reads a book and listens to his ipod. He comes home in a much better mood because he has 45 minutes of "decompression" time instead of stress. I also think it is good gas prices are so high for consumers, but I worry about what the cost of diesel will do to the cost of goods as truckers are forced to pay more and more to drive the stuff we buy. Maybe it will force us to buy local, which is what we should be doing anyway!

As for me, I don't commute everyday, but I have sure been grouping my trips to save on gas!

Jill

Anonymous said...

Hi FF.. Thanks for commenting about the electric bill. Forgot to put my name at the bottom (Leonard). I have on/off switches on all of the electric appliances that have remotes. They are small switches I picked up at Lowes that allow me to turn off the power to the tv's, etc without having to unplug the item. I've put the pc's onto energy save after 3 mins of non-use, and that helped a lot in terms of cutting down the electric bill as well. When I switched to CFL's, I had to replace, get this, 62 light bulbs. That was a ka-ching, but its paid for itself already. I've even gone to the extreme of ditching the electronic door bell on the front door, and replaced it with a good old fashioned door knocker. I keep my fridge and freezer stocked to capacity which helps to keep the fridge/freezer from cycling on/off so much. (BTW... you can put water into containers if your fridge is getting low on food and that'll help the motor not kick on so much). Anyway, I think I'm running out of options to get my bill any lower. Have you or any of your readers installed LED's to replace the CFL's? I'm having doubts about the lumen output being comparable, but given the volume of lighting, this may help me... not sure.

I have a possible suggestion in case you haven't thought of this for your house. Have you considered getting a tankless hot water heater? That could cut your electric bill down quite a bit (you'd only heat the water when you need it for a shower/doing dishes,etc)

Leonard

Scott said...

Great post about driving vs. mass transit. My wife is payed $4 a day to not drive and this helps offset her commuting costs. I think a lot more companies are going to start offering commuter benefits as the benefit will allow for more rested workers.

I've enjoyed reading your posts. Thank you.

Keri said...

You know, I love the idea of public transportation. The only thing is that the town that I live in is so small that there isn't any public transportation and it's a 20 minute drive to work. You may not think that's a lot but if I could ride a bus, I would. The city I work even, has a small transit but I hardly ever see them...
Do you have any ideas for people like me who live out in the country and there isn't a bus.

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