Updated on 02.08.12

Use Public Transportation (38/365)

Trent Hamm

When I was in college – and for the first several months of my post-college career – I was an avid user of public transportation. I would ride the bus to work every day like clockwork.

For many semesters, I would catch a bus at about 7:48 AM or so. It deposited me right in front of one of the buildings where I would have a class at 8 AM at between 7:55 and 7:58 AM, giving me just enough time to stroll into the classroom, sit down, and open my notebook just as the professor began talking.

Later on, I would stand outside of that apartment building to catch the 7:37 AM bus, which would deposit me about two blocks from my work at about 7:55 AM or so, causing me to walk in the door about 8 AM. On days where I got an early start, I would catch the 7:07 AM bus (getting me there at 7:30) or even, on occasion, the 6:37 AM bus (getting me there at 7:00).

The best part was that the bus ride enabled me to do things like read a book or listen to NPR or an audiobook on my way to school or work. I did this virtually every morning and evening. I’d just carry a book in my bag and when I got to the bus stop, I’d pull out the book and start reading. When I got on the bus, I’d stick my finger in place just long enough to show the driver my pass, then I’d keep reading until it was time to pull the “stop” cord and get off at my destination.

On my way home, the bus stopped right by a grocery store, so I could stop there and pick up food. The bus ran roughly every fifteen minutes in the afternoon, so I would return to the bus stop and there’d be a bus along pretty quickly to get me if I made such a stop.

It was also far cheaper than driving myself to school/work. I paid about $79 for a six month bus pass that covered all rides, which is less than I would have paid just for the insurance on a car.

Use Public Transportation (38/365)

Time passed, though, and when I found myself making a good income, I convinced myself I needed a good car, too. I “bought” a truck (I no longer really think of it as “buying” something if you’re carrying a big debt on it) and, soon after, moved to an apartment outside of the range of the bus system.

Suddenly, I was free. I could go to work whenever I wanted! I could come home whenever I wanted! Freedom!

That freedom cost me about $250 a month in car payments, about $40 a month following the vehicle’s maintenance schedule, about $50 a month in gas, about $70 a month for auto insurance, and another $12 a month for parking.

$422 a month, down the tubes. Compare that to the $79 every six months I was paying for that bus pass.

Even if I just bought the vehicle and let it sit there, driving it rarely, I would still have about $335 a month in extra spending. In other words, it would have been cheaper to buy the vehicle, let it sit in the parking lot, and ride the bus to work than it would have been to drive the vehicle to work.

Unless you’re in a very unusual situation, where the cost of public transportation is really high or the price of gas and parking is really low, riding public transportation to work is going to be saving you money over driving to work.

That’s not to say that you must take public transportation every day. Ride it four days a week, then take your car the other day and do all of your lunchtime and after-work errands on the day you take your car. That way, you save money from the public transportation on the days when you’re just commuting, but have the flexibility of the automobile on the other days.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Liz says:

    This would be such a great idea, if it was feasible for everyone. Actually, there is a bus stop at the bottom of my driveway (I live next to a hospital).
    However, to take the bus to my job, I’d have to catch the first bus of the day, which doesn’t run till 9 a.m. It would get me to my job (bus stop about a 3 minute walk from my desk) at 10:45. My work day starts at 8:30. I’d only have to change buses once.
    To get home, I’d have to be at the work bus stop in time to catch the 3:30 bus, which would deposit me back at the end of my driveway on the last bus of the day at 5:30.
    yes, this is because of the transfers I’d have to make — if I could take the bus directly it would save money. Not time, but money. Well, not time in the sense that I could do something while someone else drove, but I could accomplish the same thing with a carpool…
    I live 25 minutes (and 15 miles) from my job. We just have a lousy bus system in my county.
    And now I think I will check with HR to see if anyone who lives near me or on my work route is looking to carpool.

  2. Cheryl says:

    I knit my husband a sweater riding the bus.

  3. Izabelle says:

    In my area, the best reason for taking the bus is traffic. My bus commute is roughly 1 hour, which I can spend reading, knitting, listening to music, etc. When traffic gets heavy, I just get to read or knit longer, instead of fuming because my car is not moving. And if the traffic is really bad and I feel like walking, I can do that too without worrying about where to leave my car. At 75.50$/month, it’s not spectacular savings at first glance, but when looking at the big picture – we only need one car – it definitely makes sense!

  4. Michelle says:

    Surely 79$ for 6 months of public transit use isn’t usual? I pay 79$ a month and I think I’m getting a good deal compared to other cities in my country.

    Does Trent really think it’s a “very unusual situation” to pay more than 79$ for six months?!

  5. Adam P says:

    The TTC (Toronto) costs $126.00 a month for an adult. Wow we get hosed.

  6. Izabelle says:

    I forgot to add that I think the feasibility of using public transit varies widely depending where you live. I live in a busy metro area so there are buses everywhere. We even chose our house so that I could still take the bus to work. We figured that a house further away would be cheaper, but the cost of the second car would negate the savings fast.

  7. Tracy says:

    I wish, wish, wish this article was true (at least for my area) :( :( :(

    Unfortunately, for most of our country, public transportation is terrible, both hours and routes.

    (Like others have mentioned, that 79$ sounds more like a monthly bus pass cost, not a six month one. In addition, several of the routes in my area have only ONE bus that runs it a day and as Liz mentions, it’s often not a schedule that makes sense.)

    I live a 20 minute drive (so less than 15 miles) from work. It would take me an hour and a half each way on our bus system … and if a meeting ran late, I’d be calling in favors all of the place to get home, since the last bus leaves at something like 5:36.

  8. Mister E says:

    Public transit to work is pretty much forced on me. I work in downtown Toronto and parking near my office is too expensive to justify.

    I pay 115.00 per month on a yearly subscription, it’s $126 month to month.

  9. Katie says:

    I’m not disagreeing that public transit will usually be more than $79 per month, but in most major cities, parking and the like will also be pretty expensive (it’s $10/day to park anywhere near my office, for instance).

  10. Becky says:

    It depends a lot on your location whether this is a good idea. At my last job, it took the same amount of time to walk to/from my job (2 hours) as it did to take the bus. And I was paying extra to live in the inner city, in part so I’d have more transportation options than just a car.

    I hope that over time, more people support functional public transporation in their communities. It allows families of most income levels to spend more money on the things they really value, and less on cars and petroleum products.

  11. Jon says:

    If i were to use the bus in my city it would cost me over $100 per month, take me 1.3 hours each way to go 5 miles, and require me to walk almost 3 miles each day. No thanks!

  12. sarah says:

    Makes me wonder why Trent’s wife drives to work in her Prius instead of taking the bus…

  13. Raya says:

    Great post!

    I used to take the bus to work when I lived in Sofia (our capital with about 2 mln people). Now they have subway routes which are very fast and convenient.

    Later on we had a car, but I would prefer public transportation. Driving was stressful, parking was awuful.

    Driving was worth it in winter, when waiting on a bus stop in the cold for half an hour or more was really… unpleasant :)

    I think when Trent quoted the price he meant the price for students which I would imagine get discounts.

    Of course taking a bus is not possible for everyone, but it’s an awesome idea to think about. Also it helps the environment.

  14. Jane says:

    The savings for public transportation only hold if you can use it exclusively and thus avoid the cost of a car and insurance altogether. And unfortunately this is near impossible in most parts of the country. When you are in college or young, it is more feasible because your world is smaller and the demands on your time are usually less. As you have a family and get different types of employment, this becomes less the case.

    We have an okay metro here where I live, but my world would have to be pretty small to live without a car altogether. As is, if I want to take public transportation, I pay MORE than I would to drive, since I already have a car and the insurance. This is not even considering the extra time it takes. Since our bus system is so bad, unless you are traveling from one metro stop to another, it will take you hours to get where you want to go.

    Don’t get me wrong – I would LOVE to not have a car. But you pretty much need to move to the big cities to do that – NYC, Chicago, Boston (perhaps), San Francisco, etc. Otherwise, you still would want a car, and where are the savings in that?

    I wish our country had made different decisions in the last 50-75 years. We used to have street cars here in Saint Louis, but they went by the wayside, and now we are sadly a driving community except for two limited metro lines. I feel lucky to have those, though they are severely underfunded.

  15. Melissa says:

    Just for another data point – in Denver a monthly pass would cost me $176 and I would still be driving 5.5 miles each way to get to the stop; then it’s a 48 minute ride. Alternatively, I drive 22 miles one way plus pay $3.00/day parking. I live in the suburbs and work downtown. I’ve run the numbers and with gas under $3/gallon I can’t save money – and MOST days I can’t save time either. (Snowy days are a completely different story!)

  16. Jules says:

    Public transit in most places in the US is terrible, which makes people not want to take it, which means the cities don’t want to improve it, which makes people not want to take it…I could go on a nice long SEPTA rant, here.

    I read on Slate, though, that the federal government is finally allowing cities to build public transit systems that make sense. But if you think about how much tax money they would need, and the amount of infrastructure you’d have to build, I’m not expecting any changes.

  17. Des says:

    Is this right? Trent caught the bus at 7:48 and was dropped off a mere 10 minutes later at his destination? If you’re that close, why not just walk and save the $79? (and remember, this was $79 when Trent was in college, not now. Where I live, college students get a discount on public transportation as well.)

    I used to live about 4 miles from work, but with the wait time and bus changes it took me over an hour to get there by bus. I figured it would cost me the same amount of time to walk, and I would save the $3 in bus fare, plus get in my daily exercise. Now, we don’t live on a bus line. Our city actually has great public transportation at a reasonable cost, but not on the outskirts of town where I live. However, my house was hella cheaper than in the city, and my taxes are lower, so its a trade-off.

    I would say, though, that if you live close enough to take the bus, with a bit of effort you probably live close enough to walk or bike. Saves money, probably saves time, and who isn’t trying to find the time for their daily work-out? :)

  18. Baley says:

    I wish it were feasible for me, too. I’d love some time to read or crochet without the guilt of what I ought to be doing instead. Unfortunately, what with the fact that there’s not a bus stop nearby, and the fact that I have to transport my daughter to childcare in the next town (so that we have free childcare with family members), taking the bus even one day a week isn’t feasible. I really enjoyed taking public transportation while in Europe. I just wish it worked better here.

  19. Julie says:

    I pay $59 a month to take the bus and the T in Boston. However, the system is in debt. The MBTA will probably raise fares and cut service in the near future.

    I go to grad school at night. It takes me over an hour to get home because I have to take 2 buses. My mom just bought a new car, and she says I can have the old one (she’s in a different state). I am tempted to bring it up just so I can have a 15 minute commute home at night when I have class. I think it will come in handy after I graduate because my future career may require doing home visits with clients.

    There are pluses about taking the subway and bus. I don’t get caught in traffic. I don’t have to worry about finding and paying for parking.

    Sometimes I hate it because people are rude. There are lots of delays because the system is so old. I don’t criticize people if they want to drive. Sometimes I wish I were one of them!

  20. Tamara says:

    Not at all feasible for me…my city is the capital of urban sprawl and our bus system is terrible. I used to live 13 miles from work. To use the bus to get to work I would have had to been at the bus stop at 5:30am, transfer into downtown (seedy, no thanks) and take another bus to get to my job at 7am. Or…take a 20 minute ride and not have to stand outside in the dark (and as a female be constantly anxious of my surroundings). I think 15 hours of my time per week and my peace of mind is worth the money.

    Of course now I live 31 miles from work and in a different county so it’s completely out of the question now! But I have an apartment complex that’s 2.5 miles from work that I plan to move into within the next few months. Then on nice days I can just ride my bike! :)

  21. Izabelle says:

    Wow, and to think people here (Montreal) complain constantly about our supposedly bad bus and metro service!

    Bus/Metro pass is less than $80/month, with discounts for students and the elderly. There are different price levels to add commuter train service to the monthly pass (from $83 to $232) depending on distance.

    Service is good enough that if you live in the inner city, having a car can be more of a burden than anything else. Plus there is a car sharing service that offers membership combos with monthly bus passes.

    We Montrealers sure like to complain!

  22. Kai says:

    Capital of Urban Sprawl? No way – I think I really might live in said capital. What’s your population density…? :D

    I purposely found a place to live within cycling distance of my work. On days where I am just too lazy, or the roads too nasty (really a ratio of the two..), I take the bus. It’s a pretty short ride, and I pay $2.50/ticket these days. That sure adds up!
    And while you can save by not driving, you don’t save all that much – certainly not the stats given. Those only exist if you don’t own a car at all.
    And since getting out of the city entirely is a big part of my life, a car is necessary. Not using it during the week is really a minimal savings.

  23. Johanna says:

    It seems like every time this topic comes up, the comment thread is flooded with people complaining, “I can’t possibly do this, because public transportation in my area is so woefully inadequate, because there’s not a direct, express bus service between my home, my workplace, and everywhere else I could conceivably need/want to go.”

    It may be true that public transportation in your area is woefully inadequate (as it is in most of the US, as it’s been pointed out). But there are not many places that offer direct, express bus service from absolutely everywhere to absolutely everywhere else. Making public transportation work for you is sometimes a matter of having some flexibility in where you live, where you work, and where you like to go.

  24. Stacey says:

    I wish I could do this. Unfortunately public transportation in rural america is non-existent. The closest public bus ride for me would involve driving 2 hours (140 miles) to catch that bus! On a recent trip to NYC where I rode the train from Long Island, I envied those workers who could catch some “downtime” reading, listening to music, etc. after work instead of being stuck driving a car…

  25. Kai says:

    I think the problem is when it is presented as a “why do you own a car? public transportation is so cheap and convenient!! how could you possibly not?” sort of thing where a lot of people balk at the comparison between an apparent $79 every six months for ten minutes each way each day and the expensive, so-crowded-you’ll-never-be-able-to-sit-and-read, long trip with transfers available.
    I am all for living where you work or working where you live, but for a person who already has a house and a job, trying to change one is probably more expensive than the car.

  26. Tracy says:

    I don’t know about flooded – there were only 5 of us that said it wasn’t possible, and in pretty much every case it involved spending more than 3 hours a day on the bus and/or the the bus routes were very limited (not running before or after ‘normal’ working hours)

  27. MattJ says:

    I work at a NASA facility on an army base. It’s a quarter of a mile from my house to the nearest gate, then about 9 miles to my office from the gate.

    Unfortunately, NASA recently took their shuttles out of service.

  28. Jane says:

    “Making public transportation work for you is sometimes a matter of having some flexibility in where you live, where you work, and where you like to go.”

    I quibble with your use of the adjective “some” here. Because public transportation is woefully inadequate in this country, relying SOLELY on public transportation DRAMATICALLY decreases where you can live, where you can work, and where you can go. And if you don’t rely on it SOLELY, the savings of said transportation are non-existent. I think it’s the dramatic part that is making people comment. If it were just a slight change in lifestyle and a slight amount of flexibility, then sure, we should consider it for environmental, health and financial reasons. But this is not the reality for the vast majority of people commenting here.

  29. Steve says:

    I just checked this out and the maps/schedules confirmed my fears.

    I live about 9 miles from where I work. Since it is mostly interstate + 4 lane rd it takes me about 13-15 minutes. I do have a bus route not far from where I live and where I work but it’s not the same route, so it would be a 2 bus journey – Home – Transfer plaza & then Transfer Plaza – Work. If all went to plan, it would get me to work in an hour. However, the bus from home arrives at the Transfer only 4 minutes before the bus to work leaves – not much margin for error as the next bus is an hour later!

    Cost would be $40 per month which is not bad at all – I reckon I spend that on gas alone driving. But then again I do gain 90 minutes at home instead of on the bus.

  30. Johanna says:

    @Tracy: The cases you mention also involve people living 13-15 miles from where they work. An hour and a half to go 15 miles is actually pretty typical even in GOOD public transportation systems, at least when the beginning and endpoints don’t happen to fall along the same express bus (or train) route.

    Maybe you value living in that particular place (15 miles from work, not on a convenient bus route) more than you value being able to take the bus to work. That’s fine. But it’s not the bus system’s fault.

  31. Kacie says:

    When we lived in Pittsburgh, we had one car. My husband took the bus (and later, the train) to work. He walked to the train stop, was on the train for 45-60 mins and walked the rest of the way to work. By the time we left Pittsburgh, we were paying $100/month pre-tax for his pass.

    As soon as we moved to Indianapolis we bought a second vehicle. This city is just not built for public transit.

  32. Des says:

    The idea of saving transportation money by choosing your home and workplace based on bus routes it not unlike saying folks could reduce their food budget by working at Dominos. Yes, its true, if you work in a food business you can reduce your grocery budget to next to nothing. But the trade-offs are (more often than not) so vast that it isn’t really a viable alternative. If I have to take a $10k a year pay cut to save $200 in car costs, it isn’t worth it. I might have to pay $50k more for the same house to do the same. And that assumes that the location of the good-paying jobs coincides with the location of the safe neighborhoods and good schools. Obviously, if there was such a job in such a location people would take it, but that isn’t typically the case (and if it was, demand for houses in that location would increase the value of them until it was prices out of the sweet spot.)

    It may not be that Tracy values living 15 miles from work more than she values riding the bus. It could simply be that she values $2 more than $1. If it costs more to live closer than one saves in transportation costs, it isn’t really a values discussion, it is just math.

  33. MattJ says:

    Comment in moderation… I’ll pare it down to see if I can get my message across:

    #28 Jane:

    You’re mostly right, imo, but public transportation can, for some families anyway, help them ditch at least one car. That could be a signficant savings.

    For people who live outside of metroplexes, the convenience factor will often win out. People willing to consider dropping the car and putting up with the inconvenience of public transportation impress me. Even if my employer were located near a bus route of some kind, I would have significant difficulty living the rest of my life without a car.

    I would have to quit both rescue squads I’m on. For various [now omitted] reasons, being a volunteer wilderness first responder and not having personal transportation is just not very practical.

  34. tentaculistic says:

    Poll: how many people here live in a city that is covered by a rent-by-the-hour car service like ZipCar? I know we have it in the DC metro area.

  35. valleycat1 says:

    How does taking public transportation most days but still having basically the same automobile expense since you’re also using it save money? (a la Trent’s last paragraph) Seems that would only have a significant savings if you live far enough away from work for the gasoline usage to cost more than the bus pass, in which case it’s probably really difficult to ride the bus.

  36. Mister E says:

    I’m in Toronto and we have ZipCar and another service – AutoShare I think?

    I’ve not personally used them, but my old apartment had a small ZipCar lot at the end of the road.

  37. Kai says:

    There are some values – a lot of people in my city move out to suburbia so they can get massive lots and huge houses with a bedroom for each pet, and thus necessitate driving. You can spend the same amount on a much smaller house, where you might have only room for one living room and one eating table, and the kids’ rooms might be smaller. Then it’s a matter of preferring to drive to get everywhere from your big house, or preferring a smaller house to be closer to things. My preference might not be everyone’s.

    I think the best argument is when driving to work would be full of traffic anyways. When I used to work downtown, it took about the same amount of time to drive or bus in rush hour, because the roads were only moving so fast. If I’m going to be in traffic for 40 minutes, I’d just as well not be behind the wheel. About half the time to drive in off-hours though, and biking took a little less than rush hour driving.
    My husband drives across rather than through rush-hour traffic, and it takes about a third of the time as public transit – but the car is always in the lot, doesn’t stop running when it’s cold, and doesn’t go by at irregular times. We might save a bit of money if we got rid of our car and he bussed to work, but the no-hassle is WELL worth the cost.

  38. Johanna says:

    @Des: Of course I’m not saying that everyone needs to arrange their lives so they can commute via public transportation. Obviously, there are situations where that does not make sense. If you’re in one of those situations, I’m not judging you for it.

    What I am saying is that it also does not make sense to choose your home, and your workplace, with zero regard for the existing public transportation network, and then complain that you can’t commute via public transportation. So many times (in this thread and others) when people complain about their supposedly dreadful bus systems, it turns out that there’s one or more bus routes passing right by their workplace. Is there really NOWHERE along one of those bus routes that you could choose to live that would meet your needs? Maybe there’s not, and that’s fine. But if there is, then like I said, it’s a matter of competing values. Which is also fine.

  39. Tracy says:

    In that case, by ‘some flexibility’ you mean ‘a lot of money’!

    But in all seriousness, no. I think you are still imagining there’s a bus system here that doesn’t exist. Unless by ‘that particular place’ you mean my actual city, not my home.

  40. Stacy says:

    I live in the city and it would still take me over an hour to bus to and from work each day. It only takes me twenty to thirty minutes driving. Plus I’d have to add in the complications of transfers, getting to my second job after my first job, etc…I’d rather just drive. I’ve looked at it so many ways, but driving is one thing I just can’t give up. My time is too valuable to me.

  41. Alex says:

    I’m in my early thirties and have never owned a car. Fortunately I’ve always lived in large cities with decent transit systems. I still prefer to walk whenever I can – if I can walk it in a half hour or less, I do.

    Unless you need to take transit several times a day, a monthly pass might not be a savings over buying individual tickets. A monthly one-zone pass in my city is $81, while a pack of 10 one-zone tickets is $21. If I take a bus fewer than 38 times a month, buying a pass is a waste of money. And the tickets do not expire.

  42. Priswell says:

    Public transportation here is horrible. It may take you 2 hours to get to where you are going. As in ’15 minutes in the car, 2 hours on the bus’. In my town, a car is a necessity, unless your job is straight up the road, no transfers.

  43. krantcents says:

    I would use public transportation, if convenient. I have used it on occasion going downtown. There is a movement at my school for students as well as teachers to bicycle to work.

  44. Steve says:

    I work in a downtown area and not only is parking crazy expensive, but my bus pass is free (paid for by my company as heavily incentivized if not required by the city). So it only makes sense to bus. I love all the reading I’ve been getting done since I got this job. That said, any kind of transfer just kills the busing idea. It’s triple the time (two buses plus two waits of up to 15 minutes, per Trent’s example) and it’s hard to concentrate on any kind of book, project, etc while you’re doing all that.

    Even students don’t get $79 bus passes around here. And of course students have more time than money (usually) making Trent’s math work out to a no-brainer.

  45. Lindsey says:

    #17 – If I remember correctly from previous posts and Trent being on the local news, the town he went to school in has pretty low traffic and a pretty good bus system.
    #4 & 6 – I am pretty positive that I went to the same university a few years after he did, and students had FREE access to the buses, not just on campus but throughout town. The buses were clean, ran great, and most routes ran multiple buses so they came around 2+ times an hour.

    I would love to take the bus to work, and was almost ready to commit to it (at least a few days a week), and then we moved our office. Now it isn’t nearly as convenient and I value my time I can spend at home. Oh well, it would have just cost me more $$ since we would have kept both cars anyway.

  46. Lindsey says:

    Wow, no picture comments yet? Today was pretty good, but one thing I would do is Photoshop out the corner of the top sign & the extra part of the post. It currently draws the eye away from the subject, which is the bus sign. Just that small edit would really make the sign ‘pop’.

  47. Eric says:

    No Lindsey, it doesn’t. This isn’t a photo-editing blog, maybe you clicked the wrong link. Its a blog about saving money, which is the point of the picture.

  48. David says:

    I don’t know where Trent went to college, but I should like to visit the place and travel on the clockwork buses.

  49. AnnJo says:

    In my metro area, public transit is subsidized to the tune of about 75%. So a discounted round-trip ticket that costs $7 to the commuter (what it would cost me to commute per day) actually costs $28, the rest paid for by taxpayers of various jurisdictions, often across the state or country from us. If I worked in our central business district, I could commute from my home about 17 miles away by bus, and it would cost someone $28, require me to walk about a half-mile in our often-rainy weather, and add about 1.5 hours (including walking and waiting time) to my commute. And I live in the downtown area of a suburb, with the best access to transit for my area. The economies of this transaction could only appeal based on lack of knowledge.

  50. ChrisD says:

    The history of public transport in the US is pretty interesting, I know virtually nothing about it, but I think the taxpayer subsidises the roads for cars very heavily, and if you consider spending some of this money on public transport then it might be just as cost effective. However, public transport works better in high densities and cars and subsidised roads and cheap gas lead to low densities, so it is probably quite a difficult issue given where US cities are now.

    Living in central London I love that I have 12 different buses going every 5-10 minutes in every direction within a five minute walk from my front door (or a 2metre walk for some of them). Moreover my area is 100% walkable, If I worked where I am currently volunteering (about 500metres walk) I would never have to travel at all.

    However I used to work outside Cambridge and in the evening the bus came once every hour and sometimes not at all. This situation was so bad that I learnt to drive and bought a car. Price was irrelevant compared to convenience and I was lucky enough to get free parking at both ends (NOT the case in London) and I could give all the non car drivers lifts, rather than running around every evening asking the drivers when they were going home.

    I do have access to a car and I used to drive to visit a friend in the country. Alternatively I could take the bus to the train and my friend could pick me up from the station in about 20 mins (roundtrip). Now petrol has gone up so much it is much cheaper to get the train (IF you book ahead and get good tickets) so I have changed my behaviour there. I think the burden to my friend in picking me up is acceptable. Compare this to visiting a friend in Connecticut, who lived more like 20mins away from the train to New York (thus 40 min round trip). And considering the situation in England is AFTER we got rid of most of our train network. The old station that trains no longer stop at would be almost a walk from my friends house (maybe not with luggage).

  51. Roberta says:

    Trent – I’m interested in whether the dream home in the country you and Sarah plan on building will have public transportation available? If you build it and move while you still have children at home will you and they be able to use a bus to get back and forth from part time jobs, visits to friends, library and shopping trips etc, or will you still plan on keeping a car?

  52. Mister E says:


    I was thinking thew same thing actually. I take a bus and two subways every day and “like clockwork” isn’t a phrase that I hear a lot of during the ride.

  53. Roberta says:

    #37 Kai – did you really mean people buy homes with bedrooms for each pet? That seems odd to me. We bought a house with a master bedroom and bath on the ground floor (so we can age in place and not have to move out) and four bedrooms upstairs with a bathroom connecting each pair of rooms (called Jack and Jills here). But we had four boys at home, two of whom shared a room so we could have a guest room for family and friends, many of whom live other places. But we didn’t buy a house with a room for our dogs. They generally sleep with us.

  54. Katie says:

    AnnJo, it’s not like the marginal cost of your ticket is $28 – most of that money is already being spent whether you use the system or not.

  55. josh says:

    ::insert story about public transportation in my area that no one cares about and is only relative to me here::

  56. Johanna says:

    AnnJo, when you drive, you are also (as ChrisD points out) using taxpayer-funded infrastructure. How much time and money would you have to spend on your commute if you had to rely entirely on privately owned toll roads?

  57. Gretchen says:

    What does “I no longer really think of it as “buying” something if you’re carrying a big debt on it” mean?

    And everytime I get on septa (let’s just say not clockwork) I feel like I have to shower. Plus I have to drive to said train station- and pay to park.

  58. Johanna says:

    I don’t know much about this, but I understand that some city bus systems used to be privately run and profitable without huge subsidies. But that was back in the day before (taxpayer-funded) highway systems made it possible for huge numbers of people to work downtown and live 17 miles away.

  59. Riki says:

    Public transportation is a GREAT option when it works out. My city has minimal public transport so I don’t use it here (it’s a pretty small city), but back when I was a graduate student in a different province, I used the buses all the time. At the time I was paying $51 per month for a student bus pass.

    So, I will say that overall Trent is right. Public transport will save you money.

    BUT . . .
    – It really, really doesn’t work for a lot of people. I would never commute for 3 hours if driving was an option. My time is worth a heck of a lot more than any money I would save.
    – The idea that somebody could spend $79 every 6 months for a pass is pretty asinine. That was more than 10 years ago, Trent! Couldn’t you at least do a quick internet survey for prices? It looks like riding the bus in Iowa City is pretty cheap but I did a very quick survey of a few cities and came up with a huge variation in price. It would have been nice for you to acknowledge that in most cities a transit pass is much, much more expensive.
    – The best transit service is pretty deep in the city and while apartment living is fine for students, as an adult I want to have a little more space and a yard. Yes, that’s a decision I make based on values but its a common one. Living farther out of the city (where housing is cheaper) usually means transit service gets infrequent and inconvenient.
    – Trent was pretty lucky to spend less than 15 minutes commuting on the bus but I’m afraid that’s just not a reality for most people.

    So yeah, I agree that public transit can be a great option. But I definitely feel as though this article glosses over the realities of using transit.

  60. Jane says:

    ChrisD and Johanna already beat me to it, but I have to say one of my pet peeves is how the rhetoric surrounding public transportation and roads is so different. For AnnJo, the public support of public transportation is a subsidy. But do you use the same vocabulary when you refer to the public money spent on roads? I highly doubt it. And I also highly doubt that you would want all the roads you travel to be toll roads. But that is exactly what you expect people who take public transportation to do if you want it to exist without public support.

    People are all up in arms about the money spent on our metro in the last decade to build a new line, but nobody bats an eye about a bogus road extension that cost 1 BILLION dollars. Oh, and the extension is only lightly used.

  61. Nancy says:

    I have a daughter that is going to attend the university Trent is writing about. The “like clockwork” bus system he speaks of is true. The same can be said for another university a few hours away that another daughter attended. Another daughter attends a small college in the same state with little public transportation. What do all of these children have in common? None have cars.

    We decided as a family that the costs far outweigh the convenience of a vehicle. It does present occasional difficulties, like having to drive to pick up kids for breaks or such things, but I can tell you that college becomes much more affordable without the cost of a car.

  62. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, I didn’t say I DO commute 17 miles; I was speaking in the hypothetical. I’m self-employed and my office and home are about a quarter-mile from each other, by design.

    Jane @60 – my “rhetoric” on taxpayer subsidies of roads is the same, to the extent they are funded through general revenues as opposed to some variant of a user fee (tolls, gas tax).

    My point about our transit system was not so much a complaint that it is heavily subsidized, but that the overall cost is higher than its real value. Most of the people benefitting from this service would, if left to their own devices, either structure their lives differently (take different jobs, choose different housing) or would find more economical ways of getting to and from work (car-pooling, jitney services, etc.). Four people making the same commute I described earlier are doing so at a cost of $112 a day, but could carpool at a cost of about $30-35 a day, including parking and all driving expenses including vehicle depreciation. The difference is largely economic waste, regardless of who pays for it.

    When I was growing up in Central America/Mexico and into the 1980s at least, private jitney services were in operation at much more economical rates AND with much greater convenience for the passenger (although, like everything else there, not much in the way of safety regulations).

  63. Icarus says:

    “Unless you’re in a very unusual situation, where the cost of public transportation is really high or the price of gas and parking is really low, riding public transportation to work is going to be saving you money over driving to work.”

    so is “very unusual situation” defined as everyone who cannot take public transportation to their workplace? sounds like its more unusual TO be able to take public transit.

  64. Kevin says:


    “Trent caught the bus at 7:48 and was dropped off a mere 10 minutes later at his destination? If you’re that close, why not just walk and save the $79?”

    Probably because he’d rather spend 20 minutes/day commuting than 2 hours.

    10 minutes on a bus represents several miles, even with frequent stops. Figure roughly 3 miles, at least. It would take you an hour to walk that distance. So you’re advocating spending 2 hours a day commuting (on foot) rather than 20 minutes on a bus, to save $13.17/month. Figure 5 days/week, that’s $2.63/day. You’re valuing your time at less than $1.32/hour.

  65. Kevin says:


    Sometimes I hate [the bus] because people are rude.

    Yes, by all means, join the gridlock on the highway in a car instead. The people are much more polite and considerate! LOL!

  66. Johanna says:

    @AnnJo: “my office and home are about a quarter-mile from each other, by design.”

    Some of the people here might argue that that situation is impossible – I’m glad that you realize it’s not. :)

    “Four people making the same commute I described earlier are doing so at a cost of $112 a day, but could carpool at a cost of about $30-35 a day, including parking and all driving expenses including vehicle depreciation. The difference is largely economic waste, regardless of who pays for it.”

    If these numbers are correct (and I’m not sure how you arrived at them), then for those four people to drive to work in four separate cars would cost $120-140 a day, even more than the cost of taking the bus. And yet, an awful lot of people drive to work alone. Isn’t *that* a lot of economic waste?

    Keep in mind, too, that there are costs of driving that aren’t borne by the driver. Each additional car you put on the road in rush-hour traffic slows everybody else down, costing them all more in time and possibly gas money.

    And as Katie said, $28 is not the marginal cost of the bus trip. You don’t really start to save any money at all until you take the bus out of service entirely – and then you have not just 4 additional cars on the road but 30.

  67. Katie says:

    When I was growing up in Central America/Mexico and into the 1980s at least, private jitney services were in operation at much more economical rates AND with much greater convenience for the passenger (although, like everything else there, not much in the way of safety regulations).

    And when I lived in Egypt I could take cabs everywhere for less than it costs me to take the bus in the U.S., but that has a lot more to do with the cost of labor in each place and the relative purchasing power of the dollar than it does with whether public transportation is more efficient than taxi cabs.

  68. Kevin says:


    “Our bus system is terrible” … “I live 31 miles from work”

    How is it your city’s fault that you chose to live 31 miles from your work?

    I’m dumbfounded by all the commenters who are criticising their cities’ transit systems, while openly admitting that they chose to live far, far away from their places of employment.

  69. David says:

    Some figures, since I think terms such as “taxpayer subsidies” don’t really mean much without them: “since 2008 Congress has appropriated a total of of $34.5 billion from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund”. The HTF collects most of its money from fuel tax and other taxes paid by vehicle owners and road users; it spends about $40 billion a year, which is about a quarter of the total amount spent on highways in the US annually (“in 2010, the Federal Government
    spent $45 billion and state and local governments spent $116 billion on highways”). The source for these quotations is testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, and is less likely than some government figures to be outrageous lies.

    What this means is that the average US taxpayer contributes $60 per year to the upkeep of the country’s highways, over and above what he or she as a road user contributes in fuel taxes and excise on vehicles, tyres and the like. Roughly 20% of this is spent on “mass transit systems”, the rest is spent on the roads (although some Republican or other claimed that 35% of spending by the HTF was actually on non-road-related projects, but this is more likely than some government figures to be outrageous lies). Mass transit systems account for roughly 2% of miles travelled by the average US urban dweller.

    Should I pay $60 a year to maintain my country’s roads, even though I never use them? Probably. After all, they have to deliver all the things I order online somehow, and only the other year I had a visit from an acquaintance.

  70. AnnJo says:

    David, $45 billion plus $116 billion totals $161 billion. Dividing this by $60 a year suggests that we have nearly 2.7 billion taxpayers. Surely that can’t be right!

    If we assumed that about one out of three individuals in the U.S. population pay income and gas taxes (that’s probably high for income tax and low for gas tax) the taxes paid would be about $1,600 per year per taxpayer, not $60. On a per capita basis, Americans pay about $525 a year not $60 per year. It’s not really peanuts.

  71. Tamara says:


    I /currently/ live 31 miles from work and that is most certainly /not/ by choice. My references to my city’s terrible bus system are from when I lived 13 miles from work. I will be moving 2.5 miles from work in the next few months…and even then I would probably get there faster walking than taking the bus.

    Try reading comments instead of skimming them next time.

  72. Jonathan says:

    Just thought I’d throw some more amounts out there. There is no mass-transit in the rural area where I live. In the city where I use to work, however, the bus system there has rates that are even less than what Trent mentioned, at least for students. An academic year pass for student is $75, or $50 per semester. A normal 30 day pass that anyone can buy is $30.

  73. Kevin says:


    OK, I took your advice and re-read your comment, and I’m still not clear on why you say your city’s bus system is “terrible.” Is it your bus system’s fault that your downtown is “seedy?” Is it the bus system’s fault that it’s “dark” at 5:30 AM? I just don’t get it.

  74. Misha says:

    Gretchen @ #57: “What does “I no longer really think of it as “buying” something if you’re carrying a big debt on it” mean?”

    It means that since the windfall of selling the site and paying off his home mortgage, Trent is now completely out of touch with reality and also with his readers.

  75. Tamara says:


    It’s terrible because the buses run infrequently and are often late, so if you’re relying on them to get to work you’d better hope you have a lenient boss.

    The drivers are unprofessional and poorly trained. One recently ran a passenger over and another sexually assaulted a child while he was on duty. They also often fail to fire drivers who have shown empirically they can’t drive – the driver who killed her passenger had been cited something like 11 times for hitting cars and lampposts and the like. I know driving a bus is not like driving a car, but keeping someone who has shown they can’t control that sort of vehicle in the driver’s seat is irresponsible.

    It is the bus system’s fault for sticking their transfer hub in the middle of downtown which has been blighted for decades. It is dirty and alcoholics and drug addicts like to congregate there, along with the homeless folks that manage to get themselves kicked out of the shelter. (Before everyone jumps on me I know the majority of homeless people aren’t bad or dangerous, but I will side-eye those that get thrown out of the shelter.)

    I never said it was the bus’ fault that 5:30 is dark. Please don’t imply that I’m stupid. What I said was that I, as a female on the small side, simply did not feel safe standing out on the side of the road in the dark, alone, much less being at the bus station with the aforementioned creepy people. Most women wouldn’t.

  76. AnnJo says:

    David, I couldn’t readily locate your source for the statements that 20% of the transportation budget is going for mass transit while only 2% of passenger miles are traveled in that way. On the surface, this seems like a gross mismanagement of the budget, although I can see that there could possibly be good reasons for it.

    I’ve used and appreciated the public transportation systems of cities like London, Madrid, Rome, Amsterdam (and also tried hard to avoid the system in Mexico City). In such cities, geography, history, culture and density combine to make such systems pretty functional and economical. Part of the history is that both land acquisition and a lot of the early construction predated current eminent domain and prevailing wage requirements – a benefit that newer systems don’t have.

    I can really see mass transit projects in some cities as potentially visionary and well worth the heavy up-front cost. I can also see various special interests (construction companies, public employee unions, downtown businesses and landlords, advocates of higher density lifestyles) aiming to enrich themselves or advance their ideological agendas at the expense of taxpayers and people who enjoy less dense living environments and less collectivist options. Given what I’ve seen in my life of how government projects work, my default assumption is that the latter view is more realistic. There are probably exceptions, but I just don’t know of them.

  77. Johanna says:

    Is it a gross mismanagement of budget that a passenger mile in midtown Manhattan costs more (even ten times more) than one in rural Wyoming? It seems obvious to me that the logistical challenge, and therefore the cost, of providing a person with a means of getting from point A to point B should depend fairly directly on the amount of stuff there is between points A and B. And there’s much more stuff per square mile in Manhattan than in rural Wyoming.

  78. Des says:

    @Kevin – Yes, if you want to ignore any other benefits of walking and look at just the money then yes, walking is a bad option. How about (as I suggested in that same comment) biking? It would take the same amount of time to bike that 3 miles as it would to bus it – plus it allows for schedule flexibility. Any reason he couldn’t have done that?

  79. Johanna says:

    @Des: Not every street is safe for biking. And not everyone can ride a bike. I know Trent has mentioned before that he has a hearing impairment in one ear. Even if that doesn’t affect his balance (and I don’t know if it does), that would make me awfully nervous about riding a bike on a city street if I were in his position.

    It sounds like riding the bus worked perfectly well for him. Why do you have such a problem with it?

  80. jim says:

    AnnJo said: “public transit is subsidized to the tune of about 75%. So a discounted round-trip ticket that costs $7 to the commuter (what it would cost me to commute per day) actually costs $28,”

    I doubt your conclusion is correct.

    Lets look at Seattle as an example. They have 2 zone tickcets that cost $3 per trip. Thats their most expensive ticket. If you look at King metro’s budget they only get about 25% of their income from ticket sales. So they too are subsicized to the tune of 75% of their spending. Mostly via sales tax in WA. I could use your same logic and assume then that it costs $3 x 4 = $12 for a single trip on a Seattle bus. But thats wrong.

    The entire budget of King metro is about $548 million dollars. They provide about 100 million rides per year. Simple to see that spending $548 million total on 100 million rides means the actual cost per ride is closer to $5.48

    Now its also possible that a grossly inefficient bus system in city that gets very low ridership would have much higher cost / ride. However I wouldn’t use the ticket price / subsidy rate to assume this is the actual cost / ride.

    Furthermore you’d also have to look at all the services a metro transit system provides. Seattle spends about 15% of its budget on stuff like vans that give rides to disabled people and that is certainly much higher cost/ride than a typical bus ride.

  81. Kevin says:


    “How about biking? Any reason he couldn’t have done that?”

    Of course, I can’t answer for Trent, but the reasons I don’t personally bike to work are safety (i.e., getting hit by a car), weather (rain, cold, snow), and my own physiology (I’d need a shower at work after 10 minutes of hard exertion). Perhaps Trent’s own reasons were some combination of those same drawbacks, if not others?

  82. David says:

    AnnJo: “David, $45 billion plus $116 billion totals $161 billion. Dividing this by $60 a year suggests that we have nearly 2.7 billion taxpayers. Surely that can’t be right!”

    It isn’t right. But you may be guilty of not reading the question before attacking the answer.

    The HTF spends $45 billion a year on highways (the rest comes from state and local governments). It collects money directly only from vehicle users via fuel and sales taxes.

    The HTF shortfall (income minus expenditure) over the last four years has averaged around $8 billion per annum, which must be made up by the Treasury because the HTF is not legally allowed to operate with a deficit.

    There are about 135,000,000 taxpayers in the USA, each of whom therefore contributes around $60 a year to that shortfall.

    That 20% of the HTF budget is allocated to mass transit can readily be located almost everywhere that information on the HTF can be located. That 2% of passenger miles are travelled in that way can almost equally readily be located. My primary source for the figures I have quoted is testimony delivered by Joseph Kile before the Senate Committee on Finance, 17 May 2011.

    Johanna is quite right. No street in the entire United States of America is safe for biking, because these streets are from time to time driven on by cars under the “control” of American drivers. As my friend in Denver was trying to say, you lot drive so badly that if your roads weren’t so wide, there would shortly be 135 taxpayers left instead of 135 million.

  83. Johanna says:

    I almost always like to be told that I am right. But what an ugly, bigoted comment that was.

  84. jim says:

    David, What nation are you from? I’m sure you lot have exemplary driving records with very low fatalities / miles driven compared to the USA.

  85. Johanna says:

    @jim: David lives in the UK. He spent his younger years in what was once Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe.

  86. Kai says:

    “#53 Roberta @ 6:26 am February 9th, 2012
    #37 Kai – did you really mean people buy homes with bedrooms for each pet?”

    No, I mean that many people buy homes that are far huger than could possibly be considered necessary. I know many people who buy homes with twice as many bedrooms as children. I know one couple who just bought a massive 5-bedroom house. They aren’t even planning on kids anywhere in the near future, and I rather doubt they’ll ever have four. Another single guy has a large 4-bedroom house on the edge of the city.
    And the number of bedrooms doesn’t even address the size of each, or the doubling-up of other rooms (kitchen table plus formal dining room, multiple living/family/sitting rooms, etc).
    It’s ridiculous.

    #57 Gretchen @ 7:31 am February 9th, 2012
    What does “I no longer really think of it as “buying” something if you’re carrying a big debt on it” mean?
    It seemed pretty clear to me that what he meant was that ‘buy’ is a questionable term when you walk out of the store with a new item you haven’t paid for, on which you will owe piles of money and interest.
    As in ‘I just bought* a new massive TV’
    *financed and will be paying for the next five years.

  87. David says:

    Comparisons are almost always unfavourable and these are not especially savoury, but since you ask, the latest KSI (Killed or Seriously Injured) rates for the UK and the USA are: on motorways, 2.0 per 1 billion miles driven for the UK and 5.2 for the US; on “non-motorways”, 9.3 for the UK and 10.7 for the US. Neither of these rates is an exemplar of anything, nor do I state them from any jingoistic motives.

    Look: cars are dangerous. Douglas Hofstadter put it best when he said (and I paraphrase) “Suppose someone today were seeking a patent for any invention at all that would fulfil anything you like in terms of socio-economic needs, create any number of jobs you like, and so on and so forth. Suppose they added the caveat that every ten years or so, this invention would as a by-product wipe out the population of New Orleans. Would you grant a patent for this invention? Are you crazy?”

    I was born in what was then Southern Rhodesia; apart from that, what Johanna says is entirely correct. I drive a car very seldom, I do not own and never have owned a car, and I am among the 7% of people who consider themselves below-average drivers. You may wish to consider the absurdity of that percentage compared to the number of people who must by definition be below-average drivers. On the other hand, you may be quite happy with the way you drive, though quite unhappy with the way everyone else does.

  88. AnnJo says:

    David, or I may be guilty of misunderstanding what I read. You said, “Should I pay $60 a year to maintain my country’s roads, even though I never use them?” I took that to mean you thought you (and each other taxpayer) paid ONLY $60 a year to maintain the roads. I believe it was a fair reading, but obviously you intended it otherwise.

    There are about 136 million income tax returns filed annually, but I believe about 46 million of them have zero tax liability or a “credit” of money never paid. So there are about 90 million returns on which taxes are paid.

  89. jim says:

    Well David, I think its a general rule that 90% of Americans consider themselves above average. I read once that the only measure that American children lead the world in was ‘self confidence’. We don’t actually have to BE better if we THINK we’re better. ;) USA! USA! USA!

  90. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, is David’s statement ugly and bigoted because it is untrue or because even if true (i.e., that Americans are horrible drivers), it should not be stated out loud? Is it bigoted for me to say that, by comparison to Canadian drivers and Mexican drivers, American drivers are instead paragons of probity? I’m pretty sure everybody realizes that such generalities refer to statistical averages. In other words, when I say Mexican drivers are worse than American drivers, or David says American drivers are worse than British drivers, I don’t mean that every Mexican driver is worse than every American driver and he doesn’t mean that every Brit is better than every Yank, but that as a statistical measure of some kind (accidents per mile driven or whatever), more of what one considers bad driving takes place in one country than the other.

  91. Johanna says:

    AnnJo, is it your position that “No street in the entire United States of America is safe for biking” is a statement of statistical averages?

  92. jim says:

    I threw out fatalities / miles driving in an attempt to give a objective measure of driving. But it really doesn’t directly capture the ‘skill’ or quality of driving. Maybe American cars are inherently less safe than U.K. cars. Driving laws would impact it all as well. Maybe American road speeds are higher on average. Who knows. Theres too many other variables.

    I wonder if theres a real valid *objective* way to easily measure quality or skill of driving for a nation?

    Peoples opinions on the driving skill of another group are going to be biased. It seems people in every state in the US thinks the residents of the neighboring states are all awful drivers.

  93. AnnJo says:

    Jim, when a driving culture accepts the rule of “el que pega, paga” (he who hits, pays), the corollary is likely to be a disregard for turn-signals, frequent abrupt lane changes, and basically no need to look in the side or rear view mirrors. The variables you cited are meaningful, but cultural habits play a role.

  94. jackie says:

    I happen to work in a different city than I live in (same metro area) with an independent bus systems. I would have to buy both passes and take 3 buses to get to work, just 9 miles from my house. The cost would be $182/month.

  95. jim says:

    “cultural habits play a role” Yes. But its just one other variable to throw in the mix.

    Do other nations usually decide who’s at fault for an accident differently than we do here in the USA?
    I honestly don’t know how that works.

  96. David says:

    Mea culpa – I should once again have surrounded what I hoped was an obvious joke with the relevant tags. But it is certainly the simple and objective truth that no street anywhere in the world is as safe as it would be for anything – biking, roller-skating, skateboarding, walking – if cars could not drive on that street (no matter whether they are driven by you or me or a Mexican or a Martian).

    The 1865 Locomotive Act in the UK required all road locomotives, which included automobiles, to travel at a maximum of 4 mph in the country and 2 mph in towns and have a crew of three, one of whom should carry a red flag walking 60 yards ahead of each vehicle. They did not know in 1865 that road locomotives (or the demand for their fuel) would more or less completely screw up the planet by 2065, but they knew how bad drivers would be.

    You may wonder why in 1865 any UK city-dweller would bother to own a car when they could only drive it at 2 mph – why not walk, for at 3 mph they would reach their destination sooner? Well, in Queen Victoria’s day the women wore clothing that restricted their walking speed to about four miles a fortnight, and the men had much shorter legs than nowadays so that even if they were inclined to race ahead of their spouses (as no gentleman would be in any case), it would do them little good.

    Why not ride? Because it had (correctly) been proved by statistics that if the urban population continued to grow at its present rate, and if no alternative to equine transport were adopted, London would be a foot deep in horse excrement by the middle of the 20th century.

    But in 1865, car ownership was not so much a necessity as a status symbol. Pretty much as it is nowadays, of course, except that the totemic question is not “do you have a car?” (of course you do) but “how fast does it go?” (if you’re a Republican) or “how eco-friendly is it?” (if you’re a Democrat). Even if you don’t have a fast car or a car that gets 70-odd miles to the gallon, to a man or a woman there is no subject on which you’re more willing to talk than “my car and how I drive it and why I wouldn’t catch a bus instead”. This forum itself has been reinvigorated by a yellow Neon. It would be tragic, if it weren’t funny.

    Three facts, quite easy,
    should be known to all
    would-be survivors
    who set out on wheels:
    that roads are greasy,
    safety-margins small,
    and fellow-drivers

    Piet Hein

  97. Kai says:

    I don’t know about safer, but I find that Americans are much more efficient highway drivers than Canadians. Once I cross the border I find way fewer slow cars in the left lane. Of course, American freeways are also usually better-designed.
    I also credit the nearby American signs which say ‘Keep right except to pass’ for being much better than my local ‘slow traffic stay right’. No-one thinks they are slow traffic.

  98. sjw says:

    I’ve been seeing a bunch of “that’s nice but not feasible in my situation”. I spend 4h/day and over $50/week on public transportation because I irrationally don’t want to purchase a car and deal with the hassles of ownership. I live in a city with great public transit. Unfortunately my work moved locations a couple of years ago.

    I know it takes roughly 30-40 minutes to drive from my house in the morning (depending on how early I leave), and ~60 minutes to drive on the way home (as long as there is no precipitation or accidents).

    Or I can do as I’ve been doing a year since my carpools fell apart and get on 5 transit vehicles each way (streetcar, streetcar, subway, bus, bus), and spend over $50/week for the privilege because I’m moving between two municipalities.

    I think I’m still saving money on a car and gas and insurance. But really, is 4h/day in transit worth it? Yes, I know, I should just get a new job closer, or else find a new carpool. Both are easier said than done.

  99. Roberta says:

    To Kai at #86 Who decides what is “necessary” for some else’s housing? I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business what people choose to buy or live in if IF they can afford it and all the associated costs. You can think it’s ridiculous for a single guy to have a “large 4 bedroom on the edge of the city” but maybe that’s his dream house or he plans to adopt multiple children or rescue ferrets or needs space for model trains or board games or visiting family or just likes the room.

    We live in an area with top-rated schools. It attracts many corporate people who know they’ll be moving in two or three years and want good resale value. Bigger houses with more amenities sell better than smaller ones with less space.

    I think it would be ridiculous for us to cram ourselves, kids who are all over 6 feet tall and two big dogs into the three bedroom ranch I bought as a single woman. I didn’t need the bedrooms then, but thought I’d be leaving in three years so there’s the resale value thing again. Good thing I bought too big, actually, since I got married and we had our first two kids living in that house.

    This blog discusses frugality which means different things to different people. To me it means economizing on the things that don’t matter to me (my car is 21 years old, paid for and still runs just fine) so I can afford those that do. Having the space for family, friends and community to gather here is one of those.

  100. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, somehow I missed your comment at #66. You asked:

    “If these numbers are correct (and I’m not sure how you arrived at them), then for those four people to drive to work in four separate cars would cost $120-140 a day, even more than the cost of taking the bus. And yet, an awful lot of people drive to work alone. Isn’t *that* a lot of economic waste?”

    I don’t think so. I think of economic waste as the excess of what is paid for something over the value placed on it by its recipient. If I buy myself a pet rock, absent any coercion, then the amount I pay for it and the value I place on it are presumptively equal. If I buy YOU a pet rock, or force you to buy one, and you don’t value pet rocks, then the price of the pet rock is an economic waste.

    Someone who chooses to drive alone presumptively values the ride at whatever it costs. Otherwise, they’d choose differently. The commuter on a subsidized transit system, however, may or may not value the ride at what it really costs. The only way to know for sure is probably to offer the rider the money it costs to subsidize his/her ride, and see if they’d rather have the ride or the money. The rider would then probably consider alternative ways of getting to work that would maximize his/her overall financial well-being. If the cost of the ride is, say, $6 a day, and the rider has been paying $1.50 of it, getting the money instead of the ride would put about $129 a month in his/her pocket (the cost to the rider plus the subsidy).

    The rider might choose to use that extra money to buy a more fuel-efficient car and drive alone, might choose to rely on that money take a lower paying job closer to home or become self-employed, might choose to team up with seven other co-workers and hire a van service (like the ones that so successfully transport people door-to-door to/from airports), etc. Since the drivers of such vans usually earn half or less than what public transportation drivers earn in wages and benefits, it’s safe to say the van service would add both convenience and savings to its riders.

    Unless the rider would still choose to spend the whole $129 a month to ride the bus, however, it’s safe to say there’s economic waste going on.

  101. Johanna says:

    Somehow you still missed the rest of my comment #66, where I talked about driving having costs that aren’t borne by the driver. You seem to be clinging to this idea that people who drive to work are self-sufficient Ayn-Randian heroes, and people who take public transportation are moochers who want to steal everyone else’s pet rocks, which is not the reality of the situation at all.

    When some people take public transportation, everyone benefits. Maybe those benefits are not so apparent in your suburb 17 miles outside of the central business district, but in more densely populated and heavily traveled areas (where the biggest and most expensive public transportation systems are concentrated, after all), they really are.

  102. AnnJo says:

    “When some people take public transportation, everyone benefits.” Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on what the projects really cost and what benefits they really deliver, doesn’t it?

    I don’t at all think that people who use public transit are moochers, or that people who drive are Randian heroes. I just think that the per person-mile costs shifted to others are, in many communities, much much higher for transit riders than for drivers. There surely may be exceptions, though.

    Since having people pay for their own choices and decisions as much as possible is more conducive to mutual respect and greater liberty (IMO), I’m not as sold on public transit as a general good as you are.

  103. Johanna says:

    “having people pay for their own choices and decisions as much as possible is more conducive to mutual respect and greater liberty (IMO)”

    That’s interesting (although not a surprise) – you’ve now gone far beyond the discussion we were having before, which was simply about whether maintaining a public transportation network was a cost-effective choice.

    Does it follow that it’s also your opinion that, for the sake of mutual respect and greater liberty, all roads should be privately owned and operated? It seems to.

  104. AnnJo says:

    Not always. For instance, I think the Interstate Highway System and the Al-Can Highway are examples of projects that carried true society-wide benefits at the time they were built, as opposed to selectively benefitting some private individuals at the expense of others.

    And in theory, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with public roads that are paid for by user-fees (tolls, gas tax, LIDs, mitigation fees, and the like), although in practice these might work more economically and honestly if they were set up more like utility districts rather than managed by state-wide agencies.

    But if a driver on a public road pays 75% of the cost of his ride and imposes 25% on the community, while a transit rider pays 25% of the cost of her ride and imposes 75% on the community, I think the former is going to be preferable to me as long as the community costs are not higher for the driver in absolute terms. Meaning that if the driver’s cost is $20 for a ride, of which he pays $15, while a transit rider’s cost is $6, of which he pays $1.50, then transit is clearly preferable, since it saves both the transit rider AND the community money, while giving the driver a desirable economic alternative.

    In other words, I would be cast out of the average meeting of libertarians for lack of ideological purity.

  105. Johanna says:

    You are still not listening to what I’m saying. The costs of driving go far beyond building and maintaining roads. The negative externalities of driving are huge.

    There’s congestion, which I’ve already mentioned: Each additional car on a crowded road wastes everyone else’s fuel and everyone else’s time.

    There are unpaid costs of collisions (I don’t like to call them ‘accidents,’ because that implies a degree of inevitability and blamelessness that I don’t think is appropriate).

    There’s pollution – even if you don’t count CO2 (although you should), there’s still plain old ordinary urban pollution.

    And there’s parking. When you drive to a place of business, either the business or the community pays to provide you with a place to park. (Even if you’re paying to park, it’s unlikely that you’re covering the whole cost of maintaining that parking space.) When the business pays, they pass the cost along to all their customers – including the ones who didn’t drive – in the form of higher prices.

    I’m skeptical that your 75%/25% breakdown takes all these costs into account.

  106. Johanna says:

    Another thing: People who take public transportation *do* pay for their choices, in more ways than just paying the bus and train fares.

    I could save probably $300 on my rent – and live in a nicer apartment – if I moved two or three miles away. I live where I do because it’s half a block from a metro station, which allows me to get around without a car. (And this is on one of the suburban spurs of the system, not in the urban core – but I live here and not there because this is where my job is.)

    Rents and property values are high in cities and other transit-oriented areas because (some) people are willing to pay them – which means that more people want to live in dense, urban, transit-accessible places than current zoning restrictions allow.

    If we built more transit-oriented development to meet that demand (and thus drive down rents a bit), transit routes could be shorter and more efficient, and perhaps riders would be willing to pay more per trip, so transit systems could operate with little or no subsidy (as many did in the past).

  107. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, as it happens I do include all of the items you mention in #105 and more – the cost of eminent domain to obtain the land, noise as well as air pollution, possibly visual blight (depending on what was there before the road), etc., as items that are what I would call costs to the community. These are partially offset by benefits to the community such as easier access by emergency personnel, etc.

    And I have no idea whether the 75/25 breakdown is correct – that is why I prefaced it with an “if.”

    Let’s take it as a given that you and I might disagree on what the costs and benefits to the community (as opposed to the costs and benefits to the individual driver or rider) are of the two modes of transportation. If the cost to the community (however defined) is substantially higher from one form than from another, and the individual user declines to pick up at least enough of the cost to make them break even, then I’d consider that mode to be causing the greater economic waste. Wouldn’t you?

  108. Johanna says:

    AnnJo, you began this discussion with a comment that concluded “The economies of this transaction [i.e., a trip on public transportation] could only appeal based on lack of knowledge.” And yet, all you have to counter that supposed lack of knowledge are made-up numbers.

    I don’t think we have anything else to discuss here.

  109. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, the quote you refer to was taken from a discussion of one particular transit system, and the numbers I referred to in that comment were not made up. At the point where I used “made-up numbers” I thought the discussion had moved beyond my particular area’s system and to a general discussion of economic waste.

    I agree that our discussion is at a stale-mate, since you decline to engage the hypothetical question I was raising in favor of distorting my previous remarks.

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