Diary of a Metro Convert

At least one Washington-area commuter is making her Try Transit week permanent. When a person cancels the contract on a parking spot in her own office building, you know she has to be serious.

My cousin loves her car – a 2009 Infiniti G37 coupe. Color: liquid platinum. But her enthusiasm for driving was significantly curbed in June when she was involved in an accident in heavy rush-hour traffic for the second time in two months. Not only did it give her jitters behind the wheel – her insurance payment doubled.

Knowing what I do about how taking transit saves money, burns calories and frees up time, I gingerly made The Ask. Since I was commuting downtown for the summer, I suggested we take the bus to the Metro from the stop right outside her development in central Tysons Corner. Before the accidents, she may have laughed it off, but instead she said yes.

Here’s how it went that first day in mid-August (the other voice you hear is mine):

Now that my cousin’s been riding a while, I e-mailed her a few questions.

Has switching to Metro saved you money?

The cost of using Metro per month is $196 (bus + train). Parking at the office is $270/month (which I pay for) plus $210/month in gas. So turns out my total monthly savings is $284. Additional pluses are less mileage on the car as well as wear and tear on the tires. Also there is less chance of getting in an accident (my personal favorite). 

Other Pros/Cons?

Cons:  I don’t love being stuck at the mercy of the Metro bus and train schedules. Also, driving can take less time. The 11-mile commute by car ranges from 30 minutes on the best day to 90+ on bad days. Plus – I like to have the option to stop on my way home which you cannot do on public transportation.

Pros:  It’s less stressful. I used to arrive at work all stressed out from the traffic delays, constant construction and really poor driving going on around me. I can work on my way in as I get service for the BlackBerry on the bus and train.

Buses are really clean with great air conditioning. Bus timetables are pretty accurate. I have two different bus routes 1 block from my home.

The bus dropoff at West Falls Church is covered so you don’t get wet. The bus area has a dedicated, separate entrance to trains. 95% of the time I get a seat both ways. Metro commute is 50 minutes door-to-door coming from my area behind Tysons II. 

Using SmartCard, I have a pre-tax benefit through my firm’s WMATA SmartBenefits program. 

Was it easier or harder than driving on the earthquake, hurricane and flood days?

In general, easier. While there were time delays, the traffic seemed way worse. On Earthquake day, it took almost twice as long due to lower speed limit on tracks to allow for checking to make sure no structural damage to tracks. On the Thursday Tropical Storm Lee blew through, I waited an hour for the bus – which I expected. But I equated traffic around Tysons to Christmas Eve: gridlock. I was very glad to be on the bus.

What are your words of wisdom to anyone considering a bus/Metro commute?

Hmm, I would say had you not suggested I give this a try and at the same time accompanied me for the first few days, I would not have even considered it.  I absolutely love my car and, let’s face it, I am fairly lazy where walking is concerned from growing up in the suburbs where you drove everywhere from the first day you get your license.  It’s a way of life/frame of mind.  I like to have the option to stop on my way home which you cannot do on public transportation. 

Having said that, my advice would be to try it for a week, take the time to do the math and calculate the savings – and have an open mind.

I begrudgingly (still) have to admit I am a public transportation convert. Check back with me in November when the cold and snow has settled in.

And so I will.

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington

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