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Riding public transportation and trying not to sweat

I’ve been riding the DC Metro (subway) since January and initially drove to the metro and paid $4.00 on parking or got dropped off by my wife (free). Riding the DC Metro costs me $3.70 each way for a grand total of $7.40 w/o parking and $11.40 w/parking each day.

I live about a mile from a metro station, and I can make the walk in 15-20 minutes from our home. I also have a 5-10 minute walk from the metro downtown to work. Total time with walking is about 1 hour each way.

Public Transportation and Me

Single Ma, a new DC Metro rider, wrote up a good analysis of her own options for commuting into DC from Virginia and it got me thinking about my own options. I was originally writing this post to announce that I rode the bus all by myself for the first time in my life, not counting the free Penn State Loop, or times I rode with friends in Toronto or San Francisco.

I’ve always been dependent on cars and walking (mostly cars) all my life, so using public transportation was a brand new thing for me when I moved to the DC area. It wasn’t until we bought our home almost 3 years ago that I was located in a “walkable” area, and now I’m learning to appreciate the proximity of stores, parks, restaurants and the metro. However, I’m still wary of public transportation….but why?

My Experience on the Bus

Although there are two bus lines near my home, I haven’t taken the bus for 3 reasons:

  1. The MD Ride On bus didn’t accept SmartTrip until recently, and I didn’t want to deal with carrying change and grabbing a transfer ticket
  2. The bus stops near my home still required me to walk 5 minutes from the bus to my home
  3. If the bus wasn’t there when I exited the metro station, I just walked.

Walking during the winter was fine, even in the snow, because I didn’t have to worry about sweating all over my work clothes. I could stretch a shirt out to 2-4 uses before sending them for laundering, and pants lasted even longer before needing dry cleaning.

However, now that the summer heat is starting, I need options to get to and from the station without spending money to park my car at the station ($4 per day). I’d rather not arrive home drenched in sweat since that would cost about $3 each day to clean my shirt and pants (or be forced to wash and iron the clothes myself, which I dread and also costs money)…

How can I get home without ruining my clothes?

Here are my options to get home from the metro station. I don’t need to worry about getting TO the station since it’s not as warm in the morning so I can walk, or my wife can drop me off. However, we’re on different work schedules, and traffic from Virginia often makes my wife’s commute unpredictable:

  1. Wait for the bus and pay $0.35 to ride (transfer fee from the metro train)
  2. Walk home
  3. Wait for Stacie to pick me up
  4. Drive to the metro and drive home
  5. Bike to the metro and bike home
  6. Take a taxi
  7. Other option (read on to find out)

Let’s analyze each of these options:

RIDE THE BUS: As I mentioned earlier, I can walk home in 15-20 minutes. If I ride the bus, I can wait anywhere from 0-15 minutes for the next bus, depending on when I arrive at the metro station. Assuming the best case that the bus is already waiting for me, which was the case on Monday, and we get all green lights and no traffic, which wasn’t the case, it would take me about 12 minutes to get home. However, I still have at least 5 minutes to walk in the blaring heat (we had a week over 100 degrees last summer, and it was brutal).

Cost: $0.35 (plus shortened life on my work clothes)

WALK HOME: I’ve already described this method. It would be free to walk, but cost either $3 (plus time) to get my clothes cleaned by someone else, or water, electricity, gas, time and patience to wash and iron the clothes myself.

Cost: $3.00 (I refuse to iron clothes!)

WAIT FOR STACIE: I could change my work schedule and just wait for Stacie to leave work before I leave work. I did this yesterday and Stacie got stuck in a parking lot of traffic on the beltway. I walked and got home a good 30 minutes before she did, even though she should have gotten to the metro when I did originally.

Cost: A few cents for the extra gas to pick me up plus time and patience

DRIVE: I already mentioned the parking cost, and I’ll throw in 80 cents for wear, tear and gas to drive my truck 2 miles.

Cost: $4.80

BIKE: I own a bike, but haven’t ridden it in years. I would need a new lock as the old one is rusty, but I won’t count that in the total for this analysis. I could get home about 8 minutes faster since it’s downhill, assuming I get green lights. However, being outside does still reduce the life of my work clothes.

Cost: My energy and shortened life of my work clothes

TAXI: I have no idea how much a taxi would cost, but I’ll assume at least $5. I don’t ever foresee being so lazy to take a taxi that short distance though.

Cost: About $5

MYSTERY OPTION: I could bring in a change of clothes (shorts and a t-shirt) to work and change before leaving. I have a garment bag that folds into a briefcase and is easy to carry (and doesn’t wrinkle the clothes). It’s extra work to pack the clothes and change at work though, but I don’t ruin my work clothes, just casual clothes. I can wash these clothes in large bunches, so the overall cost is mere dimes probably.

Cost: Time and a few cents to wash my clothes once a week

Which Option is Best for Me?

Obviously I should choose the option that costs the least and gives me the most exercise, which would be either riding my bike or bringing a change of clothes and walking. I don’t have the aversion to hills like Single Ma, but I also don’t have much of a hill to battle while walking or biking.

However, should I be choosing the option that allows more bonding time with my honey? If so, then I should wait for her to pick me up so I can be her shoulder to cry upon and ear to complain to about DC traffic.

Or should I support public transportation and take the bus? Or should I use that stupid truck I’m paying $450 per month plus insurance to own?

Overall, I’m just glad to have so many commuting options, and some that allow me to get some exercise, even though I’m also training for the 32nd Marine Corp Marathon. However, any little bit of exercise counts!

UPDATE

I failed to mention that my employer used to reimburse $70 per month for mass transit, but now we use Wage Works and can spend up to $110 pretax for commuter benefits (comes directly out of our paycheck).

Why do you care?

If you got this far in the article, then you must be interested for some reason. Or you just like to waste time. Which is it? Share your opinion about my options, or even your own commuting pains or praises in the comments below.

About the author

Clever Dude

13 Comments

  • Living and working in Boston left me with a fairly similar choice. I chose the walking with a change of clothes option. I may have to wash my clothes more often, but the excercise is totally worth it. It’s about a mile each way, down a big hill in the morning, and up the big hill in the afternoon. I always try to power walk the hill in the afternoon to really get some exercise out of it.

  • You could probably combine the biking and the change of clothes into one idea.

    I only live about 8 miles from work and currently, it’s very convenient for my wife and I to carpool.

    The RDU area doesn’t really have a public transportation option that would make it worthwhile for me (I’d have to drive just as far to a park and ride lot as I do to just drive to work).

    I also would like to try biking to work occasionally for the exercise, but the total lack of bike paths in this area makes it dangerous in my opinion.

    I am fortunate that where I currently work, if I were to ever try biking to work, there are showers located in our building. So, I could shower and change in to work clothes and not worry about being sweaty all day.

  • I think taking a change of clothes sounds like the best option, possibly along with biking, but if it were me, having both the clothes and the bike to worry about might be too much trouble. The people I work with who bike or walk to work change clothes when they get there.

    Having a contingency clause might help. For instance, if the heat index is above a certain point, you get to drive or take a cab (even if it is silly) from the train.

  • I would change and walk. I hate multi-stage public transport journeys and waiting round. I walk to work myself anyway, but it doesn’t really get that hot over here. And I don’t have to iron my work clothes.

  • I used to live in DC.

    Does your employer offer fare benefits?

    Otherwise, take a change of clothes and walk or bike. I do this even with my job in NC b/c my car doesn’t have air conditioning.

    Plus don’t discount how much you might save by being healthy. You might prevent weight gain, which prevents you from having to buy bigger clothes. And you may save a lot of health care costs by being more healthy.

    ALSO – be sure to see if you can get a discount on your health insurance by exercising!

  • Well I read all that cause I’m always analyzing my own commuter options. I believe SingleMa said in a few earlier posts that she took a new job in Northern Virginia and subsequently moved there as well. Not commuting from Maryland to DC.

  • Hmmm…Another thing I just noticed…You’re paying $7.40 per day to ride the train ($37/week).

    If you knew you were going to ride every day that week, it would only cost you 32.50 per week to get the 7-Day Fast Pass (a savings of 4.50 per week).

    The only downside is that it’s only good for 7 consecutive days, so if you weren’t going to ride 5 consecutive work days, it wouldn’t save you any money.

  • @mdluca – Thanks for reminding me of her move. She and I had some issues about me saying she lived near Baltimore in one of her comments and she took offense, but we’ve since resolved the misunderstanding on both sides. I had confused another PF Blogger with Single Ma and thought she lived in Columbia, MD (which to me is “near” Baltimore). I was way off.

    @Nathania – I added an update at the end about my commuter benefits through work. I do get something.

    @Shawn – Thanks for informing me about that pass. I generally work from home once a week (probably not this week), so the pass wouldn’t help. However, I’m going to research ways I can use my pretax spending to buy that pass when I know I need it.

  • I used to walk to work all the time when I lived in the city and what I did was for the “sweating” part of my day I wore a different shirt. If you fold and roll your buz clothes carefully it shouldn’t be too bad. Wear sneaks to and from the office and leave your work shoes at work. You could actually even leave a week’s worth of change of clothes if you have your own office/cube and feel they’ll be safe. Then just take them to the drycleaner nearest your office.

  • I’ve commuted to downtown DC for about 6 months. I didn’t live close to any bus locations, but still found it easier for me to drive to a stop, park there, and take the bus in.

    Traffic into the District can just be terrible.

    I think combining your money saving efforts and marathon training into one would be great!

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