I still take the bus to work 4-5 days a week, but lately I am weighing the time and hassle in using transit vs. driving. Is there time factor that would cause me to drive? Is it related to the money cost at all? The questions I look at: How does this affect job commuter transportation choice? How does this affect non-commute transportation choice?
Here are the usability tests I set up: - Commute by transit for a typical week, measure time and money costs. - Commute by transit to a non-work destination, measure time and money costs. - Commute with family by transit to a non-work destination, measure time and money costs. Well the test sample is a bit small, just me, I do not have the time or money to get a bigger sample, it would be better to test a range of public, a range of purposes, a range of routes, destinations and different start points, but hey, you go with what you got.
My bus transit commute is about 6 miles to downtown and is 22 minutes by the schedule for the limited stop service, and that is pretty close to the morning trip time, in the afternoon rush hour it can be a little slower, a couple minutes maybe. I live about a block from a route that has a bus about every 12 minutes for limited stop service and about the same for local service during the rush hour, my work destination is a block from the destination stop. My transit commute is as long as 22 + 12 = 34 minutes and a minimum of 22 minutes if I hit the bus just right, average about 28 minutes bus time, ride + wait, plus a minute or two on each end to get to and from the bus stop. Let's just call it a half an hour each way. The local bus is a lot longer in the evening rush hour, I never take it.
The time to drive is about 16 minutes without heavy traffic, (most mornings), a couple minutes more, about 19 minutes with heavy traffic, (many evenings). The distance is .4 miles further and a couple minutes more than going to or leaving the front door of the office because of driving around the parking ramp to get to an open spot, this is downtown, and that is how it is. So about 35 minutes total car commute time per day.
The cost for my bus commute is about $6/week, subsidized by my employer. This is the same if I do not take the bus or take the bus 100 times/week. Compare this to the employer subsidized parking costs of $50/month or about 12.00/week and the cost advantage is not much. But, you say, "What about all those extra car costs, like maintenance, gas, etc." Okay, what about them? Gas is approximately $9 at $3 dollars/gallon US with a car that gets about 20 miles/gallon, add the $.25/mile for the costs of car maintenance and that is about $12+$9+$15 = $36/week.
Now it looks like I save $30 a week by taking the bus! Not so fast, speedy, there are real life things that happen to real people and a usability analysis has to take these into account.
So, transit costs are not just the $6/week with my subsidized bus fare. Because I have a choice to use a car, I drive about once per week because of various errands and obligations. This costs me about $1.50 for gas, $3 for maintenance and $7 for parking (not subsidized) or about $12 for the car per week + $6 for the bus per week = $18. I do not include insurance or buying costs as I own the car and pay for that whether I use it or not for the commute. The total cost of my weekly commute when I take the bus 4 out of 5 days is a about 50% of the cost of driving every day. $18 of savings per week, is that enough money incentive to use transit?
My bus trip takes about 30 minutes, or about an hour total per day. How fast is the car to my particular destination? About 18 minutes per trip or about 24 minutes faster per day. Is the 24 minutes per day valuable? Well, I have a family and that extra 10 to 15 minutes in the morning and evening comes at a very busy time that is very valuable. Also the bus commute is very uncomfortable, the ride is too bumpy to do any work, it is impossible to write or type, for example, though I can usually do some light reading. Sometimes the bus is too crowded to even do that, when there are many people standing I cannot relax and read, especially if I have to strap hang. The extra time cost to take transit (about 2 hours per week) make my $18 a week savings pretty much of a wash. In this society at this time I own a car, just like most people. I am not economically, physically or legally limited and will not renounce a car by choice. The $18/week or $900/year is not an overwhelming factor compared with the valuable time that transit sucks up. To me time is a valuable commodity, and I have just about convinced myself to drive so I will stop right here.
Full transit fare is not so good a deal. At $2/trip * 8 trips( 4 days) that is $16, add the $12 for driving one day and the cost goes to $28 per week and the transit savings drops to about $8/week. Of course, anyone can buy a multi-fare card for a 10% fare savings so maybe I could save about $10/week, instead of the $8. My conclusion is that without the large fare subsidy of 50-75% I would not use transit. A $500/year savings is not worth the 100 hours of time lost.
Should I take the bus outside of the work commute? Let me illustrate by example: I decided to stay at a civic function picnic after the the rest of the family left, "I will just hop on the bus", I tell the boss, (wife), "no problem." The function was in St. Paul about a half a mile from the "Hi-Frequency" 84 route where I thought there would be frequent service. "You don't need a schedule" is the tagline in the bus advertisements. After a pleasant half mile walk through a park I see the schedule, and should have looked at one before trying to get home. Apparently every 30 minutes after 7pm is "Hi-Frequency", it is 8:20pm. My definition of "Hi-Frequency" is a bit more "frequent" than twice an hour, more like four times an hour.
After another much less pleasant and gritty mile and a half walk the bus finally shows up, I seem to have been outrunning the bus down the street. I am not home free yet, after a mile and a half ride I need to transfer to another "Hi-Frequency" bus and after a 12 minute wait and still walking several more blocks the bus shows. I have walked about half the way to my five mile destination and an hour and 10 minutes passes before I get home.
I walk about 3 miles per hour, by taking the "Hi-Frequency" buses I was not even close to doubling my walking speed, I gained about 2 miles per hour. I would probably need a shave and breakfast on a "not so frequent" or just "frequent" bus route if the distance was a bit further, lucky for me I had those "Hi-Frequency" route choices and wanted some exercise. Would I have done this annoying transit adventure ride if I was not trying out the transit system and I was subject to a $2 fare? One word: NO.
Let's say I did something kinda crazy and took the family (wife and two kids) with me on the previous transit ordeal. Four hours and forty minutes of person hours and a cost of $6 is totally impractical. For that much money and time a taxi ride is much faster and not much more cost, $3.40 for the first mile and $1.60 for each additional mile so $3.40 + 4*1.60 = $9.80. Hmm, ... I would not have to walk 2 and a half miles and the trip time would be about 15-17 minutes, and with two tired kids 55 minutes quicker would make the choice much clearer.
Lets say I was totally insane and took the kids and wife round trip to the park, $12 costs, a couple hours of travel time vs. round trip cab costs of about $20 and about half hour total travel time, no contest, cab wins time by a factor of four and only costs a few bucks more.
Bummer trip man, lets get back to reality. For most people with a car choice the only sane thing to do is drive your own car both ways to the park for a time AND money savings, a buck or two for gas, $2-3 for maintenance and for about $4 dollars for the round trip the cost is about a third that of transit plus you have a time saving factor of 4. Is there any "choice" in this equation?
Yeah, yeah, my study sample of one and the limited set of transit objectives cannot be the definitive study of Metro Transit time and costs but I still think that some usability objectives and scenarios show up that should be studied further.
-- There is a real problem with "Hi-Frequency" routes at 2
times per hour, I hate to break it to Metro Transit but that is
not frequent, certainly not "Hi-Frequency", just call them bus routes.
False advertising is a usability barrier. "Hi-Frequency", what
a knee slapper, who thinks of these marketing gimmicks?
-- A large subsidy of 50-75% will start to compete with high car parking costs and will induce a few people to commute to a job where parking costs are a factor.
-- Almost any trip without high parking costs is quicker and maybe cheaper by car if you already own one, especially when traveling with more than one person.
-- Family travel or group travel costs and time are prohibitive for almost all transit service.
-- Any savings from commuting to work using transit quickly drops to nothing when mixing driving trips. Driving one day per week cuts possible savings 40% on heavily subsidized trips (75%-50% subsidy) and driving two days per week pretty well wipes out any savings and seems to be a point that could be cheaper and usually much faster to use subsidized parking from employers and drive a car.
-- Transfer to other routes in a commute is a serious usability barrier because time for travel quickly mounts up, no one will take transit when the commute could be 4 times longer than driving, especially if costs are not much different.
-- Fare increases will drop use by the population that has other transit options, only by being substantially cheaper will people put up with the current badly implemented transit system and the time costs.
-- Biking or walking is far cheaper and faster for short trips of 1-2 miles or sometimes greater distances, even for "Hi-Frequency" routes. Transit is not in a vacuum, walking and biking should be coordinated with transit routes to serve people better. Transit designs should include walking and biking and the usability of interacting modes should be tested.