The True Cost of Commuting [Fribble] July 20, 2000

Fribble The True Cost of Commuting

By sfuss (
July 20, 2000

The price of gas is up and how much we gripe about it is supposed to indicate our status in life — if you can afford the gas-guzzling SUV, you can afford the gas. But there are other costs involved with owning a vehicle and commuting, including maintenance, repair, insurance, tolls and parking, and the environmental damage caused by more and more vehicles on the road.

I work in the capital city of a northeastern state. The large downtown state-office plaza includes towers rising over a large parking garage. Downtown is served by a fairly good public bus system as well as a series of parking lots in outlying areas featuring shuttle buses. This summer, they're putting the finishing touches on a new 2,300-space parking garage, which will be reserved entirely for civil servants, an estimated 9,000 of whom are currently not able to park near their workplace. In preparation for that, the state has also spent some $7 million on highway interchange improvements to handle the increase in traffic.

Every day, I drive a short distance to the park 'n' ride and board a local city bus that takes me to the door of my current assignment. My daily bus rides afford me some great "down" time: I can read, doze, chat with the bus buddies, check out the progress on the new commuter train station, or admire the sunset. On most days, I get home within ten minutes of the hour and my constant four-legged companion has come to expect me at the door, on time.

Each month, I purchase a bus pass. While it would cost less in gas to drive to work, parking would cost me more than $180 a month. I drive a small, fairly fuel-efficient car with just enough room for me, my furry friend, and the camping gear. And, because of my bus commute, I only have to fill up the car about once every two weeks. Add in the savings on maintenance from reduced wear and tear, and insurance, and I'm beginning to think the bus is one of the better deals in town.

As I look out at the new parking garage, I wonder what the long-term costs of our commuting will be to the environment and our community. Where could we have better spent that $7 million-plus? Sure, the price of gas is still a little hard to swallow sometimes, but the larger price of commuting may be even higher.