The Time and Costs of Commuting

Commuting is mostly a necessary evil, something that no one really enjoys, but most of us put up with because it is a necessity to do our jobs. Living close to work to have a short commute just isn’t always an option, whether it is due to affordability, a past real estate purchase, preferring different neighborhoods to live in than to work in, and/or weighing where to live against the locations of your partner’s office and your own.

For the first five years I lived in my current city, I worked at one company, occasionally changing office buildings, but not in a way that ever negatively impacted my commute. My partner also has always worked in office buildings to which my condo is a pretty reasonable (under 2 mile) commute for him as well.

When I started job hunting last summer, I first only looked at jobs a similar distance from my condo. There are many jobs available in this 2-3 mile radius, so that seemed like a reasonable plan. I did in the end apply to one job not in that radius, which I mostly did to investigate how working at that company might be and practice interviewing.

After many months of job hunting, I had two offers in hand. One job offer was a reasonable commute (in that 2-3 mile radius) and the other was not. For a variety of reasons, I took the longer commute job after weighing that versus the cons of the job with the shorter commute.

I haven’t had a commute longer than half an hour or one that required taking public transit or driving since 2007. I’ve been reminded this year how much commuting sucks. I don’t regret choosing this job over the other one, so now I’m left to make the best of this commute. I have a few options:

  1. Take a transit route that doesn’t involve any transfers – it is a direct route. But it involves 53 minutes of walking and about 1 hour and 30 minutes on the bus for a total daily commute time of 2 hours and 23 minutes. This option is free – my employer pays for my bus pass.
  2. Take a transit route that involves one transfer, so two buses total. It involves less walking, about 36 minutes, about 24 minutes round trip on the first bus, and about 70 minutes round trip on the second bus, for a total daily commute of 2 hours and 10 minutes. This can end up increasing though if the two buses don’t line up well and you end up waiting a bit. I usually end up waiting about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Driving. I can leave at the same time that I leave to catch the bus and get to work 20-30 minutes earlier. Traffic can be a bit frustrating sometimes and it can take me about 50 minutes to get home. My total commute is about 1 hour and 10 minutes, plus another 10-20 on a bad traffic day. The catches? The all-in cost of driving is about $10/day at today’s costs. I hate driving. There are only certain time windows during which I can leave work with reasonable traffic and if I’m not going to leave during those windows, transit is a less stressful option.
  4. Move. The problem with this option is that my partner has a good commute now and moving would be complicated to balance our two commutes and who knows how long I’ll keep this job anyway? Plus, the transaction costs of selling my condo are so high that it would be cheaper to drive for 19 years than sell my condo. And then we would end up paying more in rent.

So options 1 and 2 are really about the same expected time and cost since they’re both free. They both have different pros and cons, including one with a shorter or longer walking from my house and one with a transfer.

I was really against driving until I calculated how much time it would gain me back. I could use that extra hour to do homework, go to yoga, or do other fun things. It’s amazing having that hour back. So far, I’ve been experimenting with driving 2-3 days a week and taking transit the other days and that seems to be a reasonable balance.

Readers, how do you commute? What would you do in my situation? Drive? Move? Take transit?

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30 thoughts on “The Time and Costs of Commuting

  1. Do you have a bike? How far is it in total, could you bike the whole way? Judging from the driving time required, probably not, but I don’t know how bad the traffic is.

    What about a hybrid commute? Bike to the bus stop? Do the buses in your area have a bike rack in front?
    If you look at this option, you may be able to take a better bus route.

    Bikes can be expensive, but don’t have to be. A cheap Walmart/Target bike should be fine for commuting.

    • I do have a bike. I have used it once in the last eight years though… Biking the whole way would add about 35% more miles, which is part of the problem with transit- transit adds 20% more miles.

      I could do the no transfer bus route and bike to/from the stops. Buses do have bike racks on the front. That would cut the walking from 53 minutes to 18 minutes of biking, saving 35 minutes over the walking transit route, splitting the difference between the no transfer bus route with walking and the driving route.

      I’ve never been super comfortable with biking, especially biking in traffic. Most of the roads I would need to bike on with this proposal aren’t high traffic though, so that isn’t too bad. I had forgotten to calculate biking to/from the stops. I didn’t realize how much time that would save! Something to think about. I’ve tried biking to work in the past to cut my commute from 30 to 15 minutes and it never stuck. It might be worth it in this case though.

      • Not sure if e-bikes are allowed where you are, but that’s how I’ve been commuting (~11 miles round-trip). They are a heck of a lot faster than regular bicycles. Google maps bicycle directions assumes 10mph. E-bikes can hit 20mph very easily. The other benefit is not showing up to work all drenched in sweat. This is a big deal for me since there is not anywhere to freshen up at my work.

  2. My revealed preference is being chauffeured by my DH to work this year (where I live 6-7 miles away). Biking still isn’t happening, and I think my DH has lost hope that it will ever happen (he is probably right).

    • Being chauffeured to work by your DH sounds wonderful! I leave for work before my partner gets out of bed in the morning, plus other logistical (traffic) problems. Sometimes I give him a lift to work if I’m working from home and he’s running late.

      Biking works really well for some people but I’m just not sure it’s for me. I did bike commute in 2007 but I didn’t have to bike on non-residential roads to get to work then. And I’m more willing to throw money at problems now.

  3. I commute either by motorcycle or (Bike and Bus). It is a 17 mile one way trip and there is absolutely NO traffic so that is a plus. The motorcycle is pretty cheap about $2/ day. When I take my bicycle and bus I pay for a bus ride in the morning on the way in and that costs $1/day. I bicycle the 17 miles home in the evening which takes me between 35mintes and 1:05 minutes depending on the winds. I do have to keep an eye on the weather if the winds are bad my ride home can take 1.5 hours. (In the summer months its common to have a 25-30 mph headwinds on those days I motorcycle)

    I would try adding in cycling and the bus once a week and see how it works out. I always end up with a pile of clothes under my desk at work so I have to take the motorcycle once a week anyway to bring stuff back home.

    I’m all for using public transportation. On my bus ride in the AM I usually get thru some emails and have a plan for the morning tasks so when I arrive it hit the door with a running start.

    Good luck!!

    • Thanks Tim! I may attempt biking to the bus stop on the weekend to see how comfortable I am with that. Switching up between the options seems to be helping a lot.

      • I don’t think I’ve commuted to work in the same pattern on a weekly basis once over the last year.. Generally, 2/3 days a week I bicycle and bus and the other 1 or 2 days I motorcycle or dive. I have every other Friday off so 4 and 5 day weeks depending on the schedule. I like to change it up!!

    • Most of my homework is coding related, requiring a computer with an Internet connection. The other parts are textbook readings which are too heavy to cart around. I experimented with that earlier this year and I found myself nauseated on the bus while trying to read, unable to take notes, and not really being able to set myself up comfortably. I also like having the time as a break from reading things since I’m on a computer all day.

  4. This is one thing that scares me about buying! Having been a megacommuter (which caused me to move closer to work) and almost-megacommuter in the past, I’m really sensitive to this issue.

    I’d probably lean toward one of the first two options, actually. You said that driving gets you time back, but to me it is time wasted because of the pleasant experience walking or being on public transit can be. I would set up fun or productive things to do during the bus commute that can’t be done while driving. To me driving, especially in traffic, is stressful, too – I’d rather take more time to not be stressed.

    • I agree. If I had a stressful commute. I would spent the first hour at work talking myself back down from going off the crazy end…

      I combine my commute with a partial workout so when I actually get home at 6pm I don’t have to work out because I already did that day.. cheers!

      • That’s basically what I do upon getting to work from transit and after getting home from transit. My partner has to talk me down from quitting quite a few times a week over the commute.

    • I’ve been listening to podcasts while driving. I love walking, but the amount of time the commute takes is a huge painpoint for me. I also hate public transit with people sitting next to me. I can’t do schoolwork (need a computer to code) or textbook readings since the textbooks are too heavy to cart around regularly. With the amount of walking and or transfers, all I do is listen to podcasts while on transit anyways. I’ve been experimenting with this over the last seven and a half months that I’ve been this job and honestly managing my time schedule so that traffic isn’t too stressful is the only solid way to keep my stress down it seems. Or moving, but I love our place and would rather quit this job than move.

      I agree with you that driving in traffic is stressful. That’s why I’ve figured out work hours that make it manageable.

  5. I find 20-30 public transit commute to be ideal. I went from 5 minute train ride years ago to 20. I actually prefer the 20 as it gives me time to time to read but isn’t a long commute.

    I think a public transit commute is very different from a driving commute – long driving commutes are known to have sustained negative impacts on happiness. I think all your commuting options are pretty terrible though. I would move if there are good places to live close to work – unless you plan on switching jobs soon. But I hate driving. I actually refuse to live more than 35 minutes away from work by public transit – somewhat arbitrary.

    One option is to rent out your place and rent somewhere else for a while. Not as permanent as selling and not a terrible idea to get used to separating real estate ownership/investment from your choice of where to live.

    • Yeah 20-30 transit commute is ideal. My office is in a location such that that is not possible no matter where I live. I could move such that I have a guaranteed 15-30 minute driving commute that would cost about $1/day, but the shortest possible transit commute is about 45-60 minutes. I could move such that I have a walking commute, but that area has a low walk score and I would have to drive pretty much anywhere else like the grocery store.

      The other problem is that if we move to increase my commute, my partner would then be the one with the long commute. So it’s a bit of a no win situation. A friend commented that I have three real options: 1) accept the commute and mitigate it the best I can, 2) find a new job with a better commute, or 3) convince my partner to find a job such that we could both move and both have reasonable commutes.

  6. I bike (9 miles) and Mr PoP drives (25 miles). It takes both of us ~35-45 minutes depending on prevailing traffic and winds. =)

    How many miles are we talking for your commute? Those are some pretty epic commute times!

    I think I’d try and mix the bus and driving when I need the extra minutes, though I tend to be able to GSD while using public transport in a way that I can’t while driving, so I don’t mind it all that much. Like others, I think it might be worth trying to ride your bike to the bus. But try and practice loading/unloading it from the bus on a weekend when you don’t feel pressured by rush hour commuters or are hesitant to risk getting your hands dirty.

    Another thought – are there any coworkers that live in your vicinity that might be interested in carpooling? Mr PoP has asked those that live near us, but they’ve declined. However, my friends in DC that live in the burbs mostly carpool into the city for work and it works really well for them. If they can’t coordinate a carpool home time, public transit is the backup, it just takes a lot longer.

    • Great tip on practicing loading and unloading my bike not while commuting! I think I would also test out the route getting to the morning bus stop and home from the evening one to see how comfortable I am with it.

      Carpooling also seems like a great option. I’ve been having troubles finding people who want to sync up schedules.

  7. Right now, I usually walk 25 minutes or drive about 5 minutes. The walk is lovely, but often saving 40 minutes in a day helps. And we share a car and park at my work even if I don’t walk (for reasons to boring to explain but make sense). I probably walk one way 3-4 times a week in a busy week (most have been lately).

    My last job was about a 10 minute drive and a ~20 minute train (with a timed transfer, but still), then a < 5 minute walk. It wasn't terrible and less stressful than driving. The job itself was the problem.

    I would probably drive most often in your situation, honestly.

    • They pay me more than $10/hour, so driving isn’t that crazy. A mix of driving and transit seems to help with my sanity a lot. Working from home is unfortunately not very big.

      Heh, when I had a 30 minute walking commute, I didn’t drive because driving could easily take 15-20 minutes and I had to pay for parking, which was expensive. Yay city living!

  8. I have to drive. To mitigate the pain somewhat, I’ve shifted* my schedule earlier in the day. Driving in the dark, before everyone, works surprisingly well. There is a feeling of getting a head start of the day. This also means leaving work before traffic, with the added bonus of a nice chunk of afternoon leftover for me. If your company and work duties (and lifestyle, body, etc.) would permit this, it’s worth a try.

    *I’m out of the house by 6am; some colleagues are in the office by 5:30am…

    • That’s a really great idea, Jim! My work is reasonably flexible, but it is generally preferable to not leave before 4 pm. If I leave at 4, the traffic is okay and same if I leave my house at 7:30 am. So that’s what I commit to on the days that I drive. If I can’t commit to those hours, I take transit.

  9. I bus myself and that’s what I’d recommend. The stress of driving is just too much for me the worst being the daily slamming of the breaks and averting an accident. I now take my car in for service just once a year and every related bill is less comparatively.

    On the bus I’ve used my time to grow intellectually learning about anything from my local library including the Great Courses cd and DVD sets. Additionally, it’s my time to decompress. I’ve found friends to sit and talk with on the bus so that im never stuck with a stinky stranger.

    Anyway that’s why my commute of choice is to use the bus.

    • I drive so little aside from commuting that I could still take my car in for one service a year. I was putting about 2,000 to 4,000 miles per year on my car before I took this job and the manual says to take it in every 10,000 miles or once a year. I actually might even manage to keep the low mileage discount of 7,500 miles or fewer even with commuting.

      I’m generally on board with taking the bus, but the amount of time driving saves is far too much for me to pass up I think. Strangely, driving (with a slightly shifted schedule) keeps my sanity better than taking the bus with a more normal schedule does. I do agree though that making bus friends is a great help with a bus commute.

  10. Living in Las Vegas, driving is almost a necessity. Public transit is incredibly time consuming and from what I can tell not the best social scene either. Thank goodness I generally enjoy driving. Having a luxurious car with an amazing car audio system doesn’t hurt either.

    • Heh the buses I take are commuter ones and the social scene is just fine. It’s funny you mention a luxurious car because the longer I have my car (it’s about 5 years old now and ~20,000 miles), the less I want a fancy car, so I’ll probably be keeping this one for quite a while. I’ve been listening to podcasts while driving, which helps to pass the time.

  11. I HATE commuting. I feel like it’s a drain on my current goal of financial freedom / freedom of my time. Currently I live in NYC, and it takes me 12 minutes to walk to work. I love my commute. It’s completely free (well maybe I wear through shoes faster), and I can decompress on my walks home. I probably wouldn’t have taken the job that’s far just due to my disdain for commuting. I’d probably try the bike route if I was you, as I think I’ve read your dress is very casual at your job which makes it easier. Good luck with your decision!

  12. All of those options sound awful. And so much walking! I don’t know where you live, but here in upstate NY, anything that involves walking or biking outside for more than 15 minutes would be a non-starter for me in the winter.

    Right now I flip between three methods: Just driving plus the walk from the parking lot to the office is 20 minutes, the bus takes 35-40 minutes, or my preferred method, half-car/half-bike, which involves driving to the bike path trail head and then biking, is 45 minutes all in. Not too bad, especially when you consider my wife’s commute is literally less than a one minute walk, and no she doesn’t work from home. We have it pretty good right now.

  13. I have a pretty rough commute as well. I live in NYC and back at my old job, it was 20 minutes on the train. I really miss that commute. Now I drive…it is about an hour if there is no traffic which is rare. It’s usually an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half…more depending on weather or if there’s an accident. Public transportation to where I work doesn’t make sense because it would cost at a minimum $16. There is an almost 1 mile walk to work from the train station..the bus may work but has spotty service. Cab to go that one mile is like $7! I like the suggestion of another commenter who said that you can drive at a time when traffic isn’t bad. I would like to do that in the future which will improve the commute and lessen my road rage. But I can’t do that now as I have pick up/drop off duties for my little one.

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