Transportation Microeconomics Bites Me In The Butt

They’ve just started up an effort called Capital MetroBlog. Expect to see me there from time to time -we’ll see how transparent they intend to be if/when they start talking about commuter rail.

So you may have heard me talk about the new suburban office. For a while, online we were trying to keep making a go of it with just one car – my wife driving me in most days and picking me up sometimes; other times me taking that hour and 45 minute trip home with a long walk, men’s health 2 buses, opisthorchiasis and a transfer involved. I tried to work from home as much as possible – but the demands to be in the office were too great; and we couldn’t sustain the drop-offs and the long bus trips.
Well, we relented. Just in time; I got my wife to agree on a color and we now own a second Prius – this one obtained right as the waiting list shot up from zero to many months (ours was ordered; but there was no wait beyond that so it took about 2 weeks – arriving right as the house exploded so ironically I ended up working exlusively from home for a few weeks longer anyways). Do not argue with the M1EK on the futurism/economics predictions is the lesson you should be taking away from this.
So that’s the intro. Here’s the microeconomics lesson.
Assuming $4 gas, the trip to work in the car costs $1.56 according to my handy depreciation-free commute calculator. The morning drive takes 20 minutes. The afternoon drive more like 30.
The transit trip costs $1 (although soon to go up to at least $1.50). That means I save $0.56, at least before the fare increase, right? Not much, but every bit helps, right?
Well, the transit trip takes an hour and a half in the morning; an hour and 45 minutes in the afternoon; and I can’t afford that much extra time anyways, but even if I could, it would be placing an effective value of 23.1 cents per hour on my time, which seems a bit, uh, low.
So it’s gonna take a lot more than $4/gallon gas, sad to say. You might be seeing some marginal increases in ridership around here, but only in areas where transit service is very good and where people should have been considering taking the bus all along. And there’s no prospect for improvement – the reason bus service is so bad out here is because Rollingwood and Westlake don’t want to pay Capital Metro taxes, although they sure as heck enjoy taking my urban gas tax dollars to build them some nice roads to drive on. In the long-term Cap Metro plan, there may be a bus route on 360 which would at least lessen the 30 minute walk/wait involved, but that could be a decade or more – by then we’ll probably be getting chauffered through the blasted alkali flats in monkey-driven jet boats. Not gonna help me.
Also, those who think telecommuting and staggered work schedules are more important than pushing for higher-quality transit and urban density can bite it, hard. If even people in my business often get pressure to come into the physical office, there’s no way the typical workaday joe is going to be able to pull it off in large enough numbers to make any difference.

4 Replies to “Transportation Microeconomics Bites Me In The Butt”

  1. Believe me, I ask myself the same question. Too little of the good kind of high-tech downtown, still (had Intel moved downtown as planned, I’d be set; google hasn’t yet gone through the transition Microsoft had to with industry recruiting; everything else is application stuff with 8 frameworks-du-jour; strictly bush-league).

  2. > it would be placing an effective value of 23.1 cents per hour on my time.
    I don’t know how you’d quantify it, but don’t you have to add value for the 30 minute walks and the health benefits those walks provide?
    Many people pay $75/mo. to belong to a gym, drive there, spend 30 minutes on a treadmill, drive home, change, go to work, etc. By walking, you receive the value of the exercise.
    Also, since you are confined to the bus/walk route, you are less prone to random spending or side trips.

  3. Steve, in my case it’s the opposite – were I not troubled by reactive arthritis, I’d be riding my bike to this office every day (it’s a real good bike commute). The walk actually hurts me.
    But even for a normal person, the return on investment on this trip is still way too low – you’re investing an extra hour of time to get that half-hour walk – as much or more time than it would take to drive to/from the gym. Compare/contrast to the bike commute case versus driving, where you might invest a half hour extra time but get an hour of exercise (more strenuous than the walk, too). That’s a ‘free’ half-hour of exercise, so the point holds up a lot better there.

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