Will you save money or time by taking the bus?

This is a brief resumption of blogging for reasons due to the bonehead billionaire1

In fall 2021, I switched employers from a suburban cubicle hellscape to a real downtown office. In spring 2022, I started bicycle commuting to the office2, aspiring to 3 days/week (achieving an average of 2 or 2.5 over the long-run due to various things). This bike commute is an easy 3.5 miles mostly downhill in the morning and a hard 3.5 miles uphill on the way home. By the fall of 2022, I had worked my way up to adding on 10-15 miles on the way to work or home a lot of days; and regularly riding 50-60 miles on one weekend day. Then, around Thanksgiving of 2022, I had a sudden health scare and had to stop, hard, immediately3

Since then, when I have come into the office, I have almost exclusively used the bus (the 801 at first, then more the 1 as my ability to walk medium distances gets nibbled away by the shortness of breath). I originally did this because my office had a perk where giving up my ability to badge through to the parking garage on weekdays would pay me $100/month. Then, a month ago, I found out they had ended that perk a few months earlier. Whoops. This perk is a common component of what’s called “TDM” (transportation demand management). Parking garages are expensive to maintain, and the theory goes – maybe you can buy people out of their parking and both save money and convince more people to take transit. Unfortunately as far as I’m aware I was one of maybe 4 or 5 people out of 1000 that actually used this, so the paperwork to run it was probably more trouble than it was worth.

Still took the bus 3-4x/week because by this point my 19 year old son needed our 2nd car to go to his summer job. But then he was out for 2 weeks recovering from a tonsillectomy, so I drove in, because it’s been a HUNDRED AND FIVE MOST DAYS WHEN I COME HOME.

So now I’ve got 3 commutes to compare to the same place. And I thought, let’s look at them head to head to head. Here we go.

The bike trip involved getting up, getting my stuff together, going out to the shed, unlocking the shed, loading the stuff on the bike, relocking the shed, unlocking the gate, going out the gate, relocking the gate, riding down Guadalupe most of the way, going up 2 floors of a parking garage, badging into the bike cage, getting stuff off the bike, going in the building and down to the ground floor, using the kick-ass showers in the lobby, drying off, changing clothes, and going up to my office. Oh, and getting exercise along the way (not much on the short morning trip, a fair amount if I added on the SWCT 10 mile loop).

The bike trip home is reversing most of that. Takes a while to get down the garage; route is a little different on the way home because a slow uphill ride is a lot more pleasant on Rio Grande than on Lavaca & Guadalupe; and a lot more exercise.

The bus trip to the office is either a 5 minute walk to the #1 stop or a 10 minute walk to the #801 stop. A 5 minute wait if I’ve timed it well (I always use the app to tell me where the bus actually is, and it’s worked well). A 15-17 minute ride on the bus, to the Republic Square stop, which in the morning is pretty goddamn rough. A walk of 7 minutes to the office front door; and then an elevator ride up to the building. No time wasted in the parking garage; but the downtown walk is pretty long; and unsafe-feeling enough that I can’t imagine a suburban normie doing it. Oh, and $2.50 for a day pass. No shower required (although I occasionally have a bit of sweat now that our morning low doesn’t go below 80 anymore).

The bus trip home is worse, because the northbound stop is in the full afternoon sun, thanks to the jackass branding of MetroRapid and the fact that the stop is on the east side of Lavaca. Hopefully I time it well and only wait a couple of minutes because it’s GODDAMN HOT. The ride home is about the same time; if I timed my arrival well enough to get on a 1, the walk home is about 5 minutes; if I chose poorly and ended up getting on an 801 to get out of the hot sun, it’s 10 minutes.

Finally, the drive. 30 seconds out to the car that’s parked on the street in front of my house. 12 minutes drive according to google (probably a bit conservative). Then a couple of minutes going up at least two floors in the parking garage to the part our company reserves for employees. Then basically 0 walk from there to the office. No shower required.

Here’s what these look like in a stacked graph. There are shower and no shower versions because its’ arguable whether that time should be included (if I don’t bike I still take a shower at home in either the morning or the evening; but on days I biked I had to do both).

So it’s very very obvious that the bus takes a LOT longer than driving (even with the downtown bus lanes); it’s very obvious that the bike doesn’t take any longer than the bus and provides significant benefits; but what about the cost? Surely, you think, the car must cost more?

Well, let’s see if my PHP thing from like twenty years ago still works. Long story short, most people in the transit world like to claim that car trips ought to include depreciation as part of their cost, and you can save that money by leaving your car parked, but it turns out that’s horseshit; the vast overwhelming majority of depreciation is a function of time, not miles driven. So way back then I wrote this tool, and the summary based on $3.00/gallon gas is:

Bike trip cost $0.00/day
Bus commute costs $2.50/day

Car commute costs $1.01/day plus $100/month (before TDM program ended)
Car commute costs $1.01/day (after TDM program ended)

Whoops. You aren’t going to save any money by taking the bus. My suburban cow orkers who live in places like Circle C would have different inputs but overall they are going to lose a lot more time and a little less money. It turns out that TDM program was about the only reason it makes rational sense for me to take the bus. When my son goes back to college and I regain 100% access to the second car, it’ll be hard not to drive it based on this analysis.

How about working on the bus? Well, I have bad news about that too; most of the time the ride is too bumpy and the clientele is non-trivially dodgy enough that you need to pay attention to your surroundings. I did have an ironic conference call situation on the way home last week as well. So you can sometimes sort-of do some kinds of work, but honestly, about the only thing I usually manage to do is catch a bunch of Pokemon.

There you go. Further ‘blog’ ‘posts’ will be determined by whether or not this gets any engagement4.

  1. I had moved to occasionally posting thoughts in threads on twitter (no, not that threads). now that the spoiled man child is ruining twitter, I have accounts on threads, bluesky, and mastodon. I’m not going to post threads on all four goddammit, so here’s the equivalent of a tweet thread in one place that I can link to from all four. if you want more of this or better of this, go tell AURA they suck, in a public place, show it to me; and I’ll consider it. 

  2. this was one of the reasons I’ve been trying to move to a downtown job for two decades; I actually want to bike to work 

  3. got extremely winded coming up the hill at the Y on 51st from the SWCT; bought a blood pressure machine; had readings so high I ended up in 2 ERs in a week; gradually got the BP under control with meds; shortness of breath continued to get worse, and worse, and worse, with no end in sight 

  4. this turned into a lot more words and a lot more work than a tweet thread would have been, fuck you very much Elon