Commuting Costs Can Be a Biatch


Hi!  The following is a guest post from Crystal’s younger sister, Ambi.  She’s a recent college graduate and just started her first post-college career.

I currently live in a suburb of Houston with my awesome older sister (Crystal’s comment: awwww). I have to commute to downtown Houston every work day for my first job post-graduation. I have three realistic options to choose from, so I thought it would be enlightening for me to play them out here.

Option 1: Park-and-Ride on a Metro Bus for $150 a Month

Because Houston has existing mass transit, this may appear a very plausible option – especially since I am still balling on a recent-graduate budget! The way Park-and-Rides work is the rider drives to a Park-and-Ride location, parks their car in a somewhat questionable lot, waits in line for a bus, and then rides the bus in the morning to work. In the evening, the rider walks to the bus stop and reverses the morning commute hustle.

The pros of this option include the ability to sleep or work on the bus ride.  And because the buses use their own HOV lane, the traffic tends to be much lighter, resulting in a shorter walk. Best of all, no car means no parking fees, which in downtown Houston ranges from $4.50 for an uncovered bird-patch to $30 for valet.

But the bus is not free.  To Park-and-Ride from my residence to downtown each way is $3.75. That ends up being $7.50 a day, and assuming 20-day work months, that is $150 a month. The only other pitfall is sometimes the line to catch the bus is so long, it takes more than 20 minutes to board a bus, resulting in hitting later traffic, compounding to create a much longer commute. When I see a line that reminds me of Christmas shopping check-out, I mutter choice words and end up driving to work anyway (see option three). There is a small rewards program on Metro, but then I am factoring in minute freebies that require months to earn.

Option 2: Carpool with a Co-worker for $140 or Less a Month

Because a few of my co-workers live near me, carpooling is a viable option. The pros include sharing gas and parking costs and being able to use the above mentioned HOV lanes. The buses use these lanes, but they are also open to HOVs (high occupancy vehicles that are defined by two or more riders).

With option 2, I pay parking, while the driver pays for gas and vehicle costs. But when I pay for parking, I limit the parking options to $7 tops; that ends up being $140 or less a month. The other pro is using that magical HOV lane for free.

The cons sort of out-weigh these pros for me though. Namely, I like to travel on my own schedule, and since each worker at my firm sets as their own agenda, someone ends up sacrificing personal or professional time. And I despise being late, so I feel much better having freedom to come and go as I please. So although this is the least expensive option, I am not sure it is the highest valued one for me.

Option 3: Drive by Myself for $280 or Less a Month

This option is so simple –  I drive to work like a normal Houston employee (outside of downtown). The pros are endless.  I can travel on my own schedule, stop for breakfast if I need to, run errands after work, and even listen to my own music for the hour commute. Because I leave rather early, I hit little traffic, even on the non-HOV lanes.

The sole con is harsh: price. On top of paying for parking, which I limit to $7 tops, I pay for two gallons of gas, which costs $7 a day here. So that is a max of $14 a day, accumulating to $280 a month. Ouch.

I could justify this expense as being work-related or by comparing it to daily $30 parking in my building, but that would just be silly. I will never pay $600 a month for the honor of parking my old car on a hunk of cement for 12 to 14 hours. Never. If I did go for that convenience factor, that situation might be best for payday loans for me to afford it.

My Choice: Alternate for $200 or Less a Month

What option do I usually take? Since lines piss me off, I alternate between carpooling with different co-workers or driving by myself. I figure I average about $200 a month. That is painful, and significantly bites into my income, but I have to get to work and the cheapest option was $140.

What do you think? Which option would you chose in my high heels? Want to chastise me for not taking the least expensive option?

2 Responses to Commuting Costs Can Be a Biatch

  1. There is no perfect solution! When I used to commute, I tried carpools and I even had a paid rider. Try to reduce your expenses to as much as tolerable. You may have to just cut elsewhere to reach your financial goals..

  2. Oh how do I hate commuting. I saved money in college by taking the bus an hour each day.

    What about option #2? I like this because you always have company and won’t get bored. The obvious negative is that you might want some alone time on your commute.

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