Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Commuters Look for New Options in the Face of $3.75 a Gallon

This morning, inspired by record-high gas prices, Steve headed to the park-n-ride to take the 7:08 a.m. 18P express Metro bus to the Pentagon.

He wasn't the only one to have this idea.

According to Steve, the crowd of people waiting for various buses was much, much bigger than usual. This may have been due to the fact that the park-n-ride's slug line had approximately 100 people waiting in it, causing many others who normally would have slugged to walk over to the bus stop instead. Typically there are no more than 15-20 people waiting in this slug line. The ratio of sluggers to drivers has clearly been thrown out of balance.

(Note for those from out of town: A slug line is a line of people waiting to get a free ride in the car of a person who wants to drive in the HOV lanes, which require 2 or 3 riders in each car. Slugging is free, and it's great if you don't mind getting a ride with a random stranger.)

When the 18P arrived, it was already half-full -- an unusual state. Steve boarded the bus, grabbed one of the last seats, and watched the bus become standing room only as it made its next stop on Old Keene Mill Road. By the time the last rider boarded, it was wall-to-wall people. And even for those sitting down, it was tight -- grown men are typically about 25% wider than the seats.

It seems that gas prices, combined with ever-higher prices for a Metro train ride and the $4.50 cost of parking at the Franconia-Springfield Metro (vs. the ample free parking at the Rolling Valley Park-n-Ride) have finally driven many of us just outside the Beltway to full-on bus transportation. The Metro itself has always been a financial boondoggle for us, costing more than the price of driving to work and parking in a garage, even including gas prices. Plus, it has always been faster to drive. Steve still took the Metro train at times, because he likes to read on the train. But the express bus at $3 -- not to mention the slugline for free -- these are ways you can save serious time and money. And it looks like the secret's out.

But it won't work for everyone. We live in West Springfield and I work in Herndon -- a 21-mile trail of tears through more than 20 traffic lights -- so there are no viable public transportation options for my commute. And there are no good carpool options for me, either. It's costing us over $50 to fill up my small SUV (a Toyota RAV4) every 5 days or so. Steve's Camry may get far better mileage -- or so we think. I love my little truck, even though it only gets about 22.3 mpg (the stated mileage of 24 city/27 highway is pure fiction). It has all my commuting-pacification stuff in it. The XM is all hooked up. A little case of bottled water is in the back. My maps are positioned in various pockets, easily accessible for shortcuts if needed. I've got Advil in the center console and always have a snack in there just in case. My RAV4 features my college alumni license plate holder and my little jade rear-view mirror bauble. But in the interest of financial savings, I'm being banished to the soulless Camry for a one-week test run.

At least the Camry has a sunroof.


Mel said...

This gas thing is just getting absurd.
I am about to trade in my beautiful Infiniti FX35 that I have wanted for 4 years (which I FINALLY had enough scratch to purchase used just 2 short months ago) for something like a Camry or Accord.
Gas sucks.

Rebecca said...

Gas just went over $4 here in Findlay, Ohio. Since major Marathon offices are here (even though headquarters moved to Houston some time ago), I think I am going to put up a lawn chair downtown and have my laptop and camcorder ready to publish breaking news when the peasants stage an all-out torch-burning revolt.

The slug-line is awesome. It pleases my pinko heart.

dcpeg said...

As Mel said, gas sucks . . .all of us dry!! I'm happy to say that both spouse and I have always found work within walking distance of our DC apartment. We plan to keep it that way. Affordable, decent housing is crucial in shortening commutes, not to mention quieting nerves, curbing air pollution and saving bucks.

caramama said...

The gas prices suck and so does commuting in this area. I am not pleased.

I hope that you are able to spruce up the camry some!

Chelle said...

Oh my gosh, I am totally enjoying reading this post! My sister used to live in VA while her husband was going to George Washington Medical School and she lived off Old Keene Mill. I used to fly out every 4th of July to watch fire works on the Mall. We sat on the banks of the Potomac the first year, and behind the Iwo Jima monument the next year.

As for the post itself, don't even get me started on gas prices. The last time I filled up my SENTRA it cost me $50!!! :o

Anonymous said...

I have to say that, even with all of the hassles that I put up with by commuting via subway between Brooklyn and Manhattan, I do appreciate the fact that I can get anywhere in the 5 boroughs for $2 a ride. It's one of the few affordable things in this crazy city.

And, knowing the subway lines as well as I do, I can even time my rides on most days so that I get a seat or at least room to stand comfortably and read a good book. As much as I yearn sometimes for the freedom a car can offer, I'm grateful that I don't actually own one here.

nutmeg96 said...

Yeah, a major problem with the DC Metro area is the fact that the public transportation is pretty rinky-dink. I often miss the efficiency and speed of those $2 subway rides. Sure, the trains are dirtier than in DC, but I'm on the train to get somewhere, not to take in the sights. I can kick aside a chicken bone or two if it means I'll get where I'm going.