Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Commuting vs Driving in San Francisco

Ah, the eternal question... whether take public transit or drive yourself to work. Each situation is different and depending on where you live or your financial situation, you may not even have the option to choose (or the alternatives are so undesirable that it makes the choice easy). I've lived in Houston, where it seems like there's a car for every single person and the thought of not having your own car is unfathomable. I've lived in Singapore, where owning a car is a completely unnecessary luxury that can cost a small fortune. Now I live in the Bay Area, which is somewhere between. If you live in the city, giving up your car is actually something many people consider due to the scarcity and cost of parking, close proximity to everything you'll need in the city, and other options like ride-sharing for when you do need a car. If you live further out like we do, then having a car just makes your life so much more convenient, even when public transport is readily available.

We live next to a BART/Muni station, yet I mostly end up driving to work since it takes twice as long to ride the bus each way. So instead of a one hour commute (30 minutes each way by car), it becomes a two hour overall commute whenever I decide to take the bus. When I first arrived in SF, I tried taking public transport as often as I could, but the inconvenience caused me to stop using it until I was driving to work every single day. Working an extra hour each day seemed way more cost-effective than spending an extra hour on the bus.

My employer offers some small incentives for commuting, but it's definitely nowhere near enough to offset the costs and hassle of taking public transit. Not to mention all the weirdos you'll encounter on BART/Muni. Gas is expensive here in the Bay Area, but if it takes me a gallon of gas to get to work in my low gas mileage car and the cost of a gallon of gas is cheaper than a roundtrip on Muni, it makes me question whether taking public transit is even worth it.

On the other hand, driving through traffic can be stressful, and some Bay Area drivers aggravate me to no end. Sitting down and calmly reading a book on the bus on the way to work suddenly becomes quite a tantalizing option. I discovered that driving through San Francisco every day puts a strain on my car (and mental sanity) that can be very costly. There's definitely a noticeable toll on my car after driving it so frequently over the past three years. The mileage on my car is almost comparable to the kind of driving I did living in Houston even though I live relatively close to the office. Driving up and down San Francisco's hilly landscape is killing my brakes and tires. I'm also spending a lot of money refilling my gas tank every week (even while using Costco for cheaper gas).

Last, but not least, I need to consider the environmental impact of my daily commute. While inconvenient for me, taking my car off the road and occasionally taking the bus to work is one small way of helping the environment, reducing traffic, and freeing up a parking space in our office garage in the Presidio.

If you can't tell, I'm still not sure what to do but for now I'll try doing a combination of commuting and driving. By commuting via public transport a couple of days a week, I can ease the strain on my vehicle while being a little more friendly to the environment. It might not seem to be saving me money with the high cost of BART/Muni tickets, but in the long run, my car will last longer and have less problems over the course of its life. The real solution is probably to save up for a Tesla, wait for self-driving cars or--more realistically--just move closer to work, so I can bike or walk. Now if only the housing prices would come down...


Driving:
Pros:
Twice as fast getting to work
Listening to public radio in the morning gives me my daily news (although technically I could still do this on the bus)
Fast
Convenient (?  see below)

Cons:
Parking is the worst here. Worrying about having your car towed, paying for parking, lack of parking.. it all sucks and actually makes having a car less convient depending on where you're going.
Bad for the environment
Traffic
Bad drivers/accident risk
Pedestrians and bikers
Gasoline costs and having to refill my tank every week
Wear and tear on car, maintenance can hit you hard--sometimes in waves or all at once
Insurance, Registration, other miscellaneous costs of owning a car

Public Transit:
pros:
You can enjoy the journey to work. Read a book, check work email, smell the roses, or more likely, watch youtube videos and surf the net
Good for the environment--give yourself a pat on the back.

cons: 
Public transport is surprisingly expensive (it adds up), and its a hassle to keep up with all the passes, discounts, etc you need to take advantage of to avoid paying full price.
Need to wake up earlier to get to work on time
Having to leave work based on when the bus/shuttle arrives, which isn't always ideal
Crowded
Dirty
Filthy
Weirdos on public transit
Slow
SLOWWWW


And the other unexplored alternative:
Car pool:
pros:
Get to know your coworkers better!

cons:
Have to synchronize your schedule with other peoples
Not always in the mood for small talk and awkward silence

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