Thursday, December 14th, 2006 at 8:35 pm in Transit vs. driving.
Many people could read this blog and conclude that I’m a car-hating transit advocate. As I sit here with my laptop 20 minutes into my 80 minute wait for a train home, I can testify to the contrary.
To start with, I drove every day last week and this Tuesday. A monthly Amtrak pass keeps me on the train. Every day I don’t use it, the more expensive per-ride it becomes. In this holiday month, I’m taking more than a week off work, so no monthly pass. I get a smaller discount with a 10-ride pass and I’m left with a day-to-day decision on whether to drive.
So there it is: I can pay $5.29 plus $1.50 per trip in tolls, plus whatever wear and tear and insurance I’m paying for my 70-minute drive, or more than $10 plus the aggravation of getting to and from the train station. Financially, I’d venture it’s a wash until gas prices go up again.
As I’ve said so many times, you can’t put a price on the psychic wear and tear one endures sitting in traffic or even driving at highway speeds, regardless of how amusing the radio banter might be. Even after all I’ve been through today, I cling to the belief that when the costs and benefits are tallied, it’s better to take transit IF, and this is a critical if, your connections are smooth, you can catch a ride home if you work late and you don’t add more than 50 percent to your commute time.
All this calculus goes out the window, however, on days like today.
Today I had an assignment in Fremont, so I stayed on the train past Oakland and continued until I met up with a photographer – who by job description came equipped with a car – who accompanied me on my expedition and dropped me at the Fremont BART station.
So far, so good.
Then came the transit challenge: At 11:10 a.m., how to get back to Oakland in time to catch a ride to a writing seminar in Walnut Creek that begins at 12:15? Whipping out my PDA with its handy BART Quick Planner software, I determine that the quickest I could get to 12th Street was 11:53 – way too late to ask my colleagues to wait if they wanted to show up on time. I could continue on to Walnut Creek, with BART’s convenient cross-platform transfer in Oakland. But that got me to the station in Walnut Creek one minute after the seminar started.
Ahhh, but I was prepared. I belong to a car-sharing outfit, and I called its automated reservation line. When I asked for cars in Oakland, it told me that it was having technical difficulty and I should call back later. By this point, I was already at the Coliseum, hoping to pick up a car at Lake Merritt.
So, I figured that if I continued to Walnut Creek, I could hop a cab, and that probably wouldn’t cost any more than the car rental, right?
It cost $11 and change. The car share, had it been feasible, would have cost $8.
So I learned something about writing, I rounded out a cramped carpool on the way back to Oakland and wrote a story about fighting locomotive pollution.
I left work confident that I could catch my train, even without the bicycle I left at home because of the rain.
That’s when I became more convinced to get back into my Honda Civic while getting a side lesson in the value of a unified, smart-card-based fare system for all of the area’s transit agencies.
I went to the bus stop, where I learned that the next bus to the Amtrak station was 25 minutes out. I scampered down to the BART station and realized that I only had 25 cents left on my flimsy paper farecard.
I fed the card and a $1 bill into the card machine and maniacally pressed the button as I heard the “8-car Richmond Train’’ announcement. It needed another 15 cents in order to spit the card out, so I quickly fed another dollar into the machine, ran through the gates and watched the train below pull away. The next one was eight minutes later, which was too late to connect with my Capitol Corridor train in Richmond.
Luckily, my new TransLink smart card worked on the AC Transit bus I then took to within two blocks of Jack London Square, where I got close enough to the moving Amtrak train to read the train number: Mine.
So here I sit, pining for the Great American Automobile. It’s a hassle, sure, but it’s one I can count on no matter how close I cut my schedule.