As anyone who reads this blog should know, I love to complain about my long commute, about the 80-minute drive (in good traffic) and the 2 1/2-hour bike-train alternative.
If only I could have moved to Oakland or Berkeley, my life would be better, the lament goes.
But I recently learned that even people smack in the middle of the Bay Area can have an equally crappy commute, at least where public transit is concerned.
Lucinda, one of my colleagues here in Oakland, came up to me the other day and told me she could be asked to run another newspaper in our group while its editor was incapacitated. The San Mateo County Times is located in the city of that name, and by car, it’s less than a half-hour from her home in Alameda.
But she wasn’t too keen on paying the $20 in weekly tolls and sitting in daily bridge traffic on her way to work. Innocently, she asked if there was a better way to go.
Innocently, I accepted the challenge of finding her alternative mode.
My first step was to go to 511.org, where I plugged in her address and that of her temporary assignment.
Then she would have six minutes to run a farecard through the gate and board BART to San Francisco. At 9:22 a.m., she’d arrive in Millbrae, $4.25 poorer.
As itineraries go, this one really gives the transit rider the full flavor of Bay Area’s public transportation, um, system.
At Millbrae’s multi-modal transit center, my transit-riding protégé would then have nine minutes to get to the platform in time to catch a southbound Caltrain. In seven minutes, she’d need to buy a $2.25 ticket before getting off at the San Mateo station.
Ok, so it’s a lot of changes, but if AC Transit is on time, we’re all the way to San Mateo by 9:38. Less than an hour for a triple-transit ride is not too shabby.
Ten minutes and $1.50 later, she’d be on her fourth leg of the journey, riding SamTrans Bus 250 to the corner of 4th and Delaware St. in San Mateo, a mere 4 1/2 blocks from the Times’ office on 9th St.
Let’s review: 1 hour, 46 minutes and $9.75 in fares.
Instead of paying $20 a week in tolls, she’s paying $19.50 a day in fares and easily costing herself two hours a day in extra commute time.
My first reaction when I saw the itinerary materialize was, nobody’s gonna make that many transfers just to get across the Bay. I ride my bike just so’s I can avoid the 5-minute AC Transit No. 98 ride to the Oakland Coliseum Amtrak. And trust me, the only thing good about the bike ride is that I can leave when I want to.
But my editor friend’s transit ordeal doesn’t end there. After we reporters file our stories and split, she has to stay around to make sure the stories are edited, the photos have captions and everything fits into its appointed space on each page. That could keep her at work until 8:30 p.m. on a busy night, so I had to figure out how that would work, transit-wise.
Before I tell you the results of that software algorithm, I’ll tell you the results I got from Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The MTC is now provoking a regionwide discussion on how to solve congestion and global warming by possibly bludgeoning solo drivers with fees and taxes.
All I had to say was, San Mateo to Alameda, and he said, “that would be brutal.”
If $9.75 and an hour and 45 minutes in the morning isn’t enough brutality, consider my poor colleague’s trip home.
511.org suggested a mere three-tripper for a mere $8.60, SamTrans to downtown San Francisco, BART from Montgomery Street to Fruitvale, then a bus home. The problem is, you have to wait 45 minutes for the first bus, so the entire trip clocks in at two hours and five minutes.
Two hours plus. That’s supposed to be my lamentation, and I commute from the the Central Valley by bicycle and train.
I shared this with Rentschler, and he urged me to consider that if we newspaper people worked normal schedules, then the beauty of public transportation would shine through.
Ok, so I checked 511.org, which has this snazzy new Predict-A-Trip feature that allows you to look at typical speeds and driving times.
At the height of rush hour, at 8 a.m. or 8:30 a.m., the typical drive would be about 45 minutes; half the best transit time.
When I broke the bad news that she was stuck with the drive across the Bay, Lucinda remarked that it’s still much cheaper to drive. How, she wondered, are we going to convince people to do otherwise?