There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cutting costs with the bus

In America, and especially here in California, getting a driver's license is a child's right of passage comparable to the first day of school. Both bring tears to the eyes of parents. But instead of tears of joy, these are the tears squeezed out by the financial pain of adding another driver to the household budget.

Last week, the kid got his driver's license and immediately the cost of insuring our two vehicles went up $1,900 a year -- $158.33 each month, $5.21 every day. It doesn't matter if he never drives.

According to a 2005 study, vehicle and related expenses accounted for 17 percent of total household expenditures—more than households spent on food and clothing, combined. And that was when gas was $2.09 a gallon.

The hit to our household budget has driven the wife to give transit a try.

Unfortunately, it won't be as easy as it is for me. Sacramento Regional Transit is so focused on moving people to and from downtown that getting anywhere else can be problematic.

The No. 82 bus that goes right by our front door takes me to light rail, which delivers me to midtown. The total trip takes a little more than an hour. The wife needs to get to Rancho Cordova. If she were to rely on the No. 82, it would take an hour and 30 minutes to an hour and 40 minutes.

The wife is not ready to make that much of a sacrifice, and so we've worked out a compromise.

The kid is going to drive his mother to a bus stop about two miles from our home and then drive himself to school. He is not excited about the arrangement, but it beats the alternative -- walking to school.

It will take the wife a little more than an hour to reach her office in Rancho Cordova. The trip, which requires two buses and light rail, theoretically costs $4.25 each way, but an all-day pass for $5 will cover the round trip. Even at $5, that is a real savings off the $9.36 estimated daily cost of driving solo to work.

Tonight, the kid, the wife and I piled into the car and set off to time how long it takes to get from our driveway to the bus stop where the kid will drop off his mother. We then tested an alternate place to meet up with the bus for those days when they don't get out of the house on time.

According to "A Better Way to Go," the CalPIRG Education Fund's transit study, the cost of owning and operating private vehicles costs American households $900 billion annually. It sure will be nice if we can cut our share of that burden. Of course, it would be even nicer if RT made it a little easier.

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