It’s not where you are going, it’s how you get there

Written by mfrey


Over the past month or so I’ve been rethinking how I get to work. My routine has been shifting as my son sleeps in a bit later at times (thank goodness), and as his activities and naps tend to take place in the early evening more often. My comfortable routine of getting dropped off and picked up at the local BART train station is no more. This is probably for the best, as I have been forced to explore what other options are available.

For starters, there is avoiding motorized transport altogether. Approximately half of the TerraPass staff bikes to work regularly. The company is already attentive to the needs of cyclists, and starting January 1, 2009, employers can take it a step further by offering a monthly benefit to bicycle commuters, an idea that I’ll be floating to the powers that be soon.

I’ve been biking more regularly over the past couple of years, so I can attest to the pleasure of riding, weather permitting, as well as the health benefits. However, I can’t ride from the East Bay, where I live, to San Francisco, where I work — at least not yet. However, a range of great alternatives allow bike riders to get to and from San Francisco. Adam Stern usually takes his bike with him on BART. BART also offers several storage options, including regular bike racks, secured bike lockers, and even bike parking stations, with the nation’s second largest at the Fruitvale station.

Yet another option for bicyclists, which I intend to try soon, is a $1 bike shuttle to and from San Francisco. This service is operated by CalTrans, and offers an alternative to bicyclists during commute hours. The benefit of the service is that it goes from the East Bay to the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco for $1 each way. But it is limited to a handful of trips each commuting period, each limited to a dozen or so cyclists.

What I have found most useful recently is good old-fashioned carpooling, or more specifically a Bay Area phenomenon called Casual Carpool. The system consists of designated pickup spots where drivers and passengers meet. These carpools cut down on congestion and pollution, save time for everyone involved by allowing heavier us of carpool lanes, and save on bridge tolls, which is free for carpools during commuting hours.

Before I had actually taken my first Casual Carpool trip though I came across ZoomPool, a site dedicated to carpooling and ridesharing. Started as a Bay Area ridesharing matching service, the company has since expanded its scope by working with organizations and events nationwide. I have yet to try the service, but I think that the concept sounds promising, especially given the prominence and flexibility of automobiles.

Overall I was pretty amazed to learn of all the options that I had for my commute to work, seeing as I had been pretty certain that what I had found was the best option on all fronts. There are even more options than what I listed above, including a convenient bus service and a ferry, and now my commute is better, hands down. Timewise I am just about the same as where I started, and my wife and son are relieved of their twice-daily chauffeuring duties. I also have the luxury of a seat, compared to being a sardine on the morning commuter train. I have been riding my bike regularly, which unfortunately is about as regular an exercise routine as I can manage as the parent of a toddler. And I have cut my commute spending roughly in half, with the prospect of cutting it even further, especially if we adopt a bicycle commuter benefit policy.

So, what are your options? Maybe your bike is dying for some attention, at least once spring comes around? Maybe you and your colleagues can enjoy a more relaxed carpool to work instead of each being behind the wheel during stop and go traffic? Maybe your employer already has a commuter benefit program that you’ve been missing out on? Or maybe ZoomPool can get you where you need to be?

Whatever the case I’d love to hear about your trials and tribulations, and hopefully triumphs, in switching from the typical commute.

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  1. Sean Y

    I have a short commute- 2.5 miles each way. It takes 10-15 minutes roughly, depending on how I catch the stoplights. It’s almost all downhill to work, almost all uphill home. Driving takes about 15-20 minutes because of parking deck time and the uphill 1-block walk from deck to my building.
    Here’s my conundrum: Dressing for each morning is a research-intense daily ritual. Any time savings is negated by having to figure out what to wear, get dressed, ride, get undressed, dressed for work, then reverse it in the afternoon. There’s also the planning for a possibly very different commute home, requiring a separate set of clothing.
    The weather here (Richmond, VA) is extremely variable. Day-to-day temp differences vary and morning to afternoon temps can be terribly different as well (last week we had a day with a low of 36 and a high of 79.) We have high humidity, so warm summer mornings are sweaty rides, and heading straight East I’m in the sun most of the way. Cold mornings can also be very humid (today), which are tough to dress for when you’re only out for 15 minutes.
    So I end up driving more often than I’d like to (but I’m working on it.) At least I’m only driving 25 miles a week now- better than the 35 a day I was doing last year.
    I’m also not sure if the amount of laundry I end up doing when I ride in would negate the gas I save by doing it!!!

  2. Anonymous

    I’m enjoying biking to work here in central Ohio, it’s my fourth year doing so and every year I’ve expanded my number of days, and months of active commute riding. It beats waiting around for the bus to arrive, stomping my feet trying to keep them warm on the cold pavement etc. Plus I think I will stay healthier out of the confines of the bus, especially at this flu season.
    I track my avoided carbon footprint, even compared to my parked hybrid I’m saving 0.35 lbs of CO2 per mile. It’d be 1 lb. per mile for a typical pickup or SUV. The savings of avoided fuel, car maintenance and parking fees are also adding up. It’s time to sell the parked car perhaps?
    My commute is mostly flat, but I enjoy cooler temperatures inbound to work and don’t mind sweating on the way home sometimes, I can always change clothes. Cycling makes its own breeze, for the rider.
    In the 90s my commute was long and more fuel-intensive, definitely more costly. I vanpooled for a while then. Moving from the coast back to the heartland allowed me to improve my lifestyle for better eco-living.
    I’ve conquered the transportation footprint, it’s my grid footprint which is the biggest challenge now.