Monday, September 29, 2008

How I Use Google to Take the Bus & Train

Want to find an extra $8,000 a year for home improvement projects? Consider taking public transportation. The American Public Transportation Association estimates that the average driver can save $672 a month this way.

Fortunately, traveling by public transportation has become easier due to a new trip planning service from Google that provides information from transit authorities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The new service gives customized bus and train information and traveling routes.

Located at www.google.com/transit, the free online trip-planning service is an upgrade from the previous Trip Planner that was locally available online and by phone through Miami-Dade County. I've frequently used the older version of the trip planner from Miami-Dade County Transit and I've been pleased.

The new service provides a Google map of your travel plans. From abroad, Google also links to rail, bus and ferry services in Canada, Japan, Russia, Italy, Switzerland and other locations.
To use the service, supply a starting address, destination, travel dates and preferred times. The service will provide an itinerary with alternative routes, stops and estimated traveling. Details include station information and schedules.

And if you're already moving, Google has a mobile option that lets travelers tap into transit information from subways, buses and trains. It can be downloaded to Java-enabled cellphones and Blackberry phones.

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2 comments:

Living in NYC said...

I just began using the NYC version after it was
announced last week by Crain's. It's a nice complement to the MTA trip planner, which isn't ideal. It needs some tweaking. "Begin by walking" isn't alwaus helpful.

Funny about Money said...

Where on earth do they come up with a $672/month saving?

It costs me $30/week in gasoline to drive to my workplace ($120/month). I park for free. My insuror told me that when I retire they will cut my premiums by $20/year: $1.66 a month. Wear and tear on the car couldn't come to more than $90 a quarter, at most $30 a month. I have to own the car to buy groceries and household supplies, so depreciation, insurance, and registration are irrelevant (sorry, but hauling a week's worth of food or Home Depot gear ain't practical on a bus, nor do I have the time to waste standing around for 45 minutes waiting for a bus to show up...at a bus stop where a few months ago a woman was abducted and raped).

This gives us $120 + $1.66 + $30 = $151.66 savings a month on commuting.

Let's suppose I dispensed with the car and rode buses everywhere. The one supermarket within walking distance is about to close down, unable to maintain enough business to make a profit while the City rips up the road to build lightrail, a process that will make the road unnavigable for the next four years. This would mean I would have to ride the bus everywhere. To do that, I would have to quit my job, because there aren't enough hours in the day to wait for a bus and then sit through a ride that takes about three to four times the length of a drive. So we in theory subtract $3,000 a month (my take-home pay) from that $151.66 savings, leaving us $2848.34 in the hole -- before we deduct the cost of bus fares.

But let's get serious: only in a real city such as London or San Francisco could you ride the bus to do your daily errands (and most of us can't afford to live in such places). Suppose I agree to ride the bus to work but use my car for all other survival chores.

The bus costs something, too. Because I'm old, I can ride it for 50 cents: a buck a day, or $5 a week for the commute (which morphs a 20-minute drive into a two-hour ride!). That's $20 a month.

My day-job time is worth about $30 an hour. On a freelance basis I get twice that. Even though in reality if I had four spare hours I would be working for freelance clients, let's use the day-job figure, since it's the day job that we're commuting to. The bus ride adds an extra 1 hour and 40 minutes each way to my commute time, for a total of 3 hours and 20 minutes of wasted time every day. That's 3.3 hours x 20 days a month = 66 hours of wasted time a month; times $30/hour = $1,980 in lost time each month. My goodness! That's more than my net paycheck!

All right. So the bus commute costs me $20 + $1980 = $2,000 a month.

$151.66 per month savings on commuting - $2,000 a month cost of bus fares and time lost = -$1,848.34.

How does a loss of $1,848 equate to a savings of $672?

Even if you add in insurance ($64 a month), registration ($15 a month), and depreciation (nil; the car is 10 years old), riding the bus still costs me $1,769 a month, because of the value of the time wasted on inefficient public transport. This does not not even calculate the risk to my safety entailed in standing around on a street corner in a gang-infested neighborhood.

And if you suppose your time is worthless? Well, then you end up with a savings of $151.66 (cost of commuting by car) - $20 (cost of commuting by bus) + 64 (cost of insurance) + 15 (registration) = $210.66 a month. That's a far cry from $672 a month.

To get that $211 savings, you have to risk your safety and kill 66 hours a month standing on dangerous street corners, fending off panhandlers and purse-snatchers, and riding buses populated by folks who are deep in conversation with their Voices.