Once a week I drive to a gig in Olympia, WA. It takes a little over an hour to get there, and with traffic just under 1.5 hours to get back. A total of 2.5 hours round-trip, 150 miles. It’s a lot of time and naturally I’m interested in improving it. I started with improving the drive: initially I was driving my 20 mpg SUV. I considered purchasing a new car, but around that time I also got into a new relationship. My partner needed a new car and so we picked out a Prius at 40 mpg that I could drive on my commute days. Next, I got into audio books. That was such a satisfying use of the time (it’s how I got all the way through Piketty’s Capital!) that I’m sure it influenced at least one extension of the gig!
Now, for work reasons primarily, I am doubling-down for a period. I stay with a friend in Olympia so I can work two days and commute once. This bigger commitment also spurred a re-evaluation of my commute.
As noted, by car it’s generally 2.5 hours total round trip. 150 miles at my new gas milage of 40 mpg, assuming $3/gallon (it varies greatly over a year!) is $11.25.
Seattle to Olympia is not quite a transit route. It cuts across two transit systems so my one effort at bussing felt like a huge hassle- two transfers and a total of 2.5 hours each way for a total of 5 hours. Total cost RT is about $12. There was an uncomfortable 20 min outdoor wait at one transfer. My fare card does not work in one system so I would have to get bus fare or carry change.
Then there is Amtrak. The most expensive out-of-pocket solution, it’s $18 each way, plus $5 for a bike, for a total of $46. The train ride is 1.5 hours, followed by a 50 minute bike ride. Add getting to the station in the morning and it’s 3 hours door-to-door. So 6 hours RT and $46.
So what am I doing? Well, simple time and $ math would suggest I’ve continued driving. The truth is that decision-making in business and in life is more involved than that.
One question is existing capacity and training. Notice I don’t already have a farecard that works across both bus systems. It’s useful to know that I used to be a weekly cyclist and have fallen off due to life changes and miss it. It’s useful to know that I sold my SUV and my partner and I are now a one-car family. When I commute, the car mostly sits all day unused, and he is without car for two days. He has much more flexible workdays and could use the car.
Once I look more closely at the choices – how can I adapt to them? I was able to make use of the audiobook time in the car, an hour-at-a-time worked really well for me. The bus trip could also be audiobook time, though with the two transfers it breaks it up into less than one hour chunks. That’s meaningful because I also meditate for an hour every day. The train/bike commute is a 1.5 hour train ride – just right for getting in that meditation. I also try to work out multiple days a week, so the bike commute can substitute for a workout.
It turns out that on Tuesdays I was getting up at 5:15 am to meditate, then go to 7am yoga, then eat a little something, usually end up fiddling around a bit and so not hitting the road till 9. I’d pick up my lunch on my way in and get into the office after 10. With the train commute –the fixed 7:25 am departure time keeps me on better schedule in the morning. I get to sleep till 6:15, hustle to the train (and so I’ve packed my lunch the night before rather than picking it up on the way with the car), do my meditation, have some fiddly time, get in a :50 minute bike ride and be at the office by 9:58. On Wednesdays again I get in a workout and a meditation. In truth, that’s not a clean tradeoff because I was just not working out on Wednesdays, so it gets back to values: am I attracted to a decision that adds more workout time? Yes!
The higher cost is still a factor, but once I commit to a path then there are optimizations that can be made. With Amtrak, if I purchase 2 weeks ahead I can save 30% right now. With the bus, there seems to be a transportation office in Thurston County that might be able to help me plan a more efficient trip, but I didn’t hear about that until I’d been doing the commute and mentioning it to people.
Net: Good decision making certainly involves looking at the numbers, but it also involves looking at the context, making a decision, and continuing to refine from there. There will always be things you’re not likely to know until you’ve gotten deeper down a path.