in Frugality, FS, Transportation

A very small adventure: Riding the bus

I had a big day today, though I’m sure many of you will laugh: I rode the bus for the first time.

Actually, I’ve been on buses many times before. I rode a school bus as a child, and I’ve used public transportation in other towns. I’ve even used the light-rail trains here in Portland. But I had never used the city’s bus system until this afternoon.

Brave New World

I took my new-used Mini Cooper to the dealer this morning for the inspection I should have requested before I purchased it. Also, the car was due for its 60,000-mile service.

While it was in the shop, I walked around downtown Portland, taking a day to play hooky from the blog. I ran some errands. I shopped for my mom’s birthday presents. (She’s 61 today.) I had lunch with a friend.

After we finished eating, I called the dealer, crossing my fingers that there wouldn’t be any bad news. I’m pleased to report that there’s nothing major wrong with the vehicle β€” just normal wear-and-tear. I dodged a bullet. (The next time I buy a used car, however, I’ll be sure to have it inspected first.)

All the same, there are a couple of small things that need done, including the repair of a leaking power-steering fluid line. “Can we keep the car overnight?” the dealer asked.

“Sure,” I said. But I was really thinking , “How will I get home?” I thought of how much I paid for taxi fare in San Francisco last week. Then I remembered that Kris used to work just two blocks from where I was standing. She used to ride the bus to-and-from work. Why couldn’t I take it home?

I lucked out; the bus I wanted was pulling to the stop just as I arrived. I hopped on board, fumbling my way through the process. “How much?” I asked the driver. He grunted and pointed at a placard listing the fares: $2.30 for an all-zone pass. I put three one-dollar bills into the ticket machine. “Where’s the change?” I asked. The driver grunted and pointed to another placard that noted there’s no change for bus fare.

Half an hour later, I stepped off the bus about a mile from our home. Another pleasant fifteen minutes of walking saw me safely to the door.

A Small Victory

I realize this is a fairly minor accomplishment, and that many of you won’t see the merit in this. That’s okay. It’s a big deal to me. For years I’ve avoided the bus because I didn’t know how it worked, and because I didn’t know how cost-effective it was. Today I took a chance and just did it. I’ve added another frugal weapon to my arsenal. When the Mini dealer calls tomorrow to say my car is ready, I’ll hop on the bus and head back downtown.

Because I’m that kind of geek, I calculated costs on my ride home. Is the bus cost effective? Is it time effective? I was curious. Here’s what I figured out:

  • The bus ride from downtown Portland to my neighborhood takes 30 minutes. It takes another 15 minutes to walk home. (There’s actually another line that runs closer β€” I’ll have to look it up.) It costs $2.30 per trip.
  • To drive from downtown Portland to our house takes about 20 minutes. If we use my estimated costs for the Ford Focus I recently sold, it comes to 36.1 cents per mile, or about $3.60 per trip.

So, a round trip from our home to downtown Portland costs $4.60 and takes about 90 minutes on the bus. It costs $7.20 and takes about 40 minutes by car. (Addendum: In the comments, Robert reminds me that to go downtown, I need to pay for parking. That’s true. That brings the total to $9 (or more) per round-trip.) Depending on which is more valuable to you β€” time or money β€” you might choose either the bus or a car. In my case, a car is usually the best choice. But I can certainly see how having the bus as an option could save me money sometimes (like today).

And I can understand how, for many people, public transportation can be a heck of a deal!

Note: I’m enjoying this working vacation. It’s been very productive. Although I’m eager to resume writing full time, I’m actually going to stretch this current batch of guest posts until the end of the month. I have some good guest articles on personal finance basics in the queue, and this will give me time to recharge my batteries so that I can come back even stronger in May!

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  1. I forgot to mention: another reason I was willing to give the bus a chance was because of our discussion on yesterday’s episode of the Personal Finance Hour. We talked for a bit about a car-free lifestyle, and I mentioned that this appeals to me. In the U.S., it has become the norm for families to have two cars. But what if your family had only one car? Or none at all? How would you make that work? I’ve never seriously contemplated this before, and learning to use the bus is one way for me to explore this option.

  2. Welcome to the real world. Not everyone affords a car.

    Also, most dealers have a courtesy van that will ferry customers to and from their repair facility; I always get a ride when the vehicle needs repair. Surprised you didn’t ask about it or weren’t even offered.

  3. J.D.,

    This sample run (even being just one trip) helps encourage me that we can actually pull this off when we try it in a couple months full-time.

    The more I talk about it, the more excited I get to try it out!

  4. Ahem. I will refrain from poking fun at your coming so late to the game of riding the bus to point out that in some cities, like San Francisco, transit users can purchase a monthly pass which offers rides on all buses, trolleys, subway, you name it. It’s a great deal and a subtle encouragement to leave the car at home since, “Well, I already have my pass and I want to get the most out of it”.

  5. @SeekingLemonade (#2)
    The dealer did offer to ferry me anywhere I wanted to go in downtown Portland, but I offered to walk. Our home is outside of the downtown area, and they wouldn’t drive me. (And I didn’t expect them to.)

    @IH (#4)

    You can poke fun at me all you want for this post. I’m poking fun at myself in many ways. I have NO IDEA why I took so long to ride the bus. It seems like a very J.D. thing to do. I’m glad to have finally done it.

    Also, I did find the monthly passes for Portland’s mass transit system, which includes buses, streetcars, and light rail.

    I also looked up the schedule for the bus that runs closer to our house. It doesn’t run as often, and it requires a transfer at the transit center. I’ll have to look at schedules to see if it really makes sense to use it, or whether I should just walk the fifteen minutes to catch the mainline.

  6. I also have a bus route that goes from my house to work (although only a 5 minute walk on each end). For me another benefit of the bus is I can read while riding the bus, and sometimes I will choose to ride the bus if I feel like reading that morning.

  7. I remember feeling this way when I first moved to San Francisco. I didn’t want to look like an idiot getting on the muni for the first time, but it’s really not that hard. You get used to it after a single trip, and then you’re just glad you don’t have to park downtown.

    I remember riding the muni train home late one night, a few months after I’d moved to the city, and really feeling like *I live in the city*. Nothing els gave me that “big city experience” quite like riding the train home at 1:00AM after going out to drink with some friends.

    And, on a related topic — almost everything is easy after you’ve done it once. All those things you consider doing, but don’t, because you’re afraid you’ll break something, or look stupid — they’re mostly not that hard, and almost none of them are hard the second time. I’ve been restoring an old boat for a few months now, and there’s been several repair jobs that I’ve done twice after screwing up the first try, but I haven’t done a single one three times. I’ve learned a lot by just trying things once — Including learning that you shouldn’t be afraid to fail the first time. After all, the worst thing that happens is the bus driver yells at you, or you have to call your wife to pick you up, or you have to walk home when you miss the train, or you have to tear off the fiberglass patch you just did, and do it over. None of these things are really that horrible.

  8. Welcome to the bus, JD! πŸ˜€

    We have only one car, and could go car-free if my husband’s work was a little closer. I work downtown and there are 5 buses that pass within a mile of my house. A 6th bus takes me to the max station 3 miles away. Riding my bicycle increases my flexibility even more.

    I love commuting by transit. I can relax on the bus – read, do homework, sleep – and arrive refreshed, as opposed to stressed-out from driving. I used to live in LA, so I know car commuting! This is much better. In fact it’s part of the reason we moved to Portland, and was a big factor in deciding where to buy a house.

    We had two cars briefly. When my brother moved overseas he gave us his PT Cruiser. Keeping that car tripled our insurance costs and more than doubled our maintenance costs, even though we didn’t increase our driving. I have Zipcar, so on the rare occasion we need a second car it’s always available. Annual membership is ridiculously cheap, and the hourly and daily rates are not bad for every once in a while. One car – or none – is defintely the frugal choice for us.

  9. @Tyler (#7)
    You make a great point about trying things even when we’re scared. But the thing that cracks me up in retrospect was that I was scared to ride the bus! I didn’t want to look like a fool when I didn’t know what to do. I guess I needed to turn 40 to lose that part of my ego. πŸ™‚

  10. I carpool with DH because the commuter bus from where we live just doesn’t make sense (especially for two of us), luckily we work very close to each other so it isn’t much of a hassle.

    DH isn’t comfortable with me taking the bus without him because he worries about safety. Where we used to live my friend, who commuted by bus, was accosted almost every day. Some of her encounters made her very nervous and I didn’t blame her.

    There are a lot of variables to consider, but I agree that it can be a very viable option in many situations.

  11. I live in one of the Seattle Eastside suburbs and almost everyone I know who works in downtown Seattle leaves their car at a park-n-ride and takes the commuter bus. Between the stress of too much traffic and the major bucks it costs most people to park, the bus makes tons of sense.

    Microsoft also started its own commuter busline that picks up at the park-n-rides to help alleviate traffic and parking woes. It’s very very popular.

  12. I’m glad to hear you survived the bus. I ride the bus most days in Portland, and it does not seem to have affected me yet.

    If more people would give it a try, they would realize how efficient bus transportation is. They might also start thinking about how ridiculous it is that our city keeps spending millions of dollar on light rail and street cars: buses are much cheaper, and much more flexible.

    By the way, in your cost calculation, you forgot to include parking, which can be a good chunk of change: more than your gas and wear and tear if you’re in town more than a couple of hours.

  13. To pick up on what Kevin said, don’t forget the benefits of not having to pay attention to the road when you ride the bus! Catch up on reading, take notes on ideas for future posts, maybe even do some writing. Not only are you spending less money, you’re actually making productive use of that time.

  14. My husband and I have been public transit enthusiasts for years, and until recently, only owned one car. Our families both thought we were nuts, but truthfully, we never needed two. We were able to save all the cash we would have spent on payment plans, insurance, etc, and have been able to buy a new car in full.

    Also, keep in mind the time it would take you to park in the city – it sounds like your 40 min is a curb-to-curb estimate, but finding parking could easily take you another 5-20 min. And cost even more.

    I figure with the amount of time it takes me to park, I am actually SAVING time AND money riding the bus.

  15. You know, running these numbers just makes me not want to go downtown ever. It looks like it costs about $10 per trip. It’s amazing how once we become accustomed to something — like owning a car — we just take it for granted and never calculate things like per-trip costs. (Well, I don’t anyhow, and I don’t think many other people do either.)

  16. JD: the bus can actually be even cheaper! When you board and pay, ask for a transfer: it’s a flimsy piece of paper that will let you continue to ride on your initial fare without paying more.

    I checked trimet’s (useful!) site and yours are good for 2 hours. Look at that: the bus is 25% the cost of the car.

    (p.s. next time you’re in SF you could arrange a reader get-together! I would totally attend.)

  17. Portland’s mass transit is WONDERFUL! Several years ago I had the experience of traveling to visit relatives in Gresham on Thanksgiving day. No car, so I took the Greyhound from Everett, WA to Portland, a local bus to the light rail station, and then the light rail out to Gresham; the station was only a 1/2 mile from their home. All very cheap, and, much to my surprise, no huge waits due to “holiday schedules”! It was a great experience.

    I lived car free for 4 years, and it was great. Seattle/Tacoma/Everett have great mass transit systems, and they are adding light rail. Great mass transit programs are the single most effective way, imho, to make our cities more liveable and green.

  18. Congratulations on your bus ride J.D.! I love public transportation because it’s not only much less expensive than driving (usually), but it’s also eco-friendly. πŸ™‚

  19. it’s funny, on my way to work, there’s one of those local sketchy used car dealerships on a corner where I usually have to sit at a light for a spell and I always sit and look at the cars in the small parking lot and ponder over used cars and pricing and how that place makes money and how i actually like haggling for used car prices etc. and after your post last week, they got an 05 bright yellow mini cooper that looks like yours, and now I see it and think…how can a guy who runs a blog about personal finance be so impulsive and make such a rash decision with no research…then it makes me think of all the other times there has been incorrect info posted here, or posts about spending 20$ on movie theater food…and I think about all of the “fashion experts” on tv who tell people judge red carpet dresses and tell folks what not to wear…and then i think…i need to start a blog

  20. I totally agree with you on the “getting over it factor”. In the last year alone, I had to get used to long distance commuter bus or train, subways, streetcars and occasionally a bus in the large city where I now work. I was worried about making a mistake or not knowing what to do, but the people who work for transit see a lot of people so they’re probably used to it πŸ™‚

    Besides, it’s been a year now and I’m sure I made mistakes but I honestly can’t remember what they were. I do remember asking a lot of questions that started out “I’m new at this, could you please tell me…” and receiving a lot of friendly and helpful answers.

  21. I wish I could take the bus to work and only have the trip be 10 minutes longer than the drive. The transit system in this city leaves some to be desired, so a 7-minute drive turns into a 40-minute bus ride, partly due to the bus routes and partly due to the 15-20 minutes of which are a wait for another bus at the half-way point.

  22. Congratulations on your very first bus ride! You are very lucky to be near Portland, which has one of the best public transit systems there is. Everything within a certain radius of downtown is a free ride, all the time. I planned an anniversary weekend that involved a train ride there (from Centralia, WA) and locations within the free ride area, and got away with a very frugal (but memorable) vacation there. Good times.

  23. @J.D. (#15)
    What percentage of that cost is paid regardless of whether you go downtown or not? Are you including insurance, depreciation, and maintenance in your calculation? If so, those are paid regardless of your trips downtown. This is why people who own cars drive everywhere instead of taking the bus. Sure, the overall cost of the car per mile may be higher than the bus, but the marginal cost for each additional mile driven is usually far lower (barring things like parking in metropolitan areas) than public transit.

    What I currently pay to own and operate my car is something like $1200/month. I drive about 1500miles/month. This implies a cost per mile of about $0.80.

    That’s not accurate, though. The first $900 (or so) of that $1200 is paid regardless of whether or not I do any driving at all. The marginal cost per mile is more like $0.20. That is cut in half again if you exclude the particular miles that contain toll booths.

    The only way that these “total cost of ownership” numbers are useful as a comparison to mass transit is when you consider mass transit as an alternative to not owning a car at all. After all, it’s not free to own a (legal to drive) car and leave it in your driveway all the time.

  24. @b-bo (#19)
    I am human. I am not infallible. Nor do I pretend to be so. When I make mistakes on the blog, I try to correct them quickly and publicly. I do my best.

    I try not to judge others for their financial shortcomings because I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my own life, and I know that I will make plenty more.

    All this is to say: your criticism is valid, and I accept your admonition. But remember: I am learning. This is a journey. I’m sharing what I learn along the way, but I haven’t reached my destination yet, and I’m sure to make some wrong turns along the way.

  25. JD,

    I also have never rode the bus for the same reason, I don’t know how it works. Maybe sometime soon I’ll give it a try.

    Do you think it’s different for people who *have* to take the bus as opposed to you and I who see it as fun?


  26. Were you staying in the city when you visited SF? In that case, you should have taken the BART from the airport to the city. It would have cost less than $4.

  27. JD, have fun experimenting with the bus! On the whole, if you’re not a teenager or intoxicated or rude, Portland bus drivers are friendly, helpful folks.

    One of the perks my job offers is a universal annual pass: I can get on any bus or streetcar or MAX (even the funky OHSU tram) whenever I want to just by flashing that thing. I use it so much, that when I lost one, it was worth it for me to pay the out-of-pocket amount (close to $100 for six months) to have it replaced. The bus rocks; between that, my bike and Zipcar, I haven’t owned a car the entire seven years I’ve lived in Portland. Unfortunately, my sweetie and I are looking into getting a car so I can pursue midwifery — babies on the way require faster transportation than the bus offers!

  28. Congrats on taking that leap. I remember having a similar aversion but then had a job in NYC and started exploring various commuter options. I prefer the train/subway over a bus personally but buses work just fine too!

    You mentioned the time/money trade off. One thing that rapidly changes even having that consideration is the ability to bring your laptop or work reading on the bus and keep working. While you probably aren’t likely to be as efficient as working at your home office you’ll certainly more than offset any “time value” considerations.

    Another thing to remember is that sometimes it is good to have “mind” time in the middle of a work day. Time to let your mind roam, allowing it to work on issues in a meditative sense. While it sounds kinda of “new agey” I have to admit that type of time always ends up being well spent when I have a problem that I’m trying to sort out. Often being in front of the computer delays that type of needed processing.

    So considering these types of avenues (bring along work/mediation) the question of the value of the time makes taking public transportation far more valuable than driving!

  29. This post made me laugh for several reasons- when I attended university in Glasgow I happily rode the subway several times a week but avoided the buses for three years because I didn’t understand the fare system and the drivers weren’t known for their friendly demeanor.

    Also my father just turned 60 this year and was very excited to collect his free bus pass (UK) he didn’t understand why I thought this was entertaining as he hasn’t been on a bus in my lifetime (still hasn’t used his bus pass, apparently he’s waiting 4 years for my mum to get hers!)

    I’ve used transit in many cities, I’ve never owned a car, but am still quite concerned about making a fool of myself and will look at all the info online first if I get the chance! Why am I so concerned about what the driver and other passengers might think of me?

    I also agree with the above poster- Portland’s transit is awesome, I used it quite extensively in a weekend break last year.

  30. I find the interesting point about this. Is how unfriendly the process of catching a bus is. It is the same in Sydney Australia. Exact change required and you are expected to know which bus to catch and how much.

  31. i have been critical of other posts and you have always handled the criticism professionally and gracefully which is sometimes hard to do over the internet. I think I originally came across this blog when trying to find a simple breakdown of IRA’s for my sister and I RSS’d it. I guess sometimes I maybe hope for a little more…i dunno…”progress?” and more informative posts about finances and financial instruments etc. but your posts always have a more personable tint and stretch more about general life scenarios and how they apply to PF. I have yet to remove grs from the rss feed, and I’ll venture to guess it’s because of the personable writing style that is enjoyable to read, even though I was expecting more hard hitting PF…i think there was a compliment in there somewhere πŸ˜‰

  32. For me, it is cheaper to drive because it is only a 5-mile distance to work and I drive a Honda Civic which is very fuel-efficient. I understand it may not be the best choice for the environment but I mde this choice for other reasons.

    One time however, my car would not start so I took the bus for the first time. It was a 5-minute walk to the bus stop. The ride was 20 minutes to the train station then it is 2 stops to my work. It took an hour total including the walks while it takes me 15 minutes driving. Anyway, I am glad to have an alternate option when needed. I could have missed work if I did not take the bus. Portland’s public transportation system is very good. You can catch it almost anywhere in the metro area.

  33. I remember that “this is so cool!” feeling. Even though I rode the bus to and from work very often (and used my car on the weekends), it was when my car was in the shop for a month that I started to feel just… cool… for getting around the city so efficiently on public transit. That was a brief and enjoyable taste of the car-free lifestyle.

    Other benefits to taking mass transit:

    1) it’s rarely close to door to door, so you actually get some exercise while going from place to place.

    2) if you have a longer ride, you can kick back and do some quality reading

    3) if you ride on a regular schedule, you start to get to know the other “regulars” on your route, so when you see them off the bus, you have a nice sense of community.

    All that said, I’ve stopped taking the bus as much for two reasons.

    First, the scheduling on my ideal route is unbelievably rigid (and doesn’t mesh with the schedule that works best for me and my boss) and if I take my not-ideal route I’m looking at a two-hour commute plus two transfers–and great likelihood of missed transfer connections.

    Second, I found I couldn’t wrap my head around this bus commute while 8 months pregnant and in the three years since, I haven’t been able to wrap my head around how to make it work with child in tow.

    I’ll have to check out your conversation about the car-free lifestyle, but I’d love to hear from anyone who *has* gone car-free with kids… and a sizeable commute!

  34. @b-bo (#31)

    Your second post made me chuckle.

    Sometimes it’s difficult for me to know exactly how I come across on the blog. I know the realities of my daily life, but it’s impossible to represent them completely on the blog, and for a number of reasons — some logistical, some personal, and some legal. I think the people who know me in Real Life get the best picture because they can see all sides. Does that make sense?

    All I can do is assure you that tremendous progress has been made and is continuing to be made. But progress does not come without stumbles and setbacks. I haven’t had a significant setback in a long time (thankfully), but I do stumble now and then.

    You’re right that I don’t do the hard-hitting personal-finance stuff. It’s just not my style! I’m much more interested in the personal part of personal finance, not just for myself, but for others as well. Still, as I continue to grow, you’ll see that I write more about investing, etc. I looked back through the comments, and it seems you like analysis stuff. I guess I haven’t done much of that lately. Maybe it’s time for some more.

    I really do welcome the feedback, even if it makes me bristle a little. The bristling is just a natural response. I learned long ago not to take things personally on my blogs, but to try to learn from them.

    Thanks for keeping me on my toes!

  35. Our family lived in Paris for a number of years, and I was on the bus daily. The bus system there makes it very easy to understand the routes. Last year when we were in Chicago visiting relatives, we hopped on the bus, and found it very difficult to understand where the stops were going to be (in Paris, the bus “told” you the next stop, so you were never at a loss as to where you were). Perhaps some upgrading of ease of use for newbies and visitors could make people ride more. Someone mentioned having kids on the bus…well, in Europe, kids are always on the bus. And I was always somewhat surprised to see kids about 10-11 and up on the city busses alone on their way home from school. Different way of living, and one that I sorely miss. Also, you see moms and tots in strollers…amazing how helpful people can be…if they see someone with a stroller, 9 out of 10 times, someone will help you onto the bus and make room for you. I should know..we lived there with tots in tow for several years.
    One additional comment. I haven’t actually tried this out, but I heard about this recently, and would like to: In the Midwest and Northeast, there is a company called Megabus, that travels from city to city almost nonstop. So, for example, I live in Cleveland, an if I want to go to Chicago again, I could get on a megabus, and it would get on the highway and stop only 1-2 quick pit stops and we would be in Chicago in about 7 hours. Much better than a Greyhound schedule, which can stop many times on a route. Plus, I can relax, read whatever on the bus. I’m hoping to try this with my family this summer.

  36. In addition to the money and time factors we should also consider the stress factor. If you have a car, you have to worry about taking care of it (filling up the tank, oil changes, tire changes, regular check-ups, etc.) and then there’re the insurance and liability issues.

    If you can and choose to use public transport, you need to stay alert for schedule changes, factor in extra-time for possible delays, remember to buy a new pass every xx/days or in other ways ensure that you can pay your fare… and- of course- be prepared for all kinds of weather conditions while you wait for your ride.

    I’m sure these examples are just a beginning of the stressors each of us need to take in consideration when pondering whether to be a driver or a passanger. However, if you are hovering between the two options, thinking about the stresses of each option may help you to make an informed decision.

  37. Most bus systems allow you to bring a bicycle on the bus with you, and I’m almost 100% certain that Portland’s system allows it. If you were to ride your bike to the bus, you’d shave at least 10 minutes off your commute, which might make the time savings of driving somewhat less relevant.

  38. J.D.,

    Love the blog man. There are many reasons to take mass transit. Keeps you in touch with the people, keeps another car off the road and once you do the math it throws less carbon dioxide into the air, and it also SLOWS you down…which is NOT a bad thing. On the bus you can read a book, meditate, work on your computer, or simply enjoy the scenery…adding no increase to your blood pressure. Shaving minutes of time is overrated in my opinion…and taking the bus adds minutes to your life because of the stress it takes away.

    And better than a bus, is a bike. No carbon while burning calories and stress. No fare, no insurance, no dollars going into the tank. Portland was recently featured in the New York Times as a spot for bicycling vacationers. There are fewer bike friendly towns. Even if you ride only in the summers, think of the money you can save!

  39. I’ve never had a car. I don’t drive.

    I’m always glad when people get out of their cars and take public transit. The more normal members of society take the bus, the better the bus will suit your needs.

    A few notes on public transit:

    1. A bicycle can help get rid of those 15 minute walks and 20 minute waits to travel two stops. (Or, you know, bicycling 5 miles isn’t too difficult.)

    2. If you’re going to commute by public transit, you had better make sure you live near a convenient stop.

    3. Public transit has its un-fun moments, like when it’s late or cold or breaks or someone’s vomiting in the seat across from you. But so do cars when there’s traffic or an accident.

    4. I am a big fan of trains, even if they are more expensive and less flexible than buses. A single train can carry a lot more people, move more quickly from stop to stop, doesn’t add to traffic on roads, and moves smoothly so you don’t get car-sick when you read.

  40. J.D.,

    Another thing I want to say is that I really enjoy reading your blog because you’re not afraid to tell us about your mistakes. It’s such a relief to know that there are other people who make embarrasing and often costly financial blunders BUT DON’T GIVE UP!

    Cheers to you, J.D.!

  41. When we were traveling in Aruba, we found that the best way to get around the island was via the public bus service. It turned a $10 cab ride into a $1 bus ride. Talk about savings!!! I wish we had more mass transit in the United States, it makes so much sense.

  42. Hi JD,

    Remember, too, that you pay a monthly insurance bill on your car, which can be broken down into a daily cost. Those of us who use public transport or bikes entirely in lieu of a car are also saving this money. Of course, if you have the car sitting at home anyway, then insurance isn’t a cost you can erase.

  43. I started riding the bus when my employer offered monthly bus passes for $9. Though it wasn’t always possible to ride the bus every day, I figured if it could keep me from filling my tank at least one time per month, it more than paid for itself. I would prepare work on my laptop that I could do without a network connection, which allowed me to leave the office a little bit earlier and offset the 40 minute one way trip so I could get home at a decent hour.

    One thing that was very nice (and my wife loved this) was that riding the bus forced me to a specific schedule for leaving the office. If I missed the bus, I would have to wait 30 minutes for the next one to come along. No more of this “I got busy working on something and lost track of time.”

    By the way, I love GRS, and you have inspired me to start a debt snowball of my own. I’m working on building my emergency fund, and once it’s up, I’ll be able to pay off my debts in about 20 months. Thanks again!

  44. Car people, buy a few bus tickets and keep them in your wallet. In case you need to take the bus, you are set, no looking for change.

  45. b-bo

    Go get a life man. If a blog isn’t what you want it to be then don’t read it. The only reason you’re hypercritical is because you have no idea how much work something like this blog takes.

    If you want more complex financial knowledge, why don’t you take a class? Now there’s an idea. If you want to learn about bond convexity or derivative decision trees, go do it. Go nuts. Quite honestly JD’s articles are much more real than any of that.

    What a selfish poster. I’m sorry to even have to stoop to this negativity, but something had to be said.

  46. I stumbled across your site when I was looking for gardening info, and that led to the bus trip posting. A few observations. One is – good for you. The first step is often the hardest. As for the “sunk cost” argument – that each additional mile is a cheaper per-mile cost, is equally effective when you buy a transit pass. Whether you take one trip or one hundred, once you get a monthly pass, you’re done with the cost. You’re in an outstanding city for public transit, so a pass is a viable option.
    The one-car option is viable. I live in the Miami area. I live three miles from work, so I can bike or even walk to work – or take a bus, for that matter. (My bike – $400 new about four years ago – is the way I get to work most of the time.) My wife and son keep the car most of the time. If the weather stinks, I get a lift or take the car for the day. When we have scheduling conflicts, when I NEED a car for work rather than want one for the sake of convenience, I rent one. Because we have insurance, I waive that and reduce that cost. The worst month of rentals amounts to $200 or $300, a real deal when compared to the cost of a second car; many months I don’t need to rent at all. And if the rental breaks down, it’s not my problem to fix. With a second car, we’d pay a lot for convenience; with a little effort and planning, we save quite a bit.
    One last observation. Public transit in my experience is rarely faster than a car, but I’ve never got so much reading done in my life as when I took the Red Line to work each day in Chicago. That’s at least one upside to the commute!

  47. Here in Minneapolis, the city bus and light rail system are great! I think 80-90% of the grad students in my department take public transit to and from campus. Plus, the university heavily discounts semester-long passes. It beats biking in the winter cold/snow and summer heat or thunderstorms. One bus and one light-rail ride will get me to the airport too!

    Public transit can rock if it fits your commute.

  48. My husband actually took his first bus ride in Toronto on Sunday and was quite enthused by it too – much to my embarassment sitting next to him pointing and exclaiming like a four year old. Exciting stuff! In fairness he does use the subway almost every day, but is one of those who think the bus is a lesser form of transit than subways and steetcars.

    I think everyone should know how to use the local transit system. I’m a railfan and like “A” above have never even had a driving license, but even if you use transit irregularly it’s good to know the routes and schedules in case of emergency, bad weather, convenience, whatever.

  49. unfortunately most of the economics of riding public transportation goes out the window when there’s more than one traveler (not counting its environmental benefits).

  50. Funny. I bet your fellow bus riders rolled their eyes at the “tourist”.

    While bussing it is not generally “fun” (due to occasional crowding and crazy/smelly people), it is useful. We live in downtown Seattle, so keeping a car would be silly, especially when there are 3 Zipcars within a block for those times when a car is better than the bus (groceries, late night trips).

  51. Hey, JD – It’s worth noting that in Portland, the Mini Cooper dealership that’s on SW 20th is also a few blocks from the MAX line, which you can ride anywhere inside the 405 loop for free. You can drop your car off at the dealership, walk about a mile to get within the fareless zone, and then you can ride all the way to Lloyd Center. Combining errands, and knowing where the free stuff starts, is also a powerful tool for your frugal toolkit!

  52. I started riding the bus two years ago after the company took away our free parking. I pay $45/month pre-tax for my monthly bus pass, and it takes me 17-18 minutes door to door (vs. 10 min by car) on my express bus. It is fantastic. I also drive a 9 year old car that I bought 2.5 years ago for $8,000. In 2007, I made over $700,000, and in 2008, I made over $400,000 and I still take the bus and drive a car valued probably at $6,000 now. I love it!

  53. Glad to be in Chapel Hill, NC, where the bus is free to all — or, rather, paid with our city taxes, which we’re paying anyway. Might as well use it. Come see us sometime. (I would love to visit Portland again, too.)

  54. Mass transit doesn’t always suck! Congratulations on your baby step forward! I very much agree with #38.. after you get used to the bus, try bike! I moved to PDX about 2 years ago and started biking to work for the first time in my life. Yes it’s scary as hell the first time but it’s also easy to figure out what streets to take. One hint- buy one of those heavy duty u locks and a seat leash! Once you get comfortable on your bike, commute time is very similar to car commute time in most cases. Plus you’ll get killer legs and save MORE on a gym membership! Win-Win-Win!

  55. I actually bike a fair bit when the weather’s nice, but I’ve never biked to downtown. (And I couldn’t really do that for my Mini adventure.) I bike for errands in and around Milwaukie/Oregon City…

  56. The exercise aspect is great. Since you’re working on getting fit slowly, too, JD, I hope you’ll keep that benefit in mind whenever you have the chance to take the bus in the future.

    When I have work in downtown San Francisco, I like to take the bus to the office in the morning and walk home. The 45-minute walk isn’t much longer than taking the bus (the bus is usually a 5-10 minute wait and a 20-25 minute ride), and I get a really nice bit of pleasant, mildly strenuous exercise.

    In fact, for a while, they had signs on the buses reminding riders that they could get a little extra exercise by getting off one or two stops early.

    When the weather cooperates, it can be a frugal AND healthy option!

  57. Here in Los Angeles, when you visit the MTA’s web site, they let you type in your starting point and destination. After they find a trip for you, they tell you how much it will cost, how long it will take, and give you an estimate of the cost to drive the same route. It makes it really easy to see how quickly taking public transportation saves tons of money.

    Unfortunately, Los Angeles is a very crowded and traffic-heavy city without a lot of trains and subways. The big drawback of buses is that they get stuck in gridlock traffic too – and maybe even worse – the can’t re-route to pick a less crowded street. Trips that take 20 minutes in a car can take 2 hours or more on a bus. It’s such a big tradeoff of time vs. money. I hope that as more train lines become available, the time issue resolves itself.

  58. We moved from Houston to London over 5 years ago. We sold our 3 cars and bought no car. Occasionally, I need to rely on neighbors with a car to get my dog to the vet (the time he ate a pound of gift chocolates pushed through our mail slot). Otherwise we take public transportation everywhere (we actually live about 10 miles from Central London and a half-mile from the nearest tube station). Everything we do takes time, sometimes a lot of time. However, we ALWAYS take something to read. What we used to read on the couch, we now read on the bus or tube or train. We also do a lot more walking – yesterday I estimate I walked about 5 miles getting to and from 2 big events plus another mile or so with my dog. London has a fabulous mass transit system that usually runs when we need it.

    When I move back to Houston, it will be back to the car. Even for those who would walk to errands, person and purchases will have melted into a puddle before reaching home. It is the reality of the Houston climate most months.

  59. Yay JD! I thought this was very funny but I won’t tease πŸ™‚ I’ve never had a car, hate to drive and have always taken public transport to work. I’ve usually had to travel about 45mins-1 hour each way, but even if I had a car I probably couldn’t drive to work as parking is extremely expensive in downtown Sydney. While there are days that I bitch and moan and there are probably some things I avoid doing; I can’t imagine it any other way. I spend my bus trips reading books or studying. It’s how I manage to be a full time worker while doing 3/4 of a full time course load. Plus I could always drink as much as I liked, I never had to worry about being asked to be the designated driver!

    Sometimes it can be a pain and due to circumstances beyond your control a trip can take way longer than it should. But I’m sure this happens with cars too. If I plan ahead and know the timetable, I can get places quickly. It’s when I haven’t bothered and I miss tight connections that I can end up with long waits. So I recommend finding out all the details you can about the services you use, it saves time in the long run. Lots of cities have trip planner websites.

    Some times I think it would be nice to be able to just jump in the car and drive to after work activities (instead of trekking to work with everything I need for the entire day and evening) but at the end of the day my desire to avoid contributing to the traffic situation and polluting the environment outweighs the convenience. Besides, I could get a taxi if I really wanted to, it would be cheaper than running a car I’d only use occasionally. My mother used to make us walk or get the bus, I imagine I’ll make my children do so too.

    ETA: David #30 – you don’t need exact change on buses in Sydney, at least, not on the blue government buses (I’m not sure about the private company ones that go way out into the suburbs). However, they have recently introduced pre-pay only on lots of city routes which is kind of annoying if you aren’t a regular passenger because you can’t buy a ticket from the driver. Assuming it isn’t a pre-pay route (and they’ve been heavily advertised so they are clear) the driver will give you change and if they can’t they’ll let you ride until they’ve gotten enough change from other passengers paying to break your note. Sure some of the drivers are a bit grumpy but most are really helpful if you have to ask for help or directions (and I love how everyone here says thank you as they get off the bus).
    My dad is a driver and I assure you he and most of his colleagues are very friendly πŸ™‚

  60. I work as a vendor for a large software company from Redmond, who gives all contractors, vendors, and full-time employees a Flex Pass, which is good for all busses in the local area. It’s valued at something like a thousand dollars over an entire year.

    The bus system in Seattle leaves a lot to be desired for my specific needs (I have to transfer to get to and from work, it makes a half hour trip like an hour and a half, and my hours are sporadic — can’t really take the bus home at 2 after my potential 16 hour work days), but I use it whenever I go downtown so I don’t have to deal with traffic and paying for parking.

  61. Congrats on your first bus ride!!!

    I was able to spend a year car-free as a university student by taking the bus everywhere. My husband and I have seriously considered going down to one car. He can easily take the bus to work (just one bus, and about 10-15 min walk between work and bus stop). I work either from home or travel for business which means we rarely actually need two cars. We have zip cars in my town but it’s new and still a good distance to the nearest zip car location.

    Sometimes my husband will ride his bicycle to the bus stop, put his bike on the bus, and ride it in to work. Then he just does a riding workout as long as he feels and finishes at home. If the weather’s bad for riding, he’ll just take the bus home with his bike on it.

    When I travel for work and it makes sense, I LOVE to spend a week in a city car free. I have done this in Boston, San Francisco, Washington, DC and NYC. In fact, next week I am heading to DC and will be finding a hotel that’s near a Metro station just so I can take the Metro to work.

    While I’m not sure my husband and I will make the move to sell the second car, I sure have no desire to buy a new car to replace it. Small steps!!

  62. 24 years old and I have never driven a car. Not one inch. I’ve never learned.

    I commuted 2 years from Tacoma to Seattle for school, eventually moving to Seattle to finish my degree.

    I live paycheck to paycheck kind of lavishly because I don’t pay for a car or car insurance.

    I think always taking the bus has influenced my relationship with the city. Granted when I first move here I could only navigate the surface streets via bus lines, if I wandered off one too far I was lost. But riding at least 2 buses every day, listening to conversations of what is a pretty wide swath of socio-economic demographics, people watching in general. It’s kind of a front row view of our citizenry.

    Not learning how to drive was kind of a fluke. In high school my dad said I had to save the money myself for drivers ed, and then pay for my insurance myself (he didn’t have any so there was no joining his plan). Not wanting to work I never got around to it. It wasn’t till the summer after my 2nd year in college did I get a job, so I could move from Tacoma to Seattle.

    I am kind of thankful for not driving. I have never paid for insurance which I think is a scheme; a bit worse than retail banking. I have never been a primary individual consumer of gasoline. I have pitched in for gas money lots of times, but it was always in a carpool scenario. If I had the money to buy the car with the tiniest environmental footprint possible (development, manufacturing, shipping, etc) I’d buy all my friends bus passes. For real.

    For emergency purposes, though, I think it’d be wise to learn how to drive both stick and automatic.

  63. Sounds like an interesting trip, but the dealer didn’t provide a loaner or a shuttle van?

  64. I moved to NYC right out of high school, and did not even own a car until I was in my 30’s and we were living in Westchester, and we needed it for my husband’s job.

    When we moved up to the boonies, our house was right near a commuter parking lot, but I was very very frustrated with the schedule. If you didn’t work a strict 9-5 schedule, there was very little service, and in fact, the buses only run from around 7am until 6:30pm. If you got stuck at the office for a meeting, there were no methods, save a $50 or more taxi ride, to get home. Now I work in the opposite direction, and there is zero bus service. There are ride share organizations, and even my job encourages carpooling, but the trouble is that our jobs are very erratic. Some days we are there late, while other days we can cut out early. It’s near impossible to sync up a schedule with anyone else that doesn’t involve one or more people sitting around doing nothing for 30 minutes or more on most days.

    I miss my commuter rail service!

  65. My husband and I don’t have a car, and don’t need one. But we live in a city in the UK, where public transport is plentiful and frequent. πŸ™‚

    The time/money comparison between car and bus travel is valid here too, though, and I’ve often wished I had a car so that I could get my 8-mile, hour long commute on the bus down to 30 minutes if I drove in. But the savings of not having a car are pretty significant (it would cost us almost £2,000/year to run a car [tax, insurance, & petrol] but a bus pass is £850/year) so we won’t be getting one for several years.

    I’m still working on getting my driver’s license here, but when I do, we will probably do public transport + a car club service like WhizzGo (equivalent to ZipCar in the US) until our income rises enough or our family grows enough that having a car of our own makes sense. We will probably never be a two car family, though, and I’m glad that we don’t need to be.

  66. I *wish* I could ride the bus to work, but we have this annoying bus system. Instead of going back and forth, the bus between home and work only goes in one direction. When I need to go west, it only goes east. And when I need to go east, it only goes west. So, I drive.

  67. We recently visited Miami on vacation. Reading hotel reviews someone suggested using the bus from the airport. It cost is $3 to Miami Beach rather than $35 by taxi. We then used the bus every day. At home I cycle 5 miles to work and have saved a fortune on gas or bus fares over the last few years and am slimmer too!

  68. Now I feel a lot better about not being the only one who has their moments of not wanting to do something for the fear of looking stupid. lol

  69. I haven’t ever owned a car, and until I have a baby I don’t plan on buying one. I actually really enjoy catching the bus (and to a lessor exten) the train. Using public transport means I can sit back and relax- I either read a book, watch the view (my favourite trip is over the Sydney harbour bridge – you get a much better view bring high up in a bus or better yet on the ouside lane in the train) or people watch other passengers.

    Since buying an iPhone I have also been able to surf the net, check email and pay bills/do my banking all whilst commuting. For me public transport is great stress relief, I would prefer to be stuck in traffic on a bus where I can plug in my iPod and tune out than be driving. Each to their own but I am a big bus fan and glad you took the plunge.

  70. Here in Dallas you can ride the bus and the train for $3.00 per DAY! Are you sure the bus there is per ride? The transit system here also offers monthly and yearly passes at a discount over the per day rate. You might can save even more money!

  71. My husband and I are car-free and have been for approximately 8-9 years.

    We chose our apartment largely because of proximity to public transportation. We are a 13 minute walk from a metro (subway) station. If we don’t feel like walking or if the weather is bad, there is one bus that stops right across the street and two others that are two blocks away, all of which go to the metro station. My downtown workplace is two blocks from a metro station. Sometimes I skip the metro and just take a bus all the way downtown just so I can sit peacefully and read or knit for half an hour.

    In the summer I often bike to work instead. A few times I even tried walking to work (it takes an hour and a half!). I also bike on the weekend to the market, library, church, etc.

    A monthly pass costs only $68.50. But even more than the cost savings, we appreciate the lack of hassle. We do not have to worry about insurance or repairs. We do not have to shovel our car out of the snow and then try to get it to start. We do not have to look for a parking space. We do not have to watch the price of gas.

    Some car-free people I know rent a car for the weekend once in a while, so they can go to Ikea, visit relatives in the distant suburbs, etc. We haven’t found that necessary.

    We have no kids, and I recognize that makes it easier. But I do see people with small children on public transit every day, so it must be possible.

    I enjoy public transit. I like being able to get anywhere I want with my monthly pass. I like people watching and seeing all the different kinds of people: business people, students, teenagers, the elderly, moms with strollers, people of all ethnicities… People dressed in suits or designer jeans, people in their jogging clothes, people who just pulled on whatever they could find and left the house half asleep, people dressed all prim and proper. We are all together on the metro, all part of the urban fabric.

  72. As a teenager I rode the high school bus ten miles to the next town, I would get my homework finished most days while on the bus.
    Courtesy of Uncle Sam I had the privilege of living in South Korea in 1979, riding a bus became a way of seeing more of the country. I would walk or take the bus. These buses were standing room only! At one time I calculated I walked an average of 6-10 miles a day. I had the best legs of my life!
    Returning to the states, busing was not an easily accessible option.
    I have taken the buses or Metro in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. You can meet some interesting people, get tips for dining, and local places of interest, and my wallet likes the results! I have even taken the bus for the Airport to where my daughter worked and my plane arrived 4 hours before she got off. We enjoyed lunch and then I went shopping.
    I now look for busing before I travel and study the routes I want to take.

  73. I’m a big fan of transit. We never take the car downtown. The cost of parking is insane, and one of the advantages I haven’t seen mentioned is that when you’re out exploring, you don’t have to find your way back to your car. Many times I’ll take the train downtown and start walking and taking pictures. When I’m tired, or bored, I just get back on the train to go home rather than having to remember where I parked and get back there.

  74. You hit the nail on the head–people resist doing things if they don’t know how. Usually there is an event that is a catalyst (broken down car, repossessed car, etc.) that kicks them into gear and FORCES them to figure it out.

    If only the bus came to my house…I think you’d have inspired me to give it a try.

  75. I live and work about 50 yards from a Votran (Volusia Co. FL) bus stop and when gas prices got up to about $4 a gallon, I decided to check it out. I also figured that if I ever had car trouble, I would know the ropes.

    I did it on and off for about a month, but in the end decided it wasn’t worth it. My travel by car to work is about 20 minutes. It takes an hour to get to work and an hour and a half to get home (route 10 is a circle route so the trip home is longer). In some respects, I didn’t mind so much because I could do some work via my Blackbery and catch up on reading.

    The worst part were the other people who rode the bus. Of course not all of them were bad, but there were enough to make me feel uneasy – people from work-release, “gangstas”, bad-smelling bums, etc.

    Maybe I come off as snobby, but I seriously don’t feel safe. When I lived in the DC area, I loved taking the Metro. If the public transportation system in the Daytona Beach are was more like some of the other major cities, I’d be more apt to use it on a regular basis. I do like the fact that I have it as a back-up plan just in case my car breaks down and I have to get to work.

  76. I think about this whenever I fly into (or out of) NYC-Laguardia. There is a public bus that stops at the airport, costs $2 a trip, and connects with the subway (free transfer) so that you can get anywhere in NYC. And it’s faster than a cab most of the time. I see all the people waiting on long lines for $$$$ cab rides, and I wonder how many would take the bus if they just had someone to show them? Live in NYC and want to make some extra money? Stand at baggage claim at Laguardia with a sign that says “I will show you how to take the bus and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars over your lifetime–$5.”

    For a while in Chapel Hill, NC, they made the bus FREE to build ridership, and it totally worked. I wish more places would try that! People are willing to try it for free, and then they aren’t afraid of it anymore.

  77. That’s one heck of an expensive bus system! In DC the cost is $1.25 (flat rate) and you can transfer for free for up to two hours after you depart one bus.

  78. When I rode the bus to work in Washington D.C. I went through two books a week. Public transportation gives so much time back to you and releases the stress of driving. I wish Phoenix (my current city) had a more comprehensive system.

  79. I’m an newly-hooked bus rider in San Antonio- I think at least two other factors should be considered.
    (1) Stress- For me, I’ve noticed a change in my stress level as I walk into work. Without the aggravation of focusing on the road, traffic, finding a parking spot- I’m much more relaxed as I start my day.
    (2) Thinking- when you drive yourself, you must focus on what you’re doing. However, if someone else is driving- you can catch up on emails, plan out your day, make calls- adds productivity to the longer trip!

  80. The Bus system in Pittsburgh PA is very different – I have to say it’s unique.

    1. Almost every bus route goes to downtown. If you want to travel to a destination that’s one mile from where you are, then (you got it), you go to downtown and change to a different route. Also, the average wait for a bus is one hour – during rush hours, it’s 30 minutes.

    2. Pittsburgh has a “trolley” (or the T/subway as it’s called), however, it runs only on certain routes in the South side of the city.

    3. The Port Authority (that operates both buses and the T) decided to spend millions of dollars to dig a tunnel under the river so that the T could ferry people to the Football & Baseball stadiums (an event that happens several times in the year only). There was considerable debate about whether the T should travel in an underground tunnel or an overground bridge, but hardly any debate about whether connecting the stadiums to downtown (a 15 min walk) makes any sense in traffic control.

    4. I should also add that the tunnels have been almost completed, but PAT ran out of money to actually start the service. Brilliant!!

    5. There are almost zero “feeder” routes that can pick you up from your street and drop you to the nearest T station/major bus route. Every bus only takes you to one place (you got it again): Downtown

    6. The PAT has been on a major cost-cutting spree for years. The problem is that in their dictionary, Cost Cutting equals Route Cutting.

  81. I took public transit — usually trains, but also buses when they made more sense — when we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    I just got back from a family trip there, and we gorged on all the transit options, including ferries, subway, buses, BART, and foot. Wonderful!

    We live in the metro Milwaukee area, and it took me about a year to ride a bus. When I broke my wrist, I didn’t fancy driving my stick shift for a while, so I took the bus and walked wherever I need to go. I was pleasantly surprised by the convenience, ease of finding info (phone and web), and safety. However, I was glad it was spring/summer, so that I didn’t have to wait in subzero temps in the winter.

  82. In Portland you can also bike and ride, which saves a lot of time. All Portland buses have a bike rack, the trick is getting one of the 2 spots.

    It would really be nice if buses offered change. They can do it in Germany, and in Germany the buses run on time. But of course they make it a priority, whereas in the US we’re unfortunately all about the almighty car.

  83. i may be totally wrong, but isn’t there a day pass for the bus? i visited portland last september and we rode it everywhere. if i remember correctly it was about $5 per day.

  84. I used to take the bus, but prefer to drive if at all possible.

    The bus takes much longer than driving, and it may be earlier or later than advertised so you must always be there waiting earlier, possibly in the rain.

    I met some very strange people on the bus too – oddest was a bus driver who told me that he used to be psychic and knew exactly what stop people would get off on but then he found Jesus Christ so now he doesn’t know any more now.

  85. yes, you can get a day pass, week pass or month pass. You can buy any of these, or individual tickets, at most grocery stores, max stations, and the trimet office downtown. I keep tickets in my wallet for those occasions when I forget my pass, or when someone else wants to ride with me.
    transit rules! πŸ™‚ it’s really too bad it doesn’t work for everyone. something to strive for maybe.

  86. I grew up in So Cal, where public transportation is not prevalent and basically sucks. I relied on my car for everything and the few times I took public transpo, I was really disappointed. I’ve lived near Boston, MA for a few years now and love taking public transportation here. It is much more efficient. Even better, my employer subsidizes half of my monthly pass! My b/f and I share one car and it serves our needs for when we need to drive somewhere. I’m sure I’ve saved myself hours and hours of sitting in traffic, not to mention emissions and gas, by moving here. Alas, I do plan on moving back some day and the b/f and I will need separate cars so the savings are temporary.

  87. I also was afraid to ride the bus because I didn’t know how to do it! Seattle has a system where sometimes you pay when you enter, and sometimes you pay when you leave. I got confused the first couple of times, and felt silly, but I lived! I would ride the bus more, but unfortunately the path from my home to work is not a well travelled path, and there’s no direct bus.

  88. Aww, I love the bus:) I also worried about embarrassing myself, and I did, but I learned fast. I work at a major university which provides me with a bus pass as one of the perks and as part of them trying to discourage people from driving to work. There is VERY limited parking here, so it is super expensive to buy a pass and totally free to ride the bus. Best part? My free bus pass is not just to work and back but ALL THE TIME. I go days without getting in my car. Love it!

    That said, oh man is Portland’s public transit better than Austin’s! But we’re working on it, and it’s pretty good considering our infrastructure. Being in Texas, I would love to see more small town-to-small town busses. We’re so spread out that you really need a car if you have relatives all over like I do.

  89. It’s cheaper (unfortunately) for me to drive. My husband and I carpool. I’ll still hop on the bus occasionally if hubby’s got an early morning dentist appointment or a late meeting.

    We keep a roll of bus tokens at home and a few in our wallets as part of our emergency plan. The METRO discounts tokens if we buy a whole roll.

    The downside when our car died last winter was waiting for the bus in -10 (-35 windchill) weather. Brr.

  90. He he. I love riding the bus, and taking public transportation in general. I don’t know why. Its kind of like doing a big community activity, mixed with the feeling rich people must have when they hire someone else to drive them around. If our public transportation here were good enough, I’d gladly give up my car to take the bus. One day, perhaps.

  91. First, I wouldn’t pay too much mind to the criticism of a post that gets (at this point) 91 responses–you’re doing something right, and we’re still reading.

    Second, I finally did something the other day I’ve been meaning to do for a long time–take the light rail downtown to L.A. for a court hearing, and it was great! $5 per trip, vs. $14 just for parking my car.

    I think accessibility to public transit will make a lot of living and working spaces more valuable in the coming years, vs. making the inaccessible ones even less valuable–I’m wondering uses the market will find for all these McMansions in 20-30 years. Maybe a return of the boarding house?

  92. Due to some very un-frugal mistakes in my youth, I had to go car free for 2.5 years in the DC suburbs, and I learned a whole lot about the bus system. I congratulate you for demystifying the bus for yourself, and promoting it to others on here.

    In fact, I’d actually like to thank you for it, because to people who don’t take the bus (or even mass transit for that matter), there’s a huge stigma. Some simply don’t understand it, and others, well they think the bus is beneath them (and that even goes for subway riders). Good for you, bad for most of the rest of us, but Portland is an anomaly of an American city where public transit is good, and it’s acceptable to bike or take mass transit. Most people aren’t in that situation.

    Washington DC itself, and even some inner suburbs have great transit options[0]. Hell, on some lines, it’s not even a stigma to take the bus to work. That said, like most other cities. . . traveling inside suburbs, or from one to another is utterly and totally useless. It’s not designed that way, and the only people who use transit to do such seem to be people who really don’t have a choice. I wish it weren’t so, but that’s the case. Those couple years without a car in the suburbs was a huge challenge, and I clearly made it, but a 10-15 minute drive literally was 45 minutes and up on the bus due to crappy suburban systems[1]. It’s just the reality of life, and is kind of a vicious cycle where the people who can change things don’t ever take the bus.

    So yeah, thank you for promoting bus lines. If even a few people who read this blog are more open to using it as an option, it will help. I don’t expect Euro style transit overnight, but it would be nice to see a few more people taking the bus here and there, getting the whole system more money and flexibility. Once the stigma washes off, we can see about making transit useful to more people.


    [0] Metro management isn’t all that, and funding sucks, but it succeeds in spite of itself.

    [1] Yes, I’m aware I could have commuted by bike. . . for about 3 months of the year when weather works for it. We have no showers at work, and the sidewalks don’t get cleaned when it snows.

  93. I have to tell you: This is one of those posts that baffles bloggers. I dashed it off in ten minutes, and almost didn’t post it because I thought it was too “light”. And here we are 95 comments later.

    On the other hand, I can spend 8+ hours on a post that ends up falling on deaf ears.

    Bloggers don’t get this! πŸ™‚

    (I think that maybe it means we should be more “loose” and less formal, and just write with our natural voices.)

  94. J.D. Another great post for frugality and the environment!

    Not to mention that on the bus you can do work, read a book, some lines even have free wi-fi!

    I love commuting by bus!

  95. My wife and I use the bus here in our home town for a few reasons.

    1.) It would cost us $45 a month to park our car at work.

    2.) Our employer has a program to encourage employees to ride the bus, where an unlimited pass can be purchased (deducted from your pay check) for $5! The pass pays for itself in two round trips, and we use it nearly every day. So instead of $45 per month to park, plus the cost of gas, more frequent repairs, etc, we save at minimum $35 per month.

    3.) The bus actually drops us off closer to our office than if we had to park at our out-of-the-way parking lot.

    4.) The bus schedule gives us an upper hand when our boss wants us to stay late. “Oh sorry, we have to catch the bus in X minutes.” πŸ˜€

    So, in summary…the bus is great!

  96. I think that posts like this, combined with the more hard finance stuff, are the main reason I come here.

    You can explain to me how index funds work a million times over, or put up more depressing news about bailouts, etc., and I’ll just get bored, since that stuff is elsewhere. If you sprinkle in some personal experience on how you can be frugal and still be happy, I keep paying attention.

    That, and public transit is a huge interest of mine, even though I can’t take it as often as I want. I’d say the same thing about gardening posts. . . interesting, but I live in a high rise apartment, so not something I can do now.


  97. I didn’t notice if anyone mentioned this JD, but you might be in trimet zone 2 and therefore would need only a 2-zone fare ($2 I think)

    Try the bus some more! It’s kind of fun to get where you’re going while sitting and enjoying a book (or knitting like I do)

  98. I live in a place with a decent public transport system. I get lazy, though. It’s easier to just jump in my car and go.

  99. Hey J.D.

    Something else to consider: A Tri-Met, all zone time-stamped ticket for $2.30 is valid for two hours. If it takes you 1/2 hour to ride the bus into or out of town, and you can get what you need done in 1 hour (actually 1 1/2 hours-the ticket just needs to be valid when you step on the bus), then you save the cost of buying a second ticket.
    Something else very nice about Portland is all trips that begin and end within the Fareless Square downtown are free–all day, every day.

    I have family in Portland, and when I fly into PDX, I can take the Max to within 5 miles of their house…that sure saves them alot of time and driving to pick me up.

    Check out for all their info.

  100. Way to go! I’m a Portlander who rides the bus all the time. But when I visited Seattle this winter, I hopped on a bus there and they had some crazy system about paying when you get on OR when you get off, depending what time it was or which way the bus was going or something, and I had to get off at the front door, which is discouraged in Portland. I’m sure it’s completely obvious to Seattleites and they were snickering at the clueless Oregonian. I believe these kinds of things keep one’s brain young.

  101. Hey, JD, congrats!

    We just got our 1st bus route in my area in March of this year – runs once an hour, M-F, 7a – 6p. No holiday, night or weekend service.

    With the budget crunches, we will be lucky to even have school buses on the road in my county next year.

    What I would love to see is a combination of the two services and have 7 day a week service. The school fleet spends nights and weekends parked.

  102. Rasmussen will give you a ride outside of downtown. They’ve even given me a ride to work out in Hillsboro before!

  103. I’m glad you took the risk to bus. It can be very rewarding. I read my homework during my brief commute when I’m feeling discipline, and something fun when I’m not. Figuring out where a potential job or apartment falls on each the area’s three bus lines makes me feel like I’m making an informed decision from the onset on whether or not a place is a good match for me.
    Being familiar with your local bus system can also give you more options if you have a radical change in circumstances, even for a day. You’ll have more choices in how to get yourself places.

    Two of my local city bus systems have a discount for my university’s students, so my student ID and a quarter get me to work. It might be something to look into for anyone taking classes.

    And as for why this post sparked so much comment, I would guess it’s because it shows a humble view of learning something new, a positive step in trying something scary because it’s unknown, and something that touches on the daily lives of a lot of people. On some of my errand days, I might take four or five buses, so it’s certainly relevant to me. Good luck in your bus adventures!

  104. I’m a big fan of Tri-Met, and have been using it for years. I recommend buying books of tickets (can get them at MAX stops (where you can get change as well) or some grocery stores), then you don’t have to worry about fumbling around for cash.

    In addition, you can use the ticket on the MAX and then when you need to get on a bus, you just feed it in and get a transfer (as others have mentioned), which extends your expiration further. So a 2-hour pass can end up getting you 4 hours (assuming you get on the bus right as it’s expiring).

  105. two thumbs up to portland’s public transportation. my sister leaves in beaverton and when I visit, I take the MAX to get to downtown.

  106. How coincidental this post is – my car’s been in the shop for the last 3 weeks after it was stolen, thankfully found, but not in good shape. Rented a car for the past 2 weeks but decided to go without till they’re done fixing my car.

    So back to the bus it is for me…when I mention I’m busing it till my car’s fixed, people feel bad for me and give me this look of pity…actually it’s not that bad!!! When it runs on time that is…and I wish it ran more frequently…

    Congrats on popping your bus cherry.

    will save you tons of time and effort. Play with departure times and routes and you can coordinate trips that drop you nearer home/destination, require no transfers, arrive you earlier, etc.

    But a scooter will save you way more money than a bus, and more time and flexibility than a car! You still have to pay for parking for it downtown (wtf? they should be encouraging use!), but you can always slip into the best parking spots with ease.

  108. Did you enjoy the ride? I think the question is not just whether you value money more than time. It probably should be, “how much do you value one over the other?”

  109. I think it gets even more interesting when you travel that way only: for one thing, you can get a public transit path (usually around $50 a month, but here in France it’s half-price for university students, and if you’re working your job pays half of it too. Reduces it to about Γ’β€šΒ¬10 a moth if you’re a student with a job).

    And on top of that, if you only use public transit, you don’t own a car. Which means you don’t have the car expenses that you would if you owned a car and took the bus (car insurance, the price of the car itself and so on)

    Also, depending on where you live, finding a place to park makes using your car longer than using public transit. That’s certainly the case here in Paris, although it’s probably less of an issue in North America.

  110. J.D., good for you! I recently rode the city bus for the first time as well and was quite proud of myself after. πŸ™‚

  111. oh, I love the PDX bus system! I’m so glad you used it πŸ™‚ I went to college in Forest Grove, and I always used the bus and max system to go downtown. At first, it was because I didn’t have a car; later, I used this because it was WAY cheaper than paying for parking.

  112. J.D.,

    I’m not sure if you’ve ever used Google Transit (, but it’s available for the Portland area. It tends to be easier to use to plan trips than the public transportation sites themselves. (I also just noticed it also has a new feature that will compare your fare for your trip to the cost of driving the same route. Pretty cool.)

  113. Now, imagine if the bus system had great funding and could afford WiFi internet access on board with real-time GPS reference system on monitors.

    I never thought it would be possible, but my last summer trip around Spain showed me it is possible (Valencia and Sevilla).


  114. I usually take the bus when I’m not riding my bike to and from work in Columbus, Ohio. The thing I always love about the bus is that the time in transit can be spent doing other things, like reading, writing, making phone calls, etc. Whereas time spent driving *shouldn’t* be spent doing other things (although some drivers clearly don’t adhere to this). So, the bus may be a longer ride, but you can make it much more productive, instead of the 40 minutes you waste daily driving to and from work.

    Just another benefit of public transit instead of individual transit.

  115. I just ran my address and got my walk score:

    “Walk Score: 100 out of 100 – Walkers’ Paradise”

    I ride the bus and train daily to and from work. If I had a bike, I would bike. When it’s nice, I walk the 3 miles to work. I love Boston/Brookline/Cambridge!