Transportation Options Worth Consideration

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Tompkins Weekly 8-27-2012

Anna Cook and her husband live in Enfield and work in Ithaca. They have a 10-mile commute and choose every day whether to bike, bus or drive. Anna said, “my husband and I have discovered that even though we live in Enfield, riding our bikes to and from work is FASTER than taking the bus when you consider walking time. And biking takes  just about the same time as driving”, and added, “This morning I took 45 minutes from house door to office door because I had to find parking and walk, whereas I can make it  in 25 minutes on my bike.” When you factor in money and energy savings, riding a bike can make a lot of sense.

Like breathing, moving around is something we all do. We walk upstairs, we go to the store, we visit a friend, go to church, the doctor’s—to do almost anything we need to get there first. All this travel adds up. Particularly since we mostly use personal vehicles to get around, we use lots of money and energy in transportation.

In Tompkins County, transportation accounts for over a third of energy consumed, and most of this is consumed by passenger travel. For a household, transportation is the second largest expenditure (after housing), with an average of $5,373 a year for low to mid-income small household, and $10,707 for the average US family of four.
That may sound like a lot, but the numbers make more sense when you look at all the costs of driving. Roughly 40% is spent purchasing the car itself; and 30% is ever increasing fuel costs. The other 30% is spent on maintenance and repair, insurance, inspections, etc. According to the AAA, this adds up to roughly 60 cents per mile for your average sedan. For Anna’s commute, this would be 20 miles a day; 100 miles a week.  At 60 cents/mile, that’s $60/week; $240/month; or more than $2,800 a year, or $5600 if her husband drove a separate car. And commuting represents only about 20% of all trips taken by a household. Driving is just plain expensive.

Unfortunately, that isn’t all. Automobile use also has a high environmental and safety cost.  We release approximately one pound of carbon dioxide per mile we drive, which is why transportation accounts for approximately one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in the US. Driving is also one of the most dangerous activities we perform on a daily basis. Who among us doesn’t know of someone who has been injured or killed in an automobile accident?

Of course there are many alternatives to car use. Walking and biking, what some call ‘active transportation’, are options people from all walks of life are finding useful for some portion of everyday travel. Aside from being very cost effective, active transportation has the benefit of incorporating exercise into our daily travel patterns. While not every trip lends itself to active transportation, many trips taken in the county and most in the urbanized areas are short trips, less than five miles. A 2-mile trip takes about a half an hour on foot, or just 10 minutes by bike. Walking, and often biking, don’t face the congestion problems cars do! You can explore active transportation at Streets Alive, on Sunday, September 23rd from 1-4 pm. 1-mile of Cayuga street will be closed to traffic and open to walking, biking, and rolling! More info at

Taking the bus is also considered part of active transportation, since it almost always involves a walk to and from the bus stop. TCAT—Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit—provides award winning transit service throughout the county. People are even finding ways to catch the bus even when they are off the route. Cynthia Kloppel lives in Seneca County and works in Ithaca. She rideshares with her husband to Trumansburg, where they park and take the bus into work. Initially she did this out of concern for the environment, but Cynthia has noticed other benefits. “I save a lot of money”, she said. “And I find it much more relaxing. Riding the bus I realized that I no longer had to worry about the stress of driving.”

Riding the bus is also much safer. Buses have fewer accidents than private cars, and fewer people get seriously injured.
However, most people find it difficult to live without a car. The distances between home, school, work, church, stores, and amenities, combined with dispersed populations, make it difficult to use alternatives—especially if you have children. Fortunately there are many ways to cut down on driving costs. There are small, immediate actions, like removing weight from the trunk, keeping the tires at proper pressure, getting regular tune ups, driving at or below speed limit, and accelerating and braking gradually that optimize the use of fuel. These small things add up. Also important is the model of car you drive. A round trip to Syracuse in a small sedan may use 4 gallons of gas vs. 10 gallons in a large SUV, a difference of over $20 just in fuel.

Carpooling or ridesharing lets you divide the costs of driving by the number of people in the car. If you used to drive alone but now ride with a neighbor you divide by 2 (so a $20 commute would be $10).  With enough people you can even organize a vanpool, like people from Watkins Glen have done, and cut costs even further. The biggest obstacle to carpooling is often connecting people together. There are a number of online tools to help connect drivers and riders, including Tompkins Zimride.

Ithaca Carshare is another way people have found to share a single car among many. Members share a fleet of vehicles and use them 24/7 by reserving online and paying, by the hour and per mile of use. Ithaca Carshare takes care of maintenance, gasoline and insurance costs; you just pay for your driving time. Taxis offer a similar service. With these services, going car free or from two cars to one just makes sense. It’s $2000-$6000 you can save or spend on other things. [K1]
Making the kinds of changes we are discussing here isn’t usually easy. Most of us need support to learn about them, try them out and follow through with our decision. There are lots of organizations that can help you explore, find and take advantage of transportation alternatives. Find more about them on

Fernando de Aragon, executive director at Ithaca Tompkins County Transportation Council, gets his greenback by riding his bike to work!

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