Ever since I came to Atlanta, I was always convinced that public transportation here is pretty terrible. This is evident to anyone to takes a quick look at the map of MARTA. Just compare the MARTA map to the T map in Boston (I recently went on a family vacation to Boston, and the MBTA has quite and impressive transportation system).

maps

After spending a few days in Boston, I began wondering if I really could take public transportation in this urban sprawl of a city. I live in Dacula, GA, which is about 37 miles from my office. If I leave the house at 6:15AM, it takes about 0:45 to get to work. If I leave work at 4:00PM, it takes about 1:15 to get home. This puts me on the road for about 2 hours per day, driving about 74 miles. This becomes kind of a drag, so I decided to try the bus.

The most convenient bus route for me is the Xpress GA 411 route. The bus leaves the Mall of Georgia at 6:30 and drops me off in Midtown Atlanta a little bit before 7:30. I have to leave my house at 6:15 and drive 7.1 miles to the bus stop, and then I have to walk 0.8 miles from the midtown bus stop to my office, arriving to work at roughly 7:40. I then can leave work at 4:40 to catch the 5:00 outgoing bus to arrive back at the mall at 6:10. Then I drive home and arrive around 6:20PM.

I wondered just how much time/money I lost/gained by doing this experiment. So here’s a summary that takes everything into account:

Note: I take the BMW to the bus stop so that my wife puts more miles on the Honda to save gas. And she prefers the Honda anyway because it is an automatic.

No Public Transportation Public Transportation
MPG (2011 average) 30.4 23.48
Round trip in car 74 14.2
Gallons used per round trip 2.4342 0.6048
Gas price/gal (7/26/11) $3.72 $4.02
Average gas cost per round trip $9.06 $2.43
Round trip bus ticket $0.00 $7.00
Total Cost $9.06 $9.43
Time spent away from home 11 hours 12 hours

On the surface, it looks like it’s not worth it, because it costs $0.37 more to take the bus, and it takes another hour out of my day. If you dig a little deeper, though, there is more to it than just finances and time.

  • Because my wife would be taking the lower-cost Honda to her work, that saves $0.76.

  • In mileage and wear-and-tear on our cars, we are putting 1.2 fewer miles per day on the BMW and 58.6 fewer miles per day on the Honda. That has to count for something

  • Taking the bus frees up time to do stuff on the bus that I’d normally do at home, like read (or maybe develop iOS apps?!). This isn’t a 1-to-1 match on time, but it’s definitely worth some value.

  • (Update) I forgot to mention that riding the bus also adds an automatic 1.5 miles of walking into my day.

I really enjoyed the “public transportation experiment”, and I’d be willing to do it regularly. After going through it many times, my opinion may change, but it certainly reduces the stress of driving a car for 2 hours every day, and it’s an environmentally responsible thing to do. When we move closer to the city (hopefully soon!), if bus stops are conveniently located, then I might consider taking the bus 100% of the time. And who knows, we might be able to get rid of a car also!