Rob Perks couldn’t understand why his friend, Megan, drove to work every day instead of taking public transportation. She said driving was cheaper and more convenient, but Perks had almost an identical commute and he was pretty confident he was saving a lot by taking transit. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation of all Megan’s driving costs showed that even paying $6.00 for the park-and-ride was cheaper than driving all the way in to the office. (Just imagine how much she could save if, like Perks, she could walk to the metro!)
Still, Megan wasn’t ready to lay down her car keys and embrace the transit commuter lifestyle altogether. She wanted to start slow, a couple days a week. That’s great, Perks said: Even a couple days a week can save a lot of money, not to mention greenhouse gas emissions.
But how much would she save? It’s a good thing Perks works for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which allowed him to research the question. His findings, released this week in a study called “Driving Commuter Choice in America,” attempt to quantify how much people can save by making modest changes in their commuting habits.
The report is at times is more confusing than enlightening. First, Perks and his co-author, Craig Raborn, categorize commuters by where they live: urban, rural, and suburban. They also looked at non-urban non-commuters — those who don’t travel to a job every day. Then they looked at a few different ideas for reducing driving — carpooling, taking transit, trip-chaining, telecommuting, and moving closer to work. And they attempted to arrive at a dollar figure for how much any of those four types of commuters would save if they supplanted various amounts of driving with various alternatives.
“We originally, in doing this project, wanted to build out some sort of a calculator to mix and match whatever their preferences were,” Perks told Streetsblog. “Somebody could say, ‘I’m going to work from home once a week, and I’m going to take transit twice a week, and I’m going to drive the rest of the time.” He’s still hoping they’ll have funding to do something like that in the future, but for now they were stuck with more static estimates.