(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — The price of gas is at historic levels. As the prices hold high, people may choose alternative modes of transportation in a bid to cut their fuel budget – for example, electric bikes, carpooling, or taking the bus.
JET 24/FOX 66 took the bus on June 20 to see what it is like and, more importantly, if it’s worth it.
Step one was deciding where to go – The plan was to get a cup of coffee downtown, then maybe have lunch somewhere before returning to the newsroom also via bus.
While the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority (EMTA) system and route maps are helpful, the smartphone apps made everything simple. EMTA has teamed up with two apps to make riding easier. The first app, Token Transit, is for payment and fares – it works like the app for the downtown parking meters. The other app, Transit, plans the commute based on a starting location and a destination and gives near real time updates.
On June 20, JET 24/FOX 66 used EMTA to travel to Ember + Forge for coffee downtown. Both apps were used during the trip.
Does it make financial sense to ride the bus? The answer is: It depends.
A full-day pass purchased on an EMTA bus costs $3.30 (that’s the same cost as two one-way bus fares, $1.65 apiece).
A 2019 Ford F-150 4×4 with a 6 cylinder engine gets about 17 mpg in the city, according to www.fueleconomy.gov. The bus drove past a gas station on the way uptown that was selling fuel at $4.99 per gallon. In an F-150, that’s about 29.3 cents per mile at $4.99 per gallon. It takes about 8.3 miles to get from the JET 24/FOX 66 newsroom to Ember + Forge. That’s $2.43 each way, for a grand total of $4.86 roundtrip.
Compared to that F-150, it costs less to take the bus.
A 2019 Chevy Cruze LT with a rating of 28 miles per gallon in the city, costs about 17.8 cents per mile at $4.99 per gallon. That would work out to about $1.47 each way, or $2.95 roundtrip.
Compared to that Chevy Cruze, it costs more to take the bus with an all-day pass.
But, if you double the trips in the same day (or travel double the miles in the same day — to multiple destinations and errands), both vehicles cost more in fuel than the full-day bus pass. Paid parking also could tip the scales further in favor of the all-day bus pass, but a driver theoretically could find free parking within a short walk of Ember + Forge. But paid parking is much more convenient.
And if a driver were to commit, a 31-day pass costs $52 through EMTA. That’s about $1.68 per day — less expensive than using either of the personal vehicles by far.
That’s the cost for a single person. If multiple people are traveling downtown together – like a family of four with both children over the age of 4, everyone would need their own full-day bus pass (at a total cost of more than $13), so in that scenario both vehicles are more economical than a full-day bus pass.
Hybrid and electric vehicles present different economical pictures and are not calculated in this article. None of those numbers reported include the cost of car payments and insurance, which are significant and tip the economics in favor of the bus. Many people can’t simply drop their car payment and insurance at a moment’s notice because gas prices are high.
Time and comfort
The economic picture doesn’t factor in time. Driving from the JET 24 newsroom to Ember + Forge takes about 18 minutes – let’s call it 20 minutes. That’s 40 minutes round trip.
Taking the bus from the newsroom to Ember + Forge took more than an hour each way. That’s more than 2 hours of travel time each way. Add in the time spent waiting at the bus stop — on the return trip (uptown), the bus was about 10 minutes late to the stop, adding to the wait time. On the way downtown, the driver stopped at the mall, left the bus running, went into the mall, was gone for about 5 minutes, and came back with a bag of food from the food court. Then the bus went off its route so the drivers could change, also adding another five minutes or so to the ride.
If it’s raining or snowing, the wait time may be spent standing in the miserable weather. Most of the stops the No. 3 bus passed didn’t have benches or covered areas. The bus smelled like exhaust and not completely unlike a public restroom. The temperature may not be agreeable to everyone onboard.
The bus seats are hard with very little padding. One bench of seats on the bus had large stains and visible debris on it (it looked like remnants from a single-use plastic bag). The floor had oblong round spots of old gum. Behind one of the seats on another bus, it looked as if someone had something on their fingers and used it to either write something illegible, or simply wiped whatever it was off on the seats using a back and forth motion.
For the entire ride to downtown, two riders (including a JET 24 reporter) were on the bus. On the return trip, about a dozen people were riding. For about 20 minutes, a pair of riders had a personal conversation – loud enough to be overheard with clarity – but it otherwise was seemingly elevator etiquette.
A personal vehicle is as clean as the owner chooses to keep it. It smells like they want it to smell. Loud conversations between strangers aren’t overheard, and nobody sits in polite silence for an entire hour next to you. A personal vehicle can be whatever temp the driver prefers. A personal vehicle definitely wins out in terms of comfort compared to the bus.
But time on the bus can be spent doing anything – reading, watching a movie on a smartphone, working on mindfulness, answering work emails, doing a crossword puzzle, people watching. Driving is spent driving and maybe listening to music or a podcast.
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In the end, it essentially boils down to a common decision consumers face. When we save on electricity by hanging laundry to dry, we’re decreasing convenience and comfort but saving money — and in the same way, solo drivers looking to save money by riding the bus can do so, but they’ll need to be ready to sacrifice comfort.