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Commuting might be costing you $18K a year - The true cost of driving to work

MTBP
Driving a personal vehicle to work can cost as much as $18,000 a year depending on where drivers commute from. By taking advantage of mass transit, ride share programs, and subsidies for commuters, drivers can ease the financial strain of getting to work each day (Courtesy graphic)

04/09/15 12:00 AM

By Brian Sutton
NSAW Public Affairs Officer

If you insist on driving alone to work on the Washington Navy Yard rather than using mass transit, in addition to being a major player in the continuing traffic and parking problem on the yard, you are also emptying your wallet.

The funny thing is, you may not even know how severe a financial hit you are taking.

Take a look at the following example. A commuter to the Washington Navy Yard coming from Frederick, Md., 22 work days a month can expect to pay $1,568.60 per month. That’s $18,823.20 in real costs to drive in to work.

How did I reach that calculation? By taking the GSA rate for vehicle operating cost - which includes gas, insurance, depreciation and maintenance - at $0.575 per mile, multiplying that by the number of daily commuting miles driven (124 miles round trip), and multiplying that by the number of commuting days (22 on average per month).

Alarming? You bet. It’s a financial disaster, but that’s what numbers look like for a Frederick commuter.

Now, let’s take the same origin and destination and apply it to using the Metro for a part of the daily trek to work. The nearest Metro station to Frederick, Md. is Shady Grove, so a commuter could drive to Shady Grove (60.2 miles round trip), times the vehicle operating cost (still at $0.575 per mile). Add in parking at $5.10 per day plus the $5.90 cost one-way on the metro and the total is significantly less, coming in at a still steep, yet way more reasonable, $1133.33.

That’s a monthly savings of $689.87! Metro is looking a lot smarter, isn’t it? It’s looking especially smart these days because of two great initiatives that will affect the WNY commuters:

1. The Metro is upgrading its train cars beginning April 14, so commuters will see significant changes in the feel of their ride into work. Changes to cars will first begin with the blue line, but all lines will be upgraded in the next several months, including the green line that services the Navy Yard.

2. A joint initiative by Naval Sea Systems Command and Naval Support Activity Washington will result in a shuttle system from L’Enfant Plaza to the Navy Yard in the next few weeks. Details are being worked out on that plan, so look for complete details in the next few weeks in the Waterline and on our social media sites. Additionally, your chains of command will also be putting out information to keep you informed of this initiative. All who work on the Navy Yard who use the Metro are eligible. The great benefit of this shuttle is it will drop off inside the gates, eliminating the half-mile walk from the Navy Yard metro station.

Take a look at your costs for driving to work each day and compare that with the cost of taking the metro and/or buses at http://www.wmata.com/rider_tools/calculator/calculator.cfm. You will be amazed at how much driving costs you. Note: Remember to use the figure of $0.575 for the per-mile cost to operate your vehicle. Use any mapping site (Google.com/maps is the source for this article) to figure out your one-way mileage right from your computer and let the calculator do the rest.

While using the Metro is a fantastic idea to save you big cash no matter where you come from, the metro also has fewer traffic jams, rarely runs late, and helps you avoid the long lines at the entry control points on the yard, making it the all-around wiser choice to driving your car. You also don’t have to fight D.C. traffic, either, so your commute will be less stressful.

You are taking money away from yourself and your family by driving to work each day. Spending $18K a year to drive to work when more affordable alternatives are available is financially irresponsible. Take action now and choose a different way to get to work.

There are other options to save a ton of money on your daily commute - Van Pools, car pools, and slug lines. Using these options can nearly eliminate your commuting costs.

Let’s first explore the van pool and car pool options.

Van Pools are pretty easy to find. Word-of-mouth referrals from colleagues are a great way to find one, but there are many online resources out there for you to find a ride from just about any location. Can’t find a van pool or car pool from your location? Then start your own. That’s what I did when I couldn’t find van pools from Frederick, and you can, too. Here’s how it works:

If you join a van pool or car pool, it’s a simple process. You pay a fee to help offset the vehicle owner’s operating costs each month. Cost sharing amounts will differ from pool to pool. It’s normally a flat amount that you can expect to pay - and that’s all you pay.

From Frederick, Md. (to continue our cost-comparison from above) the going rate is around $200 per month on average. You get picked up at an agreed-upon location, hop in the car or van, and away you go, avoiding the outrageous costs of driving to work. Two hundred dollars is a savings of $1,368.60 each month when compared to driving. That’s a lot of cash. It’s a lot easier explaining an expenditure of $200 per month for commuting costs rather than nearly $1,600 per month. When you look at those numbers over the course of a year, you have a total savings of $16,423.20 over driving.

When you look at van pools and car pools, the $130 subsidy you can receive as a nondriver covers the bulk of commuting costs. More importantly, car pools, van pools, metro and buses reduce the traffic on the Washington Navy Yard and on the streets of D.C. Car pools and van pools allow you to use the HOV lanes, too, so your ride home will be faster if you buddy up with others for your daily commute. Apply for the subsidy at mtbp.whs.mil. You must be logged into a CAC-enabled computer).

If you want your ride to be free, consider “slugging” your way into and out of work. The Washington Navy Yard has a pilot program initiated by Naval Sea Systems Command, to offer two slug lines, with the possibility of future lines if the current pilot program runs efficiently.

The way it works is simple. A person who needs a ride enters the slug line, located near the Humphrey’s Building inside the Washington Navy Yard, and waits for a driver to stop by and pick up the slugger.

The risk? You may not get a ride.

The benefit? Your ride is generally free of charge. The driver benefits by being allowed to use the HOV lanes during travel and everyone benefits by ensuring fewer vehicles are on the roadway and, in particular, on the Navy Yard. Slugging is a long-standing way to commute in the D.C. area. The Pentagon runs a fairly robust slugging program. If it didn’t work well it would have died out long ago. Give it a chance if the lines go to a destination close to you.

The Navy Yard’s pilot slug lines have been running since early March with two destinations. The first is to Horner Road in Woodbridge and the second is to Route 610 in Stafford. For more complete story on slug lines at the WNY, visit http://www.dcmilitary.com/article/20150305/NEWS12/150309974/0/SEARCH.

Of course, the Pentagon is a quick hop on the Metro, so if slugging to other locations works better for you, head on over to the Pentagon and give slugging a shot.

Make wise decisions when choosing your way into work. The Washington Navy Yard parking lots and garages are full of employees who are using the least financially responsible way to commute to work. Some of those people are the same ones who are finding it difficult to meet their financial needs.

Now we know one of the reasons why: Their commuting expenses are making them poor.

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