Does it pay to ride the bus?

cdta bus at armory
The wheels on the bus go... well, you know how they go.

Now that gas prices have reached "Are you frakking kidding me?" levels, we were curious to find out if you could save a few bucks by taking the bus to work. And the answer is yes, sort of, maybe, it depends.

Next stop: the details.

We ran the numbers to figure out how much one day's round trip commute costs from various locations to downtown Albany (the ESP, to be exact) via the bus or driving. As you might expect, we had to make a bunch of assumptions -- they're explained below.

commuting from bus drive
Saratoga $9.10 $10.64
Malta 6.90 7.42
Clifton Park 6.30 5.52
Guilderland 2.50 3.64
E. Greenbush 2.50 1.96
Latham 2.50 2.40
Albany/Colonie/Delmar* 1.80 1.40

Here's how we arrived at these numbers:
+ All trip distances were calculated from Google Maps' definition of the starting point to the Empire State Plaza.
+ We assumed that gas was 3.50/gallon.
+ We assumed that you could get 25 miles/gallon driving your car.
+ For Saratoga, Malta and Clifton Park the bus cost was calculated by adding up the cost of two NX 10 pack commuter fare trips plus the cost of driving 5 miles roundtrip from your (or someone's) house to the the park and ride (70 cents).
+ The Guilderland, E. Greenbush and Latham bus costs were calculated by dividing the cost of a 5 day "swiper" card by 20 (assumed number of work days in a month), which is $1.80, and then adding the cost of a 5 mile roundtrip to/from the park and ride.
+ The Albany, Colonie, Delmar bus cost was calculated by dividing the 5 day swiper card cost by 20. We figured you could catch the bus from these locations without driving to a park and ride.
+ The driving cost for Albany, Colonie, Delmar was based on a 5 mile trip each way.
+ The cost of taking the bus goes up between .20 (regular fare) and 3.60 (Saratoga) if you just buy single trips instead of the discount fare packages.
+ We didn't figure parking into the cost of driving, but that can add significantly to the cost if you're headed downtown.
+ We didn't look at travel time. In most cases, though, driving directly is probably faster because you don't have to wait for the bus, nor do you have to the added time of the bus making stops.

The Bottom Line

The cheapest option very much depends on where you live. And there other trade-offs to consider. Riding the bus could be cheaper -- it could also take longer. And while driving may be cheaper in some cases, riding the bus may be more relaxing. Your mileage may vary.

Comments

What happened to a Troy calculation? I've considered taking the bus but I would actually have to drive to downtown Troy to get on one that goes to downtown Albany or switch buses which really ends up defeating the purpose!

I have heard it is free for students at certain local colleges and universities....is that true??

You should have calculated the cost/headache of parking in downtown/ESP area. That is the primary reason I take the bus. I only live about 2 miles from my job downtown and if I were to drive, I would pay anywhere from $30-$50/week for a definite parking spot or lose more gas (and my mind) driving around trying to find one. Though the bus is sometimes late, and there are other factors that can make riding it a bit annoying, there's a heap of other reasons that make it worth it to me (including the environmental factor and the money I save by not causing more wear and tear to my car).

I also think 25/miles a gallon is a pretty generous amount to base how much gas would be used considering how many vehicles out there get poor gas mileage (SUVs, large cars, minivans, aging cars, etc.).

@Gina: Those are all good points. If we used those assumptions, the calculations would shift more in favor of the bus. And it sounds like your personal experience backs that up.

I agree....25 mpg is very generous.....18-20 mpg might be more typical.....and parking downtown is a nightmare.......The offset is convenience, e.g. making doctor's appointments, dentists, etc.

Good post.....food for thought re: commuting!

Amelia: Yes, this is true, but only on specific lines. Which lines are free depends on which college you attend.

If you're planning to ride the bus to work often, you can purchase a monthy commuter pass which makes things a bit cheaper, especially if you have to change buses somewhere.

Buying an all day pass for the bus is $3 per day, but if you have a 5 day commuter pass it's more like $2 per day, besides not having to worry about making the machine on the bus take your wrinkled dollar bills.

To me, the bus is worth it. Living in the city of Albany, I got rid of my car, buy a monthly pass, and rent a car only when I need one. Of course, renting a car in Albany can lead to PROFILING hassles.

I have commuted to downtown Albany from various locations in Albany. It was definitely worth it just to spare myself from a parking hassle. Parking downtown is a nightmare during working hours! The bus is so much easier. The only problem with the bus is when it breaks down and they leave you stranded roadside for hours. And the diesel fumes in the winter make me nauseous. But overall, it saves wear to my car and I don't have to worry about paying an arm and a leg to get a spot in a garage. I'd say that it's worth it for people who work downtown...

Now I am going to commute from outside of Albany to downtown. We will see how this goes... I hope it is just as good.

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