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Posted by on Sep 29, 2010 in General | 18 comments

Work Commute: Bike vs Bus

It’s been almost 4 months since my car broke down and we chose to live without it. We finally fixed it, so we could sell it, but we are keeping it for now to use for emergencies only. The routine of living without a car is already established, so it is a lot easier to continue it even with the temptation of a working car nearby. Our primary modes of getting to work without a car are riding our bikes or taking public transportation (Lynx bus). We occasionally carpool with a co-worker, but we try to keep that to a minimum and be as self reliant as possible. So I thought I would compare the two buses looking at various factors: time, flexibility, cost, multitasking, exercise, weather, cargo, route, and effort. Is there an important factor I left out that I should consider?

This is an update to an article from my personal blog back in July, and I find that my perspective has changed as I’ve settled into a routine and with the introduction of the UCF Bike Bus a month ago. In my original post, there was no clear winner with each method having their share of advantages and disadvantages. It was almost a draw most days, but other circumstances usually made one more attractive on any given day. If I lived closer to work, and I was not training for a marathon, the bike bus would win every time.

Time (+.5 bike)

Both take roughly the same amount of time, about 1.5 hours, to arrive to work from when I leave my apartment. This is the total time including walking to/from bus stop, waiting for the bus to arrive, or waiting at lights/intersections when biking. I have to allow time to shower when I get to work if I bike, but I don’t necessarily see that as added travel time since I have to shower before I leave when I take the bus. The bike bus edges out the Lynx bus a little bit because it’s predictable. As long as I leave on time, I know exactly when I’ll arrive at work. Now that we have others depending on us, it’s easier to keep to a schedule. The Lynx bus is constantly delayed, especially in the afternoons, so I have to plan ahead and build in plenty of buffer time if I have to be at work or home by a certain time for a meeting or event but it’s a small price to pay for the freedom of living without a car (more on that in a later post)

Flexibility (+1 bike)

When riding the bus, I am restricted to a fixed time schedule and speed — the bus only comes every 30 minutes and stops frequently. Biking to work is more flexible and I can potential make up time by biking faster if I’m running late. If I am running late for the Lynx bus and I miss it, even by a few minutes, I automatically add 30 minutes to my commute.

Cost (+1 bike)

It costs $2 per trip, one way, to ride the Lynx bus or $50 a month if I buy a bus pass. The bike bus is free, although there is the occasional maintenance cost like replacing tubes, etc.  The pass is only cost-effective because we are not biking as often as we’d like due to the distance and training for the other sports. The pass is also more convenient than having exact change every time I need to take the bus.

Multitasking (+1 bus)

I can do other things while I ride the Lynx bus, such as read a book/email/news, play games on my iPhone, knit (when I learn), or listen to music/news. Other than exercising while I commute, I can’t multitask while I bike (except maybe listening to music/news/book, but riding while wearing headphones is illegal). Biking does give me time to think, and I suppose I could use my phone or other recording device to record notes. But the best part is enjoying the sunrise on my way to work.

Exercise (+1 bike)

If I take the bus, I walk a total of 2.5 miles (less than 1 hour) to/from bus stop. When I bike, it is 30 miles roundtrip or 2-2.5 hours of exercise a day. Biking is a bit more strenuous than walking, even though I try to ride at a somewhat leisurely pace so I am not too exhausted to work and it doesn’t affect my running workouts. Sometimes I walk/ride a little less or a little extra depending on which office I go to or if I make a detour to the store on the way home, but the difference is usually 1-2 miles at most.

Cargo (+1 bike)

When I bike to work, I need to bring a change of clothes, bike repair kit (tube, tools, pump), extra water, and extra food. Sometimes I plan ahead and bring things to work the day prior to biking, but that doesn’t always happen. I have grocery panniers on my bike where I keep all this stuff , and 2 water bottle cages on my bike. I also have a rear rack and basket (which I usually remove) if I need to carry more stuff. Carrying more stuff could affects my balance and maneuverability on the bike, specially in the front basket, but it’s not too bad.

When I ride the bus, I still carry a tote bag full of stuff. I need to bring lunch, and sometimes breakfast if I am running late, and never leave home without my Kleen Kanteen water bottle. I bring headphones and mp3 player to keep me entertained. I sometimes carry extra clothes or food so I don’t have to when I bike the next day. If it’s going to rain, I may carry an umbrella or poncho. It is actually harder to carry more when I take the bus because I have to walk 1-2 miles with the stuff, whereas on the bike I just roll.

Weather (+1 bus)

If it is raining, I only have to deal with it for a short time while walking to the bus stop and I can use an umbrella/poncho. Riding in the rain requires a lot more gear and is just not very pleasant unless it is a light drizzle. Heat is another factor, and as long as I stay hydrated is not too awful on the bike. Since the humidity is a bit insane, I usually wear workout clothes to walk to the bus then change when I get to work.

Route (+1 bike)

The Lynx bus roue is a direct shot along Colonial Dr with a detour to VCC. It stops a lot, so that is why it takes longer than driving, but the stops are less frequent or quicker depending on the time of day. There isn’t much to look at along the way, other than road construction and other passengers. The bike bus route is along the Cady Way trail for the first half, then 6 miles on University Blvd into the sunrise. I love taking in the surroundings, enjoying the morning breeze, and getting to know my fellow bike bus passengers. Observing traffic dynamics, as well as their reaction to our presence on the road, is rather fascinating. I used to feel anxious riding my bike down University Blvd, but I’ve embraced it and now find it calming. I’m even considering making the ride alone sometime, which I would have never considered a few weeks ago. I also experience more stress riding the Lynx bus because of it’s unpredictability, and I have to deal with the noise and chatter on the bus.

Effort (+1 bus)

This is the big one and probably the main reason I choose to take the Lynx bus over the bike bus more often. Obviously, it takes more effort to spend over an hour pedaling to work than seating on a bus, even if I ride slow, so some days the decision not to bike to work is based on my level of exhaustion or body aches. However, there are other additional considerations that take effort when commuting to work regardless of method.

I need to bring a change of clothes because it’s not feasible to bike 15 miles in my work clothes in the Florida heat without being a sweaty, smelly mess when I get to work. I need to bring supplies to take a shower (towels, toiletries). I keep a set of these at work, but do have to monitor them to replace them when they start running low. I need to bring more food because I need more calories on days I bike. I need additional gear to bike than to walk to the bus, i.e. helmet, gloves, bike tools, water bottles, etc. So yeah, a lot to consider. I try to pack my bag the night before, but that doesn’t always happen, so that means getting up earlier to do it in the morning.

Commuting by the bus takes some effort too. I still need to get up on time and time everything just right so that I don’t miss the bus or stand out there for too long (I always do because the bus is always late). Because of the increasing humidity, I’ve started wearing different clothes to walk to the bus and then change at work. This does not require a shower, but I do need to pack clothes. I need to make sure my iPhone and/or mp3 player are charged to entertain myself on the bus.

With either method, the effort required to prepare before leaving is minimized if I just plan ahead and pack the night before. But that cuts into my time seating around on the couch surfing the web or blogging =P

Final Score: bike 5.5; bus 3

So there you have it. Now it’s  your turn! Given all the facts, which do you think you would choose more often? Which factor do you think would influence your decision the most? Are there additional factors that would influence your decision?

18 Comments

  1. Favorite line: “I used to feel anxious riding my bike down University Blvd, but I’ve embraced it and now find it calming”.

    Thanks for that smile!

    • You are welcomed! I remember the first time we did it with Keri, I was a ball of nerves. Even after a few weeks, I was still a bit anxious anticipating the honks. But they have diminished and my tolerance for them increased once I realized that most were honking from 2 lanes away or even coming in the opposite direction, and that we were in no way impeding them. If they honk, at least they see us and none have threaten our lives, so that’s fine by me. Then last week I rode twice and it was the first time I wasn’t anxious at all. I enjoyed every minute of it and held my head up high as I rode with a purpose and like I fully belonged :)

    • Oh, and after last week’s lack of anxiety I contemplated the thought of making the commute riding down University Blvd by myself! I for sure thought that I would never do it without Jason, our trusty bike bus driver since he has more confidence and experience riding on the road. But I am starting to feel comfortable enough that if I ride properly and keep my anxiety in check, I don’t need an escort :) I continue to surprise myself.

  2. About 9 months ago or so, Lynx changed some routes around, I had the perfect opportunity to switch my commute to the bus from my car. They had an online calculator that said I would save -$57 if I commute via bus. Despite that, I said I would make a go at it for a week. I figured I could use the extra time to fiddle around on the internet on my phone and otherwise “recover” the hour I spent a day spinning a steering wheel. Plus I only had to walk about 4-5 blocks total each way.

    It took one day to dissuade me of the idea. How you have a 40 minute delay on 30 minute headways miffed me, and still does. I only did a day. My girlfriend thought I was crazy, having commuted via bus for years in orlando before getting a car. Everything she said was true, that the buses here just aren’t reliable. That killed it.

    I’ve ridden well run bus systems, I’ve commuted via bus to college before, easily choosing that over digging my car out of the snow. The thing that kills it is the reliability.

    • I don’t think it’s fair to make a decision after 1 experience. Buses are not typically THAT late on a regular basis. For all you know there was a traffic jam or accident that day, or the bus was hit by a car. You would experience those delays if you drove a car too.

      I get annoyed at delays a lot, but I still prefer the bus to driving a car. I cannot stand to be any car any longer and stuck in traffic. I was never a fan of driving before, but now that I’ve experienced life without out my life is much less stressful. The truth is that we experience similar delays in cars, but somehow we put with that fine yet expect more from a bus that has to drive in those same roads.

      While adapting my life to a bus shedule can be challenging, I’ve learned to adapt and go with the flow more. It’s just part of living without a car and I wouldn’t give up this new lifestyle. I’m working on a post of thr pros and cons of life without a car and the life lessons it has taught me (spoiler: the pros far outweight the cons).

      • I didn’t make a decision after just 1 experience. That one experience confirmed everything else I was told. Collective knowledge is pretty powerful, and I know a lot of people wouldn’t even give them a chance to redeem their reputation.

        On the flip side, I do enjoy driving. Traffic in this town just isn’t bad unless you hit a serious accident. You do bring up a good point. When I drive, I do plan for road conditions. I will give extra time if I’m traveling during a busy period. On the other hand, looking at the lynx 30 westbound timetable, they vary about 3 minutes except for the first and last couple of buses, some of which skip stops.

        We’ll see if sunrail will run on time. Just because it runs on rails separated from traffic doesn’t mean it will run on time.

  3. Perhaps bus reliability is better on express routes. Most of my bus riding has been to and from downtown on the #50, which uses I-4 between Sea World and downtown, and I’ve never had problems with schedules. SunRail will presumably have similar reliability if it’s ever implemented. I don’t know why there isn’t an express route between UCF and downtown; it seems like the perfect place for one.

    There’s a certain minimum headway (time between buses), roughly 5-10 minutes, below which the schedule doesn’t really matter because you won’t have long to wait. For example, in Boston, they don’t generally publish the subway schedules except in terms of headway (http://www.mbta.com/uploadedFiles/Documents/Schedules_and_Maps/Subway/frequency-schedule.pdf). But to make this happen you need the ridership to support it, and population density also enters the picture in a three-part cycle of hen, rooster, and egg. Certain corridors such as South Orange may have a suitable headway (or at least average headway) when you combine the different routes that use them, but in general you’re stuck with 30 minutes or even an hour, and with unreliable on-time performance that’s just bad.

    • Indeed the route and time of day greatly impact reliability. We typically take link #30, which is a cross town bus down Colonial so I understand why it’s so busy and prone to delays. We took link #13 yesterday since I was on campus at the end of the day and it was practically empty and spot on (I consider a few minutes delay acceptable because of lights). The problem is this route only runs once an hour and does not go near Research Park, so to take it I’d need to get to campus. I’m going to explore this option in the future — I really need a fold up bike :)

      I also learned this weekend that there are cars hit buses an average of 3-4 times a day. That’s astonishing!

      Even with this minor inconvenience, I prefer the bus to driving a car any day and twice on Sundays :)

    • Oh and apparently there used to be an express bus to UCF but it was cut for some reason long ago. My guess would be budget cuts and lack of interest. Sunrail or something similar will eventually service UCF. I hope to add te express bus service back before then. I’d pay extra for that.

      • Metroplan’s 2030 plan (from 2009?) has bus rapid transit along Colonial to UCF. Yeah right. SunRail-style commuter rail wouldn’t work because there’s no existing rail corridor (blame the cyclists for taking over Cady Way :)), but light rail along 408 should work (with small detours to serve more destinations like Valencia). Or if they build the new “East West Road” (http://www.orangecountyfl.net/Portals/0/Resources/Internet/DEPARTMENTS/Public_Works/transportation/ewroad/docs/Segment1-Location-Map%20L.pdf) they could include light rail on it via Baldwin Park.

        Metroplan also shows a north-south rail line along either 417 or Alafaya, connecting Lake Nona to Sanford. Obviously this is dependent on future sprawl (Lake Nona, Innovation Way).

    • Certain routes are definitely more problematic than others. Long haul routes are probably the most problematic – Link 30 is a cross town along SR 50, Link 102 serves 17-92 from Downtown to Fernwood, Link 18 serves Orlando and Kissimee via Orange Avenue. We also have routes that are interlined and if there’s a problem on one trip, it effects later trips on other routes. eg. Link 313, 40 and 3 are all interlined. The inbound 40 sometimes gets delayed by a train, which then delays the following outbound 3.

      LYNX works constantly to tweak run time efficiencies but it’s less than perfect as you know. Changes are made on a quarterly basis and often require about 6 months lead time – 1) awareness of the problem and development of a solution takes about 3 months; 2) once a change is proposed it requires public review and comment before going into effect, another 3 month process.

      Funding is always a problem. LYNX has a very large service area, 2500 sq miles. We’re a relatively small bus company considering the size of our service area. They’re undergoing a pretty extensive planning effort right now working on a Transit System Master Plan which will help focus their services to those corridors where ridership and potential ridership is highest. I’ll post information regarding upcoming public workshops when they become available.

      Meanwhile, you can send in comments to http://golynx.com/?fuse=form&fid=4 LYNX is always looking for additional feedback and ideas for routes. Some of the best ideas have come from riders.

      • Thanks for the insights Laura! The more I ride, the more at peace I am with these delays and just accept them as part of my choice to not drive a car. There are plenty of disadvantages and delays experienced when driving a car too, so I just have to weigh the pros and cons and after making this work for 4 months I don’t intend to go back. We got the car fixed and the occasional trips we do take make me more anxious and stressed. Of course I forget all this when I am waiting in the hot sun for a late bus on my way home after a long day at work, but it all melts away when I can sit back in the A/C and catch up on news/blogs and let the bus take me home :)

  4. My similar decision 8 years ago was much easier than yours. I was not a regular bicyclist then, but I wanted to commute green, so I started by looking into our local bus system. Portland Maine, which I live near, is a very small city, and has only 5 bus routes, all originating from a central downtown hub. But I was going from one small town just outside Portland to another, so I would have had to take one bus into Portland, and transfer to another back out in another direction. Total trip time by bus: 45 minutes. By car, 10 minutes. Needless to say, I never even tried the bus, and looked into biking instead, and as they say, never looked back. Trip time by bike, 20-25 minutes depending on wind.

    Of course in Maine, weather can be a factor, especially in winter. But I have developed an attitude of looking at it as a challenge to be overcome, and found that at least as far as temperature is concerned, it can be. Basically protect your extremities and you’ll be fine. Snow over a few inches is still sketchy, but I have a job where I can work from home if necessary, and all my car-driving co-workers do if it’s an absolute blizzard, so I do too.

    • That is the perfect bike commute! When we lived by UCF, we had a 2 mile commute to work and it was 5 miles by car. Due to traffic, it was faster to bike even if we took the long way.

      If I lived even 5 miles closer I think a daily bike commute would be doable, but 30 miles a day is a bit much for me right now. I hope to work up to it someday, but running is my #1 love so that makes it even harder.

      Weather is not often the main determining factor for not biking, except for rain. I don’t mind getting cut in a sprinkle, but I don’t want to bike for over an hour in thr downpour. When it’s hot I just ensure I hydrate well; when it’s cold I just wear more gear but his being FL it’s rarely freezing.

  5. Great article Kitzzy!

    I ride the bus every day, mostly because it’s free for me (I work for LYNX), but also it’s very very convenient because of where I live. I am only 2 blocks from South Orange Avenue and have my pick of 4 different routes, one with 30 min. headways. Since working for LYNX and riding the bus, it’s become a challenge for me to figure out how to get around the metro area without a car.

    My bike ride is a breeze as well – 3 miles. Even so, in the summer I’m drenched by the time I get to work. I don’t want to have to change clothes and there are no shower facilities here. But it’s very doable.

    But you are right about how one has to be a bit more vigilant about when you leave to catch the bus, either to or from work. I have routes that I favor over others. My favorite evening route is on 60 minute headways. For me, the bus usually wins, mostly b/c of habit and I don’t have much walking to do.

    I admit that using the bike sometimes makes me feel a bit weighed down. I have to store it somewhere, there’s extra gear – shoes, helmet, lock – BUT I can leave whenever I want. Travel time is pretty much the same.

    Anyway, I really commend you for your efforts both in bike commuting and commuting by bus. I’m with you – I hate commuting by car. I love driving for pleasure or long distances on a scenic route or whatever, but back and forth to work? ugh!

    We’ve saved a ton of money by reducing my need to commute by car. We recently just bought what I affectionately refer to as my ‘toy car’, a mini cooper. I love that thing and it’s fun to drive. Because I don’t need it to get to work every day it pretty much sits in the driveway looking pretty ;-) But it’s super fun to drive.

    I’m not sure where you work, but you could talk with your HR department and see if they are interested in participating in the tax breaks for commuter programs. Some employers will subsidize the bus pass so that it only costs $25 for a 30 day pass. Or you can purchase your pass through a cafeteria plan on a pretax basis.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response Laura.

      Where is your office located? Central Station or the Operations Center?

      >> it’s become a challenge for me to figure out how to get around the metro area without a car. <> I admit that using the bike sometimes makes me feel a bit weighed down. I have to store it somewhere, there’s extra gear – shoes, helmet, lock – BUT I can leave whenever I want. Travel time is pretty much the same. <<

      I used to have this problem too using my bike for trips other than work. It seemed like too much trouble for a quick trip to Publix, but now that I have the right gear for cargo and have more practice, it's a snap.

    • Talking about transportation subsidizes, a possible monetary reimbursement for commuting by bicycle is the Federal Bike Commuter Benefit that was made a law in 2009. If your company chooses to offer the benefit, you can receive $20 a month for commuting “substantially” by bicycle. Your company gets some tax advantages for offering the benefit.

  6. Why not try a recumbent for your commute? Fred uses his velo as a work vehicle, I use a hi-racer as my commuter, 7 miles each way, comfy and when ridden at a similar heart rate it is faster. At the same speed less taxing.

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