Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Driving Is An Expensive Choice

I went shopping at REI this weekend to spend my dividend and use my discount, along with thousands of other members and shoppers. We started at the Alderwood REI, but soon confirmed that we needed more choices. We had brought our ORCA cards just in case we wanted to take Sound Transit to the downtown Seattle REI.

Just as we were heading to Lynnwood Transit Center, one of those spring squalls passed through. We decided to drive to Seattle instead.

It was an expensive choice.
At the downtown REI, the store lot was full and the streets were jammed with cars looking for parking. We circled the block a few times and settled on a $3 lot. Two hours later, with very little to show for our trip to Seattle, we emerged from the store and headed for dinner on Capitol Hill.

Things have changed up there since the last time I visited, but one thing is the same: parking is at a premium. After more circling of blocks, we gave up and pulled into the $2 per half hour lot.

That made our nice dinner feel rather rushed, and we didn’t get to walk it off up Broadway as we would have liked. Instead, we went back to the car, paid our $4 and realized we really didn’t have enough gas to make it home.

Buying gas in downtown Seattle? We put $10 in at $4.29 per gallon. Yes, back in the day that used to fill a tank, but this week it basically covered the gas we spent driving down I-5.

Which brings our grand total out-of-pocket travel expense for this junket to $17. Had we taken the bus, it would have been $6*, no circling, no rushing and a pleasant (mostly dry) walk or two.

Many Americans don’t often consider that they have choices other than driving their own car. But I do. Just two weeks ago we had a lovely weekend in Seattle, all accomplished by bike and bus (out of pocket cost that time: $4.75**).

High gas prices are getting many of us to think outside the box that is our cars. With a little planning and preparation, we do have transportation choices. If you spent your REI dividend on a raincoat, backpack or rubber-toed shoe things (or even a cute top to wear out to dinner with the money you save), you have what you need to make a smart one.

*One round-trip fare on Sound Transit. My fare is covered since I work for one of the large Puget Sound employers that provides a bus pass as part of its Commute Trip Reduction program. Quite a bene.
** One-way on Swift, one way on Sound Transit.

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