We all know the benefits of taking public transportation to work: Public transit can save you money, relieve your commuting stress and, of course, cut down on nasty carbon emissions. But it can be a challenge to take that first step toward replacing your commute in the car with a ride on the bus or train. To help you get started, Earth911 created this break-down of what you need to know and how you need to prepare before you make that first trip via public transit.
1. Check the route and schedule
First things first: You’ll need to determine if the routes of the local subway, bus or train coincide with your commute to work: Is there a pick-up station close to your home and a drop-off convenient to your office?
If so, check the system schedules to make sure their timing corresponds with your normal work hours. If taking the bus means you arrive to the office 15 minutes later than your work day usually starts, talk to your manager about adjusting your schedule to accommodate your new commute on public transit.
But what happens if you work late one evening, or have an early-morning of late-evening meeting? Make sure to review the full system timetable for earlier and later rides, in case your schedule changes at the last minute. If the system’s trips are limited, you may have to drive to work on days you know you have a special commitment outside your normal work hours.
2. Plan your trip to and from the station
Once you’ve figured out if the public transit system’s route and schedule match your work’s location and hours, it’s time to prepare for how you’ll get to and from the transit stations – on foot or by car, bike or bus?
Take advantage of living or working within walking distance of a transit station and get your daily exercise while you’re commuting. Just remember to walk in comfortable shoes and pack your work shoes or leave an extra pair at the office.
If the distance to and from the station is too far to walk but too short for a car trip, consider hopping on a bicycle – weather and urban biking expertise permitting. But before you lug your bike onto the bus or train, check the transit service’s rules about bicycles: Many systems will only allow bikes in certain cars or will ban bikes during rush hour to prevent overcrowding.
Just need a bike for the last leg of your commute, from the station to the office? Check to see if your city has a bike-sharing program, where members can check out bikes at unattended stations for short-distance trips and then return them to a different station when they reach their destination. Bike-share systems are currently operating in Boston, Denver and the Washington D.C. area and new programs are planned to roll out in San Francisco and New York this year.
If biking isn’t a feasible option for the last leg of your commute, many large employers offer shuttles from the nearby transit station to their front door, or cities and local transit agencies will sponsor buses from major transit hubs to office parks or business complexes.
But what if you can’t access public transportation without a car? If driving is the most practical way to travel from your house to the closest transit station, make sure to learn about parking near or at the station before you make your first commute. Do you need to pay to park at the station, and will you need a permit or parking pass? Ask co-workers or neighbors who park at the station if the lot fills up with commuters by a certain hour or if you’re guaranteed a spot at any time.
It may be worthwhile for you to do a test run of your new commute on the weekend, when you can practice navigating transit systems, parking and directions while not rushed on your way to work.
3. Figure out the fare
Now that you’ve hammered out the logistics of getting to and from the office, you need to determine how much your new commute will cost you.
Before you hop on that bus or train, find out if the transit service requires exact change or accepts debit or credit cards. Once you decide to commit to your public transit commute long-term, identify weekly or monthly passes to save you money and time buying tickets. Be sure to take advantage of any applicable discounts like reduced rates for seniors or students.
Your employer may also offer financial incentives to encourage its staff to take public transit to work, because it earns them tax breaks or helps them achieve corporate sustainability goals.
4. Make a backup plan
What happens when your bus or train is delayed or – even worse – canceled? Before you switch to a public transit commute, it’s a smart idea to make a backup plan for these hopefully rare occurrences.
First, determine where you’ll be able to stay informed of system delays or other problems: a local news outlet or the transit system’s website or hotline number. If you find your transit service’s communication system to be lacking, scour the Internet to see if you can locate reliable rider-generated updates, like the commuter-operated Twitter account for the San Francisco Bay Area’s Caltrain service.
Ask co-workers and neighbors who use the transit system if trains or buses are ever canceled outright and develop a plan for traveling back home from the office in these instances: Can you take a taxi home with other co-workers who live in your area and split the fare? Or, if your train is canceled, is there a bus that travels a similar route?
5. Reap the rewards
Once you settle into your new commute, enjoy the many benefits it brings; less wear and tear on your car, more time to read or listen to music and perhaps more consistent exercise.
To determine how much gas money your new commute is saving, use advocacy group American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) handy fuel savings calculator. And learn how your switch to public transit is benefiting the environment with the APTA’s carbon savings calculator.