27 May 2011

Biker Chronicles Resume

I bought ten one-way tickets for the New Jersey Transit ride between Newark and Long Branch on February 3, and used the last one the day before yesterday. Five round trips in four months—a fairly lame follow-up to the fall, when I took public transit to work at least one day each week. And it felt even more insignificant given that I was hoping to double my public-transit ridership in the spring.

But in the spring, I ran headlong into the major drawback of that plan: the fact that it takes two and a half hours to make the trip—each way—on public transit. Compared to an hour and a half in the car, that doesn’t seem all that bad, but add to that the fact that trains run only once every hour, and if the end of a class or a meeting means I’ve just missed the train, that means it’s three and a half hours before I can get home.

Fine, if I don’t care if I ever see The Mate or the Offspring. The hour saved by driving, and up to an hour saved because I don’t have to wait to start the drive, means getting home before the kid goes to sleep.

Plus, add five hours of commuting to a work day, and then try to turn around and do it again the next day.

Other than time, most of the advantages belong to the trip on public transit. The train ticket is a whole lot cheaper than driving the distance if you include the cost of owning, maintaining, and insuring the car on top of gas and tolls.

The train ride gives me time to work, read, or just sit and look out the windows. Yesterday I saw an egret and a red-winged blackbird in flight, in addition to various ducks and geese, along the route.

The train trip includes a bike ride at either end, and if you include the time spent schlepping a 25-pound bike plus a 25-pound bag through the stations at either end and in the middle, it adds up to an hour of exercise. My Brompton, while not inexpensive for a bike, is far cheaper to run than a car.

On sabbatical a few years back in Cambridge (the English one), where it can rain at any time, I learned to carry waterproofs and keep rolling if it started to rain, and I’ve generally maintained the same attitude about weather back in New York (though one ride with the temperature in the teens was, admittedly, a challenge). I have some washable blazers for days when the weather is really threatening, so I don’t have to worry about ruining clothing.

The human factor is about the same, either way -- occasional encounters with bad drivers on the road, drunks and creeps (or drunken creeps) on the trains.

The upshot? I’ll be taking the train a lot more regularly in the summer, when I go to campus one or two days a week and the days tend to be shorter; and come fall, I’ll be arranging my office hours around the train schedule. And then I’ll do what I can.