When the commute is tops

February 21

After her office moved to Rockville, Jennifer Wang, 23, faced a long commute from Silver Spring. She opted to move. (Jason Hornick/For Express)

When recent Cornell graduate Jennifer Wang moved to D.C. to start her career as a marketing analyst with Choice Hotels International, she chose to rent an apartment close to her Silver Spring office.

“I wanted to live somewhere where I could have an easy commute to the office, especially since I didn’t have a car,” Wang, 23, says of her initial decision to live in Silver Spring.

Less than a year later, her quick 20-minute commute became much more of a hike: Her office had moved to Rockville.

Wang’s trek to work increased to an hour, even though Rockville and Silver Spring aren’t far apart. But at opposite ends of the U-shaped Red Line, the Metro ride is less than desirable.

Employees who live within 1.5 miles of their job can save about $3,000 per year in transportation costs if they drive, and up to $7,000 if they walk or take public transportation, according to the D.C. Office of Planning. Employer transit benefits can help cover costs, but living closer to work is an opportunity to stretch those funds.

There are plenty of things to consider in weighing a move closer to your office. For one, moving is a hassle — finding a new place, changing your address and hauling your stuff to your new pad. And if your office moves in the middle of your lease, you might consider breaking your lease (and paying any penalties).

However, “breaking a lease is usually pretty expensive to do,” says Stacey Barton, a realtor at Keller Williams Capital Properties, who says she hasn’t had any renters choose to go that route.

And if you have a roommate, you have to decide whether to part ways, or whether you can stick together and find a mutually agreeable spot.

But “the deciding factors have to do with lifestyle and finances,” says Barton, who recently worked with a client who wanted to move closer to her office in the city. The renter found she had to adjust: Moving closer in meant higher rent for a smaller living space.

Still, for Barton’s client, moving closer to the office translated into commute savings.

Wang also decided her commute was a priority. After two months making the long commute, she packed up and moved to Woodley Park when her lease was up. The new trip to the office saved her one hour and almost $2 daily — that translates to roughly 250 more hours and more than $500 a year.

Those savings can mean a great deal, especially for a recent college graduate, but it isn’t the only thing renters — especially millennials like Wang — take into consideration in such instances.

A recent survey conducted by the American Transportation Association found that millennials say affordability ranks near the bottom of their list of reasons to live in the D.C. area, and as a whole, millennials prefer urban living.

While the savings associated with living closer to work may be appealing, it often takes backseat to other factors. Max Frankel, 23, director of lease administration at Community Realty Co., graduated from George Washington University two years ago and landed a job offer in Greenbelt, Md.

Frankel accepted it, but after four years in Foggy Bottom, he didn’t want to give up the hustle of downtown D.C., or living near all of his friends.

His initial hour-long commute involved a lot of walking. Frankel would trek from his Dupont Circle townhouse to the U Street Metro station, where he would catch a Green Line train to the Greenbelt stop, and then walk another 15-20 minutes to his office.

After two months, he got a bike, turning his walks into cycling jaunts. It cut his commute down 20 minutes. The time and Metro fares for his commute are a price Frankel gladly pays to remain downtown.

“I haven’t considered moving closer to my office,” he says. “I like being in D.C.”

He even plans on moving back to Foggy Bottom at the end of the month. The move will increase his commute time and daily travel cost by more than a dollar, but he’ll be just a few blocks from the Foggy Bottom Metro station. The short walk will be a blessing in “ridiculously cold weather,” he says.

In choosing to move closer to work, Wang also opted for a space near her Metro stop. And the overall walkability of Woodley Park gave it an edge over Rockville.

“The benefits of living in D.C. outweigh the slightly longer commute of living in D.C. versus living in Rockville,” Wang says. She’s found another perk, too: “The reverse commute means less crowded trains.” CHELSEA HUANG (FOR EXPRESS)

 

Encouraging Trend

Washington’s notoriety for ugly gridlock has come with a surprising payoff. In response to government data ranking the region as the worst in the nation for rush-hour traffic, D.C. launched the “Live Near Your Work” pilot program last year. The program matches stipends of $4,000 to $8,000 per employee, delivered by employers, towards purchasing a new home within the city, both in hopes of easing traffic and improving air quality. Alternative transport incentives, like SmartTrip, Zipcar, and Capital Bikeshare may also be covered; that’s up to the employer. Not all employers are part of the program. Around 54 percent of workers in the D.C. area drive more than 30 minutes to work, according to the D.C. Office of Planning.Those who live within 1.5 miles or less of their job can walk in that time or drive five minutes.

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