Does Metro save you money?


In this view from Great Falls road, an inbound train runs along Metro's Orange line along the old tracks in Virginia. (Nikki Kahn/THE WASHINGTON POST)
Katherine Boyle
Reporter June 1, 2012

The question sounds obvious: Of course a $1.95 ride from Virginia to Metro Center is cheaper than the $20-a-day parking downtown.

But the agonizing question — Is Metro cheaper than driving? — becomes more complicated when you park at a Metro station to ride in or you have free or reduced parking at work.

Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.

For many Washingtonians, the question doesn’t matter. “Thirty percent of persons in D.C. do not own a car,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA Mid-Atlantic. “We have one of the largest ratios of people who don’t own cars in the country.” For those people, public transportation is a must.

But for the 70 percent of us who own cars and want to decide whether to drive or take Metro, there are ways to calculate the costs. You might be surprised by the results.

Singles in the City

Cars are expensive

There’s a reason why many Washingtonians don’t have cars: They’re expensive. “The cheapest part of owning a car is the gas; people never believe it,” Townsend said. “Look at the cost of parking, the average cost of operating the car per mile, insurance, maintenance — all those things factor into owning a car.” According to AAA’s “Your Driving Costs” guide, in 2011, the average cost of owning a sedan rose to $8,776 per year, or 58.5 cents per mile based on driving 15,000 miles a year. How badly do you need one?

Calculating the advantages:

Parking calculation

Let’s say you live in Clarendon and want to get to Metro Center. That’s roughly $4 a day for the 21 days you’ll be headed to work in June, a total of $84 spent on your Metro commute. Before you add up the cost of gas, car maintenance, insurance and wear-and-tear on your car, contrast that $84 with the cost of parking downtown. “The average cost to park in an unreserved parking space in downtown Washington is $240 per month compared to the national average of $155.22 per month,” Townsend said. You’re saving more than $150 on the parking alone.

Conclusion: If you have the option of walking to a Metro station and using Metrorail for your commute, you’re saving a significant amount of money.

Park and Ride

You’re not saving that much

Those living in the suburbs might think that taking Metro in from the farthest stop would save a lot of money, but it’s not the case. The farther away you are from the Metro station, the gap in the cost of driving vs. riding narrows, so much so that it might behoove you to drive every once in a while.

Calculation

Here’s a scenario using Metro’s Savings Calculator to calculate the cost of driving between Metro Center and Huntington. Driving to and from Metro Center would cost $400 each month if you were paying $10 each workday to park. Compare that with $344, the monthly cost of riding Metrorail from Huntington after paying to park at the station. With daily parking at Huntington costing $4.50, a round-trip rush-hour commute of $7.70 and the cost to drive to the departure station, the numbers add up. The daily difference between riding and driving is $2 to $3. Which one will save you time? Will you be more comfortable in traffic than on the train?

Conclusion: Scenarios vary, but Metro is not the obvious choice when savings are negligible. Visit Metro’s Saving’s Calculator to calculate your estimated savings.

Other Factors

Carpooling and Kiss and Ride

Those who can avoid parking may have the best options. Townsend recommends Metro’s Kiss and Rides — where drivers can discharge and pick up passengers — for people who want to see savings skyrocket. Alternatively, carpooling can cut costs in half, including the price of Metro station parking.

Time

Is it quicker to drive or take Metro? That depends on your route and the hours. During non-rush-hour times, it’s often more efficient to drive. Remember, during non-peak hours, you’ll probably wait longer for a train.

Families

Commuting alone to work makes calculations simple, but what if you’re traveling to a ballgame on a Saturday? Parking is free at Metro stations on weekends and federal holidays, but paying for parking where you’re going still might be cheaper than paying for four or five Metro fares. If you’re traveling from far away with kids, you might want to opt for convenience and drive.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Some days, it might be worth shelling out a few extra dollars to take the car. Annually, however, Metro is cheaper for people commuting into the District. But scenarios vary, and sometimes savings are negligible, making Metro not the always obvious choice. Use WMATA’s Savings Calculator (go to www.wmata.com and look under “Rider Tools”) to decide whether Metro can save you money, time and headaches.

On Sale: In stores early June

Sic transit gloria Les Enfants. After 20 years, the much-loved children’s clothing boutique, which caters to kids from their infant to preteen/junior years, is closing at the end of July. In the meantime, shoppers can take 30 percent off already-marked-down items from European brands including Petit Bateau and Simoneta. Expect deeper discounts to come. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and Friday, Thursday 10 a.m.-7 p.m. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 5110 Ridgefield Rd., Suite 207, Bethesda, 301-656-4505.

If you’re sleeping away one-third of your life, you might as well enjoy it. At high-end linen and lingerie purveyor Abrielle’s annual sale, take 20 percent off Sferra and Deia multi-thread-count sheets and underthings from Calida. Discounts range from 50 to 70 percent off clearance items: an assortment of duvets, shams and blanket covers. Through June 9. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 3301 New Mexico Ave. NW, 202-364-6118.

Macy’s is celebrating the culture of Brazil this spring, featuring special collections from Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa and Carlos Falchi, known for his use of exotic skins and leather. Grab a Francisco Costa minimalist dress for a fraction of his customary prices ($135 to $165), and a large tote with animal prints and rich hues ($99) or orange-and-blue seed hoop earrings ($22) from Falchi. Available at Macy’s stores and at www.macys.com.

— Janet Bennett Kelly

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