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Car vs. Bike vs. Bus: A comparison of three LA commutes

Matt Berger May 6, 2011

There are few ideas less believable than commuting to work in Los Angeles on a bicycle. One of those ideas is commuting to work on an electric-assisted bicycle, which is what I started doing about a month ago.

Car-stuffed freeways and thruways are the primary methods of transportation here. You’d be lucky to find a dedicated bike lane painted on any of the roads. And then there’s the exposure to air pollution and scary drivers.

Despite the long list of reasons against the idea, there are a couple in its favor. Few cities in the world boast such a moderate climate; nearly 340 days a year are amenable to biking. It is immune to the price of oil or the whims of the city’s public transportation system. It’s great exercise. And, I figured out a way to make it a lot faster than the alternatives.

Go electric
My Giant Escape bike is aided by a battery-powered electric hub motor. This is not a funny looking electric bike. It’s a conversion kit that adds an electric boost to any normal bike. After much price comparing, I chose one from an eco-conscious start-up in the Northwest called Clean Republic that combines lithium ion battery technology with electric motor technology.

It’s a super simple concept: First, you replace the front wheel of your bike with a motorized wheel. The motor plugs into a battery pack clipped to a rear rack or seat post. And a small ignition switch attaches with Velcro to the handle grips for easy access to an electric boost. Check out how it works in this feature from a local news station.

Comparing commutes: Car vs. Public Transportation vs. Bike

After commuting to downtown Los Angeles from my house in South Pasadena for more than a year, here’s my comparison of driving vs. biking vs. public transportation:

Total Travel Time: 12 min. to 30 min., depending on traffic.
Pros: Fast, no physical effort required, access to music/radio, temperature controlled, comfortable seat.
Cons: Traffic, gas prices, car payment, car maintenance, parking.

Every now and then when the stars align I get a ride to and from work from the family or one of my gracious co-workers. Via the 110 freeway, the 7-mile drive can take anywhere from 12 minutes to 25 minutes, depending on traffic. No matter what anyone tells you there are no shortcuts. All the various routes through LA side streets are so clogged with cars, pedestrians, and traffic lights, those routes can take just as long as the congested freeway.

Total Travel Times: 55 min. to 75 min. via Metro Gold Line, 256 Metro bus, DASH A bus.
Pros: Inexpensive, can read/surf the web, good for the environment, civic responsibility, people watching.
Cons: Inconvenient, slow, uncomfortable, unreliable.

For exactly one year I used the LA Metro and DASH city bus system to get to and from work. The trip involves three legs of transit with some walking in between. First, I too the 256 Metro Bus just outside my house to the Gold Line Metro train station about a mile away. The bus goes by my house around 6:47 a.m., depending on the driver, and if I miss it the next one doesn’t come for 45 minutes. From the train station, the Metro Gold Line train arrives every six minutes and transported me 17 minutes to the Little Tokyo stop in downtown Los Angeles. Finally, it was an 8-minute walk to the bus stop where I pick up the DASH A city bus to go over the hill to our office on 2nd and Figueroa.

Total Travel Time: 28 minutes door to door, plus 5 minutes prep time.
Pros: Convenient, healthy, inexpensive, socially and environmentally conscious, electric motor for a boost.
Cons: Dangerous, not temperature controlled, somewhat uncomfortable, requires a change of clothes, flat tires.

You can read and hear all about my bike ride. Listen to the segment on Marketplace Money.

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