Money on the Road

Los Angeles by electric bike: An alternative, alternative commute

Matt Berger May 6, 2011
Money on the Road

Los Angeles by electric bike: An alternative, alternative commute

Matt Berger May 6, 2011


BOB MOON: Last weekend, we brought you a special broadcast of Marketplace Money all about you and your car, direct from the streets of Los Angeles.

At the top of the car show, we made sure to mention the show was not about alternatives to cars. But, that didn’t stop you from writing in to remind us that there are other options to get around that are cheaper, more efficient, and better for the environment.

One of those comments came from our very own Senior Web Producer, Matt Berger. He downsized to a one-car family more than a year ago.

MATT BERGER: I ride my bike to work.

Well, sort of…

TESS VIGELAND: Um, that’s not a real bike.

Ok, it’s a bike with a motor on it. But it gives me some ooomph up the hills. And despite the office scorn, I have reasons for riding 15-miles every day from my home in South Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles. Yes – Los Angeles – where there are one-and-a-half cars for every person.

MARY BERGER: Because you’re a cheapskate.

That’s my wife, Mary. She has full use of the one car we do own. About a year ago we moved to Los Angeles from rural Connecticut, with our two kids.

MADDIE: Nina, Nina, Nina, Nina, Nina, Nina…

NINA: What?

MADDIE: Nothing…

Everything is more expensive here: groceries, housing, our daughter’s pre-school. And we couldn’t sell our house in Connecticut. So now we own there and we rent here.

MARY: I think if we had just decided that we had to have a car, a second car, we would have bought one and the only difference is that we’d be in a lot of debt now, that we’re not necessariliy in.


Every day I woke up to catch the 6:47 bus outside our house and an hour and two transfers later I’d be downtown at the office.

MARY: You hated the bus. You always had to run to catch it, or you missed it, or you complained bitterly about it.

I was never too proud to beg for a ride – but it was a long shot since it meant convincing the kids to get dressed and in the car by 7 a.m.

MATT: You guys want to give me a ride, Maddie?


Sometimes I could pay them off by giving them my bus fare. Mary, on the other hand; not so easy to convince so early in the morning.

MATT: Can I have a ride to work today?

MARY: No. I’m tired. I’m sleeping.

So each day I made the best of the LA Metro system. The idea of paying off the first car and being able to buy a new one kept me motivated. But then one day, it was clear.

MARY: I think we always thought we’d have more money later, in a couple months, like when we got our tax return. And then we just never really seemed to have enough money to go buy a new car, or even a used car.

With the rising price of gas, insurance, car payments, parking … my future was with the bus.

Until Robobike.


Now my commute takes about 30 minutes, and I actually enjoy it. We use the $300 a month we would have spent on the car on things like ballet lessons for the girls. My wife is happy about it too. She gets to sleep in.

MARY: Have fun!

MOON: That was Marketplace Senior Web Producer Matt Berger. View a slideshow of scenes from his commute. Plus, watch a video to see how the bike works, and read a comparison of three LA commutes Car vs. Bike vs. Bus in the Makin’ Money blog.

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