Things to consider when optimizing: Commuting, Transportation

by [anonymous]1 min read10th Nov 201421 comments

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[This is] a series of discussion posts, where each post is of the form "Let's brainstorm things you might consider when optimizing X", where X is something like sleep, exercise, commuting, studying, etc. Think of it like a specialized repository.

In the spirit of try more things, the direct benefit is to provide insights like "Oh, I never realized that BLAH is a knob I can fiddle. This gives me an idea of how I might change BLAH given my particular circumstances. I will try this and see what happens!"

The indirect benefit is to practice instrumental rationality using the "toy problem" provided by a general prompt.

Accordingly, participation could be in many forms:

* Pointers to scientific research
* General directions to consider
* Personal experience
* Boring advice
* Intersections with other community ideas, biases
* Cost-benefit, value-of-information analysis
* Related questions
* Other musings, thoughts, speculation, links, theories, etc.

This post is on commuting and transportation.

 

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If you are in a situation where you need a long commute, try to make it by train or a reliable bus instead of car. You can read and relax.

However, a public transit commute with multiple transfers or an unreliable leg can be very stressful and erratic, effectively lengthening your commute substantially if you leave early enough to arrive on time with high certainty.

Going car-less is a good option for many people, but be realistic about the time and expense transportation will require without one.

Agree. I got a lot done on the train even when my commute was 2 hours. Now that my overall commute length been cut in half but I have to drive it all, it's pure wasted time.

I hear this much depends on where you live. Europes large cities are known to have good public transportation.

One transportation option many people would not think of is an adult kick scooter. Kick scooters are most useful for speeding up trips of short distances, up to a few miles, on sidewalks and across roads. As of my research a few months ago, the cheapest one that would fit a non-short adult was the Razor A5 Lux Scooter, which currently costs $100.

The main advantage of a kick scooter is that unlike a bicycle, you can legally and more safely ride them on the sidewalk, so you don’t have to focus as much on navigating car or pedestrian traffic. Compared to other forms of short-distance transportation they are faster than walking, take less effort than running, and are easier to ride and safer than a skateboard. Also, since they are smaller than bicycles, they are somewhat easier to store in an office, but I don’t expect that that size difference is relevant to most people.

The main problem is that you still need to lock the scooter to something at your destination to prevent it being stolen. They are also unfashionable.

Because of the locking/storage problem, I decided that it would not be worth it for me to get a scooter. But others may find a kick scooter worth it for their travel habits.

Does anyone know whether the handlebars tend to vibrate when you ride? I know it sounds like a small thing, but the scooter I had as a child did this and the feeling of it drove me mad for some reason.

Razor's handlebars are well-padded, but their mainstream models rely on hard plastic/resin materials for the wheel and only include shock absorbers on the higher-end models. It won't be too bad in parking lots, but older asphalt is pretty noticeable and you can feel the expansion joints in concrete sidewalks.

Other models sometimes include larger soft-rubber tires that should significantly reduce this effect. I've not tried them myself, though, and for some basic physics reasons this tradeoff will likely reduce speed and increase expended effort.

[-][anonymous]7y 6

(US specific)

When buying a car through a dealership, you can do all the negogiations via email. This is sometimes called the "Internet Sales Department", but there's usually not a real department or online link you have to follow. To do this, you just email the dealership and say "I want to buy X for Y dollars. I don't need any financing or other services." Dealerships may not advertise this, but this is normal and has been common for years.

The two advantages are that you avoid the discomfort and time of haggling in-person, and the person responding to internet offers plausibly has more of an incentive to acheive high-volumn sales, rather than high-price.

Another non-obvious tidbit for new cars: Car manufactuers sometimes manipulate the composition of their products at dealership by offering rebates to the dealership (and not to the consumer directly). For example, Honda was recently offering $1500 to dealerships when they sold a 2014 Accord (the 2015 is just coming out). This is another reason to research prices online (at a site like edmunds.com). This may effect the offer you can make.

YMMV, but my experience is that dealerships do not offer you nearly as good a deal by email vs negotiating in person, getting close, then getting up ready to walk out (and often walking out, leaving your contact phone number behind). The reasons are

  • that they do not see you as serious buyer until you are there and ready to sign,
  • that they are very reluctant to put their best offer in writing likely to be used for leverage elsewhere,
  • and that they do not have the sunk cost of the time and effort spend negotiating to pull them toward the deal.

The two advantages are that you avoid the discomfort and time of haggling in-person, and the person responding to internet offers plausibly has more of an incentive to acheive high-volumn sales, rather than high-price.

The third -- a rather major -- advantage is that negotiating through email is efficient enough for you to negotiate with multiple dealerships simultaneously and, in particular, play them against each other. Phrases like "I am talking to a few other dealerships and your price is not competitive" are highly useful.

[-][anonymous]7y 0

This study: http://scholarworks.boisestate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1013&context=itscm_facpubs indicates that sellers don't trust email communication as much as face-to-face communication.

This study: http://www.coppead.ufrj.br/upload/publicacoes/05983421_1.pdf recommends avoiding an unreasonably low offer as that can kill the negotiation.

As a youth I decided against getting a drivers license. I did so for the following reasons but I admit that it surely contained a bit of idealism:

  • cost of a drivers license (in Germany this is notable; I hear 2000 EUR)

  • time to get the license (in Germany it's mandatory courses and driving practice)

  • cost of the car, gas, maintenance and replacement cost (my Budget says that for used cars is with 10000 km/yr is ~ 5000 EUR/year)

  • pollution and other environmental costs (this was a significant consideration for Gunnar_1987)

  • time driving the car (during which you could do more sensible things; this is covered enough by the other comments)

I still do not have a drivers license and don't regret it (and before you ask: The car was my ex-wifes).

The lost freedom to go anywhere I please anytime - which was and is so highly valued by my peers and parent generation didn't factor notably in my consideration. Today even less than then. The internet gets me most places - even if only virtual (but safer), even where no car goes anyway. From the saved time and cost I can afford lots of cab rides - more than I need. And I wonder where the saved time payed off with lots of interest by the additional amount of study (leisure style) it allowed.

But your mileage (pun?) may vary depending of your location.

Even if you don't plan on driving, I recommend getting a license (at least in the US). Insurance rates fall significantly if you've had a license for 7+ years, even if you've never driven.

Sure. If you want to have tho option to drive or plan to drive later then getting the license as early as possible (when it is also easier to learn to drive) is sensible. But I don't think this calculations goes off it you estimate the chances of ever needing a license below 20%. In that case the costs will probably never pay off and the chances will plummet shortly after your adult work life adjusts to the facts.

chances will plummet shortly after your adult work life adjusts to the facts

True. Bare in mind that your adult work life will change dramatically if you have children. You have a comparative advantage for time and flexibility before you have kids (or if you choose never to have kids). Shifting cost, risk, and inconvenience to childless times in your life (or childless possible futures) is a profitable trade.

That is good advice. Note that I do have four children (and wanted to have them) and never regretted having no drivers license. But my now ex-wife does. It is sufficient if one of both has a license (and a car). But again this is a trade that has to be well considered and depends on your location of residence. I head that many U.S. sub-urbs are practically unaccessible without a car.

And you might consider getting the license abroad - the costs might be significantly lower. Though language barrier and getting there (without a car in the first place, even if you happen to live "just across the border") might be a problem.

I recently moved to a moved to a big US city and promptly sold my car. I can't stand the stress of driving, parking, or maintaining a car in the city and I am also extremely frugal.

My preferred method of getting around is to ride my bicycle, but there are important considerations (bike lanes and infrastructure, weather, potentially getting really sweaty). I've had the same $250 bicycle since 2007 and it requires very minimal upkeep. I've replaced the tires once and gotten a few tune-ups here and there... probably another $250 in the past 7 years, averaging 3 rides/week.

I like cycling because it forces me to get a little bit of exercise every day; setting aside separate time for exercise always feels like such a waste, and I like making my commute do double duty as fitness. Also, if something breaks on a bike it is usually pretty obvious, cheap, and easy to fix. I like that am not beholden to any specialist/mechanic.

If I need to go far, I will ride it to the nearest bus stop, stow the bike on the front of the bus, and hop off the bus near enough to pedal to my destination without breaking a sweat. The bus is great too; I see all sorts of people I wouldn't otherwise know existed, and I use the transit time for leisure activities (usually reading).

The IRS publishes a standardized mileage rate. This isn't a very accurate description of just the simple dollar costs of commuting by car, but it's at least a number that actually means something. Multiplied by your commute multiplied by times that commute is traveled gives you some idea of the costs of the commute.

That it presents somewhere in the order of a 100 USD to 300 USD in monthly additional costs for a ten mile difference in travel time to you work is almost certainly an underestimate, but it's really easy to forget these sort of tradeoffs when looking at a home to buy or rent or comparing different job offers.

The math for public transportation is a lot harder, and generalizes less (one person's relaxing train ride is another person's battle with nausea and agoraphobia). It's still a useful place to start.

If you take public transit that is subjct to delays consider running to work (for distances of 5 or fewer miles). Public transit can be subject to delays so running winds up being more time competive than it seems. For example my train ride is 15-20 minutes but is rarely subject to delays which can bring the trip to up to 30 minutes. So I need to allow 30 minutes for my public transit commute. Since I can run to work in 30 minutes the run fits my morning routine in no more time than I need to allow for public transit despite being slower in the modal case.

[-][anonymous]7y 0

The British TV show Top Gear does a lot of contests in which they compare different modes of transportation with a car. Generally, the only rule for the alternative transportation route is that it can never involve a car. The car almost always wins. Yes, there is a bit of TV magic. Routes are only chosen if both sides think they have a chance, but both sides are legitimately trying to win. You might be surprised to learn how many different routes in which wait times supercede the advantages of faster travel. There have even been competitions against airplanes and high-speed trains through multiple countries. The big exception? A bike or scooter is better downtown during rush hour. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Gear_Races

I have a half hour walking commute, which I really love taking. I get to say Morning and Evening Office on the walk and still have time for some reading. When it gets cold, I tend to read more on kindle, since the "pages" are easier to turn in gloves. But, overall, it's nice, active time to read.