June 2013


I am part of the problem. I’ve suspected as much for a long time, but reading Rachael Maddux’s essay on riding MARTA forced me to face the truth head-on. The facts are simple: I live about 200 paces from a MARTA station, and from there it’s an eleven-minute ride—precisely—to Five Points station, from which it’s a ten-minute walk to my office. Total commute time, door to door? Thirty minutes, tops.

Let’s examine the empirical benefits of this (sadly hypothetical) commute:

Health benefits—The walking I’d do for each roundtrip using MARTA would burn about 300 calories. Over the course of a year (five days a week times fifty weeks), that’s 75,000 calories—the equivalent of around twenty-one pounds. (Coincidentally, I could stand to lose almost exactly that much weight.)
Money saved—My car needs approximately two and a half gallons—$9 or so, at today’s prices—to get me to and from the office each week. Work subsidizes part of my parking, but not all; I chip in about $7. So gas and parking together cost me $16 a week. (I’m not even taking into account wear and tear on the car.) I could buy a thirty-day MARTA pass, good for unlimited rides, for $95 a month. Work would cover $60 of that, which would put my out-of-pocket cost at about $8 a week—a 50 percent savings over what I spend now. If I took MARTA.
Have I mentioned I don’t?
Stress mitigated—I don’t know about your drive to work, but there’s a freakish thing that happens on mine: No one uses a turn signal. Ever. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. Slightly. However, it’s no exaggeration to say that none of my fellow commuters have ever seen a yellow light that makes them slow down. In any case, MARTA would remove me from all that anger, while the other drivers wouldn’t have to deal with my pollen-caked Civic every day.
Environmental impact—According to the EPA, over the course of the 3,000 miles I drive to and from work each year, my car emits just over one metric ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

So why don’t I take MARTA? Well, I whine to myself, it’s just not convenient! I wouldn’t have the freedom to just hop in my car and drive somewhere for lunch. Which, believe me, happens.

Like twice a month.

I also have two boys in daycare. What if one of them gets sick at school and I have to pick him up? Which, believe me, happens.

Rarely. And of course, my wife works less than a mile from their school.

I seem to be running out of rationalizations. But I’m sure I’ll find some more. I’m an Atlantan, which means I’d rather stab myself in the thigh than get out of my car.

Oh, I almost forgot: In 2011 gridlock made the average commute in Atlanta fifty-one hours longer than it would be otherwise. Fifty-one hours.

Tell me why I drive to work again?