Washington, D.C. - Expensive, But Not Taxing: 2. Money
Diversity of Uses + Density of uses and people = MONEY SAVINGS. This version of the urban equation is for those non-believers which value money over time. Variety of uses in close proximity to each other not only saves time but also helps to keep what's left of your hard earned money in your pockets. Why? Well the major reason is vehicle ownership. Walking and biking as opposed to driving are the preferred methods of transportation for the majority of Washingtonians. So much so, that many do not own a car at all and if they do it is used sparingly. As a consequence the money spent on financing car payments, insurance, gas, registration, maintenance and parking stays in your bank account. This easily ads up to several thousand dollars in annual savings. Some would argue that the money saved would still be consumed by the high rental/mortgage rates in the city. In quite bit of cases that may be true. But imagine living in an expensive city where owning a car is a survival requirement (I fear Detroit is headed in that direction). Not only would you have to pay a handsome amount to your landlord but also 'cash out' on the myriad of costs to operate, own and maintain a vehicle. Furthermore, the kind of "quality" that I advocate throughout this blog series, severely lacks in cities that are automobile dominated. In summary, you're paying a lot more for a lot less.
Again, I can hear the grumbling voices of the indifferent. “What if I want to go to Georgetown”, or “What if I want to visit Baltimore”, or "What if I want to go to Virginia Beach", or “What if I have larger items I need to transport?” For those trips outside of the immediate sphere of living there are still many time and cost saving options outside of using a car. Below is a quick shortlist of transportation options at the disposal of Washingtonians for short and long distance trips...
- Capital Bike Share is an easily accessible municipal program for biking renting. Patrons can pay for a day or 3-day pass while residents often opt for the yearly $75 dollar membership. There are over 300 stations and counting located across the DMV (D.C. - Maryland -Virginia) area. Bikes can be accessed 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Except for walking or owning your own bike, Capital Bike Share is the easiest and most cost efficient option for moving about the city, especially for residents.
- Taking a MetroBus or MetroRail is also a good option for medium to extended distances both inside the city limits and to the immediate suburbs. The DC Subway is perfectly fine for those crosstown trips - travelling from SE quarter to the NW quarter. However I find it most useful and financially savvy to use the Subway when commuting from the 'burbs'. Inside the city I prefer taking the MetroBus which comes more frequently, is reliable and a bit more convenient than the subway when travelling short to medium distances. When walking or biking is not an option due to poor weather I opt for the bus as an alternative.
- Regional travel is also easily accommodated without a vehicle. There are many private busing companies that make daily round trips to major eastern cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Richmond and even Toronto all for under $30. Union Station is the city’s Amtrak hub which connects DC to other metropolises by “medium” speed train. Union Station is also the last southern stop of the MARC train, a $6 dollar regional train managed by the city of Baltimore’s Transit Agency. MARC Train connects D.C. to Baltimore and BWI airport. I’ve used the MARC on numerous occasions. Speaking of airports, Washington’s two closest airports are (or will be in the near future) accessible by public transportation. Reagan National Airport is located along the Blue Line in the MetroRail system. It can also be reached by MetroBus, Shuttle, or even go ol’ school by way of taxi. Dulles International Airport is positioned deeper in Western Virginia. The currently under construction Silver Line of the MetroRail system will make this international travel hub more accessible upon its completion projected by 2018. Until then, MetroBus provides a $6 shuttle to transport air travelers from the heart of D.C. to the airport. When I must trek to Dulles for international air travel, I prefer this option over taxi or private shuttle companies. Why? Contrast a $6 dollar shuttle to an $80 taxi cab ride - that's an easy decision any day of the week.
- Should a vehicle be needed (sometimes it is) the city offers two car renting programs. Zip Car and Car2Go. The former rents out their cars to individuals, businesses and universities for a mere $7 a month (plus $35 one time registration fee). This program is for city dwellers that make few but consistent monthly trips. With the latter you can pay a 41 cents per minute rate, $15 dollar an hour rate or simply rent the car for a day for $85 bucks (up to 150 miles). With both Car2Go and Zip Car, insurance and street parking fees are covered by the company as well as offering 24/7 customer service and maintenance.
- And then there's Uber. Uber has been giving the traditional taxi cab service a run for its money in just about every major American city. Just download the app, sign up, and when you need to get somewhere signal for an Uber driver to pick you up at your current location. I've used Uber several times and have not had one bad or troubling experience. For my friends that like their drunken fun and like to get crazy on the weekends in the city, always remember, Uber saves lives.
Real cost savings are not obtained by cheaper initial capital costs. Real costs savings are found over the lifetime of an expense. In contrast to owning and maintaining a vehicle, all of these other transportation options save an individual more money over the course of time, accompanied by the added indirect benefit of a time savings in some situations. More money? More time? Who can really argue with that?For me, I put some of that money toward investments, savings for a vacation or use to fund my D.I.Y projects. Now, I don't want to give the false impression that the money retained is so substantial that it will alter your tax bracket. For example, I can testify that a decent portion of that savings will be spent on D.C.’s pricey food and libations should one choose to eat out. But all things considered, I’d much rather spend that saved money and time enjoying great food and drinks with great people than being held in submission by the burdensome costs of driving and supporting an un-needed vehicle. So here's to the "Good Life". Cheers!!!