Monday, August 08, 2005

The commute from the Fairfield Transportation Center to San Francisco's Financial District - 71 percent of Solano commuters drive alone to work, accor

Article Launched: 08/07/2005 07:41:24 AM

Driving takes toll on wallet

By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

Ah, the open road. In the comfort of my personal chariot, I joined 140,000 of my closest friends on a zippy Wednesday morning drive into San Francisco.

Meanwhile, colleagues David Henson and Jason Massad traipsed behind, one riding a "rapid" train and the other floating across the bay.

The commute from the Fairfield Transportation Center to San Francisco's Financial District is hardly a tough one at 6:30 a.m. - at least it wasn't Wednesday.

My two-door coupe left the parking lot at FTC at precisely 6:18 a.m. Wednesday. Beating the rising sun to foggy Vallejo, the commute was a breeze. The first slow-down came in Hercules, but things picked back up to the speed limit by Richmond.

Upon approaching the eastern span of the Bay Bridge, a sign caught my eye - "Dwntwn SF: 10 min," it read. After deciphering the short-hand and checking the clock, I realized I was in good shape to beat my competition to the Financial District.

The slow-down at the toll booth was minor. The metering lights were off at one minute before 7, and before I knew it, Yerba Buena Island was in sight.

Following an exit, two left turns and a right, I pulled into the city-owned St. Mary's Square Garage. Now 7:12 a.m., I grabbed a ticket from the attendant and strolled off toward the U.S. Customs House - the finish line for us three commute contestants.

Victory was mine at 7:25 a.m. - a full 15 minutes before my Bay Area Rapid Transit-riding buddy strode up and more than a half-hour before my cohort who rode the ferry.

I had won The Reporter's commute competition championship - a proud moment, no doubt - but I may have to pawn the trophy to pay for my winning route.

Bridge tolls were $3 each way - and it may soon go up a dollar on every Bay Area bridge. A monthly parking pass at the convenient Portsmouth Square Garage (just a glance from the Transamerica building) costs a jaw-dropping $280.

In a car that gets 30 miles per gallon and with a round trip of 90 miles, you're looking at $7.50 in fuel per day.

That math works out to $27.50 a day for the round-trip commute by car, not figuring in depreciation, maintenance and insurance. Nonetheless, 71 percent of Solano commuters drive alone to work, according to a 2003 study.

Why? Commuters say it's tough finding a carpool, mass transit isn't practical and driving is faster and more comfortable, according to the study.

The commute time is also typically worse than what I experienced Wednesday. Morning rush hour can result in anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours on the trip into the city, depending on variables like weather and accidents, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

And getting home can be a chore, too - the average speed on Interstate 80 between San Francisco and Fairfield on Friday afternoon was 33 miles per hour.

Commuting by car may look nice on the surface - you can leave home when you want, sing loudly without inciting strange looks, and avoid most public interaction.

But gas, bridge tolls and parking fees? Well, they just don't grow on trees.

Tom Hall can be reached at

* * * *

Time: 1:07

Avg. Daily: $27.50*

* gas, parking and tolls

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