A ride on the train tracks: rail is a better option for commuters

15. ops. Metrolink. Yong
Photo Credit: Cameron Yong

I cannot drive.

This is not for lack of physical ability—like many other students, I cannot drive because I don’t have a car or a license. Somehow we missed out on this great American coming-of-age ritual that all teenagers go through, and as a result we are some of the few who lack the convenient vehicle of transportation we all aspired to have when we were 16.

Consequently, I am one of those annoying people who get just a little too excited when they hear you have a car and slowly begin to hang around you more and more in hopes you will give them rides here and there. I’ve often found myself in a complicated predicament where I am becoming too old to be picked up by my parents, but have irritated my friends so much they’ve started pretending to have lost their car keys to ensure that I won’t ask for another ride.

The main concern when commuting to and from campus is reliability. Since California’s culture of driving has kept most people on the freeway, and not so much on any form of public transportation, it’s difficult to come by many people who use the Metrolink.

However, it interesting that the train is not utilized more by commuters, given its multitude of advantages. Not only can you take a nap for the whole duration of your trip, which is fantastic in itself, but you can save a ton of money at the same time. I asked one of my friends, a frequent user of the Metrolink, what her main motivation for using the service was. She responded by saying, “If I did drive, the amount of time and money I would spend by going back and forth between Riverside and Santa Ana would be overwhelming.”

Many people seem to be turned off to the idea of taking the Metrolink. One nice convenience a car does have is the ability to take you directly to your final destination. But while the Metrolink does lack this, Riverside makes up for it by providing a network of buses via the Riverside Transit Agency (RTA), a public busing system that coordinates with UCR to provide a completely cost-free service to its students. Well, as with everything else offered “cost-free” by campus, RTA is in actuality paid for by fees charged to your GROWL account every quarter. But as long as you’re paying for it anyway it just makes sense to use the service.

I found a way to prove taking the Metrolink drastically cuts down on commuting costs to and from school using the Public Transportation Fuel Savings Calculator. Taking into account the gas mileage of your car, the price of gas per gallon, the number of miles in a round trip, size of your car, daily parking cost, and the round trip cost of using the train, the page calculates the savings achieved by taking the train. I used what ShareRanks considered to be the most popular car owned by college students—the Honda Civic Coupe. An average gas mileage of 22 miles per gallon for the slightly older 1999 model was used—not every student can afford to buy a brand-new car.

The average price of gasoline in California is approximately $3.70 and, assuming everyone commutes from the middle of Los Angeles to Riverside—approximately a 144-mile round trip. A gold parking permit costs $99 per quarter, and with about 50 days in a quarter, that amounts to $2 a day. Pairing a gold permit with night parking results in total parking costs of over $130, coming in at $2.60 a day.

All these numbers combined were compared to the $22.50 cost of a daily trip on the Metrolink. The numbers showed that it costs $7,997.40 a year to commute to Riverside from Los Angeles in a 1999 Honda Civic Coupe, while commuting on the train costs $5,400.00. This yields a significant savings of more than $2,500. Students can use this to pay for rent, food, textbooks and of course, their tuition. This amount of money could very well make a student financially independent for more than an entire quarter.

And the benefits are more than just financial. First of all, trains are simply safer than cars. In 2005, there were 4,333 deaths from car accidents in California, compared to a running total of 964 deaths in the state for all train accidents combined. Then, take the simple case study of a long, agonizing ride down the traffic-jammed 91 Freeway during rush hour. Factor in those spontaneous car accidents that cause the flow of traffic to come to an absolute halt and you are forced to come to a perplexing conclusion: if taking the train is safer and cheaper, why aren’t more UCR students utilizing this method of transportation?

I talked to others on this subject and came across one person who stated the reason she doesn’t commute using public transit is due to time conflicts. There are only certain times the RTA and Metrolink pick up and drop off students, and they just don’t fit into her schedule at school. This is indeed true: the Metrolink and RTA have a set schedule that sometimes is hard to work with. But even this is not an insurmountable problem. One of the reasons why there may not be more times on the travel schedule is the lack of demand in the first place. But though this is partly the fault of UCR students, UCR Transportation and Parking Services should do its part by raising awareness of alternative transportation options.

But maybe I’m only promoting train transportation because I’m secretly too lazy to ever want to drive myself around. In the meantime, I will continue to save time and money while I’m asleep on my way home on the Metrolink.

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