By LAUREL Christensen
IE Contributor
UW News Lab

Driving nearly 3 trillion miles in 2010, Americans are traveling the most vehicle miles since 2007, even though gas prices are up $1 per gallon from a year ago. The middle class has been hit particularly hard by the gas price hikes, paying more for their long distance commutes to live out of the city for more affordable housing options.

We already know that cars are Seattle’s largest contributor to global warming. If everyone in the city drove 2,000 fewer miles per year (that is 167 miles per month and only six miles less per day) Seattle could meet its climate goals by 2012. But do you know just how much money leaving your car in the garage could save you per month? Here are a few ways to save money this summer on transportation.

• Take The Bus
More than 100 million people use Seattle city buses annually and ridership is growing; last month’s average ridership was up 3.5 percent from a year ago. King County’s Metro Transit has a fleet of about 1,300 vehicles that cover a 2,134-square-mile area, catering to more than 1.7 million residents. The King County Transit website has an online trip planner and route finder that makes finding transfer stations and getting where you need to be easy.

Downtown Seattle features a “Ride Free Zone” where you can get around the downtown area by bus for free between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The downside of taking the bus is the amount of extra time it takes to get from place to place, though many people take that time to work or read instead of weave through traffic. The other common complaint is unreliable arrival times, but OneBusAway has you covered. The application tells you when the bus you want to take will arrive.

Three Ways to Use OneBusAway:
1) Dial (206) 456-0609 and enter the 5-digit stop number listed above the bus schedule
2) Use the Smart Phone Application
3) Go Online to their website

The future of OneBusAway is uncertain; Brain Ferris, the creator and operator, is about to move to Zurich, Switzerland to work for Google’s transportation department, hoping to help take OneBusAway worldwide. But Metro has made it clear the services of OneBusAway won’t be going anywhere. By 2012 Metro will have a fully upgraded system that will allow application developers access to tons of data, including GPS tracking of every Seattle city bus. Look for many new transportation apps to spring up in the coming years.

• Take the train
We all know that the Link Light Rail has serious plans for expansion in the next few years, and if you’ve taken one of the quiet, clean and usually-empty trips from downtown to Sea-Tac you know that the only downside is that we have to wait a few more years until the others open. The Link runs from Sea-Tac to Westlake Station, with trips costing $2.50. The trains run often, about every 7 to 15 minutes depending on the time of day, and you can even bring your bike on board.

• VanPool
The Puget Sound is home to the largest publicly owned vanpool program in the county, carrying more than 5,000 people per day and taking 4,500 vehicles off the road. Metro operates more than 600 vans making more than 2.9 million trips per year. For one low monthly fare ($50 for the average Seattle commuter in an eight-passenger van) Metro provides your 5 to 15 person ride-pool a van, covering everything from flat tires to fuel, even adding bike racks per request. Many employers offer transportation subsidies for commuting to work in registered carpools and VanPools are first in line for ferry crossings. The Regional Ridematch System is an online data base supported by Metro that helps connect the more than 11,000 commuters who want to share a ride.

• VanShare
VanShare is just like VanPool except instead of driving you all the way to work, VanShare connects people to public transportation. Vans take people from their home to the appropriate bus stop or train station. http://metro.kingcounty.gov/tops/van-car/vpa/2008-5DaySchedule.pdf

• Use a Zipcar
I’m sure you’ve seen the Zipcars parked around Seattle. If you need to take a weekend trip or run a few errands, Zipcars are an easy alternative to owning your own car. In the popular Pay As You Go Plan, ZipCar members pay an annual fee of $60 to use the cars whenever they wish, paying $7.75 an hour for unlimited gas, insurance and 180 miles of daily travel

• Bike or Walk
Seattle is one of the best cities in the nation to walk or ride in the nation, winning the title of “Most Bicycle Friendly State,” for the fourth year running. In May, Seattle held Bike to Work Month, where thousands of people accepted the challenge to start biking to work for the first time. Getting your workout on your way to work will save to you time at the gym and help you stay fit.

The Bicycle Commuter Act gives companies tax credits for offering a monthly stipend of up to $20 to cover biking expenses for people who use them to commute to work, and in Seattle you can bike year round as long as you’ve got a good rain jacket.

Sharing the road with drivers is dangerous, so make sure to wear the proper equipment and ride in the correct lines; “Green lanes,” are biker-designated and require motorists to yield to bicyclists. The Burke-Gilman Trail runs 27 miles from Ballard to Kenmore and is a safer alternative than the side of the road.

As part of the S. Holgate Street to S. King Street Viaduct Replacement Project, WSDOT offers a temporary route away from traffic on the west side of Alaskan Way S. between S. Massachusetts Street and S. Royal Brougham Way. By 2013, a permanent shared use path will stretch between S. King Street and S. Atlantic Street

Seattle Bike Map: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/bikemaps.htm

• Manage Your Tolls
This summer the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is bringing electronic tolling to the 520 bridge. King County Metro has added 130 trips to the already 600 daily bus trips across the 520 bridge, but if the bus isn’t for you getting a Good To Go! Pass will guarantee you the lowest toll rate on the 520 Bridge. If possible, plan your crossing around the peak traffic times; tolls on the 520 Bridge will vary by time of day and on weekends, costing less during the middle of the day and in the evenings. From 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. crossing the bridge is free.

Transit and vanpools are exempt from tolls. Or an old fashioned neighborhood carpool will allow you to split the tolls with fellow commuters. Visit RideshareOnline.com for help finding a carpool.

• Watch the Little Things Add Up
For most car trips, 80 to 85 percent are lifestyle trips to the movies, the grocery store, and taking kids to soccer practice. Savings add up quickly when these short trips are made without a car.

• Be Aware of Parking Rates
Though many parking rates around Seattle are decreasing, parking rates for 2011 are increasing in the highest trafficked areas in Seattle. Plan ahead for parking. Capitol Hill will be $3 per hour, Commercial Core goes to $4, First Hill $4 and Pioneer Square $3.50

• Use the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) Lanes
The diamond-painted carpool lanes require you to drive with at least one companion and will get you there faster. Carpools, vanpools, buses and motorcycles are the only vehicles allowed to use the diamond lanes.

• Curb Gas Mileage
If you must drive, help increase your gas mileage by keeping your tires inflated, changing your oil frequently, accelerating slowly, avoiding the AC and lightening your load.

• One Less Car Challenge is a program sponsored by the City of Seattle that offers monetary incentives like discounts to Zipcar and a “commuter Voucher” that can be put toward public transportation if you make a commitment to give up driving your car.

• Watch Out for Depreciation
Take good care of your vehicle, keep in mind that the value of your car goes down about $3,500 per year in a mid size sedan.

• Save on Gas Prices
Seattle’s gas prices have been consistently higher than the national average for the last two years, though the gap is slowly decreasing. Right now the national average and Seattle’s average are about 20 cents apart.

In Seattle, today’s average cost of a gallon of gas is 3.90 which is a 10 cent decrease from a month ago and $1 more than a year ago, according to SeattleGasPrices.com. The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.78; 18 cents less per gallon than last month and $1 more than last year.

Since leaving Seattle for cheaper gas isn’t an option, there is a Seattle Gas Buddy App for cell phones. It helps you find the cheapest gas near you and might help you compare your gas buying locations.

For more information, go to: www.seattlegasprices.com/MetroGasTemperatureMap.aspx.

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