Getting productive work done aboard a commuter bus or HOV

Having the option to get productive work done aboard commuter-oriented transit services or private carpool can greatly neutralize the longer door-to-door trip times.

One Sweet Ride: San Diego MTS BRT Rapid Route 235 bypasses stopped traffic in Escondido in the I-15 Express Lanes during the afternoon rush hour. Commuters were resting and socializing on board after a hard day's work.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

One common complaint I hear from commuters is that ridesharing to work such as taking transit or riding in a vanpool adds too much time to an already long commute, even with the presence of high occupancy vehicle lane infrastructure and Metrolink regional rail service. The dissents are understandable. A commute between Wildomar and Irvine can last in excess of 90 minutes to 2 hours each way by driving alone. With a commuter vanpool, add in about a 5-10 minute layover at each Park & Ride stop. With RTA CommuterLink and Metrolink transit add in anywhere from 30-60 minutes for the added layovers, transfers and stops.

But with the added commute times can come something productive and that is why commuter-oriented amenities need to be available on transit fleets, and such mobile telecommuting should be encouraged by employers so that commuters can get work done while on the road or rails.

Rush Hour Transit Field Study: Riverside County to Kearny Mesa

Last week, I had an all day appointment in the Kearny Mesa area in San Diego County. Since this region is a job-rich spot with many of its workers commuting out of Southwest Riverside County, I knew I had some choices to get up and down this major commuter corridor known as the I-15 freeway.

I-15 Express Lanes BRT: Del Lago Transit Station Direct Access Ramp during the AM rush hour.
The most popular option was to simply just drive down there. Of course, the negative consequence of that was the miserable task of battling commuter traffic for over 90 minutes each way. Yes, I do have a fuel-efficient car and I do have a valid FasTrak transponder account with my car registered with a tolling agency which would have allowed me to use the I-15 Express Lanes as a solo driver, but the inbound maximum rush hour toll in the morning was $6.00 and $8.00 in the afternoon. I am one who is willing to buy my way out of traffic congestion into the HOT lane system in times of need, but that was not necessary this day.

Planning a private carpool for a single roundtrip was out of the question. Normally, organizing such a carpool with a stranger takes time to plan.

That leaves taking the bus. Being a transit advocate, I knew there were peak-hour express options to get between the Inland Empire and San Diego County fairly quickly. Here is a run-down of the itinerary:

Arrive Temecula Harveston Park - 7:00AM
RTA Route 217 - 7:06AM ($3 Fare One Way)
Arrive Escondido Transit Center - 7:55AM
MTS Rapid 235/I-15 Express Lanes BRT - 8:17AM ($5 Regional Day Pass from Sprinter TVM)
Arrive Kearny Mesa Transit Center - 9:02AM

Finish Appointment/Arrive Kearny Mesa Transit Center - 4:00PM
MTS Rapid 235/I-15 Express Lanes BRT - 4:15PM (Use Day Pass)
Arrive Escondido Transit Center - 5:17PM
RTA Route 217 - 5:30PM ($3 Fare One Way)
Arrive Temecula Harveston Park - 6:17PM

As you can see, the bus commute time with the layovers plus the time to/from the Park & Ride lot is over 2 hours. This is commonly a valid excuse of why many commuters don't take the bus. Many don't want to be on the road that long doing nothing. But that does not mean that commuters are stuck doing nothing. The added time can easily be neutralized and made productive. Not to mention my transit fare for the entire day spanning almost 100 miles roundtrip was only $11, and that's the full general public fare.

Make your commute time more productive

Yes, taking the bus or train generally takes longer than driving solo door-to-door. But that does not mean that those extra minutes on the road or rails have to be wasted. When one drives alone long distances to/from work every day in rush hour traffic by spending over 1-2 hours each day on the road, that is generally time wasted. 90 minutes each way or 3 hours round trip of doing nothing but driving during the rush hour was too much for me. Yes, there's the radio. Yes, there's hands-free devices for phone calls. But because of the limited productivity options available for solo drivers, too much time gets wasted on the road. For a sane, productive and stress-free commute, the time behind the wheel should be no more than 30-45 minutes each way. Last month's series on smart growth addressed that. Also, to be fair, many district managers and workers who work in the service sector who need to haul their tools and belongings to various worksites throughout the day are often paid for their mileage traveled.

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency
But for high occupancy vehicles such as a carpool, vanpool, or transit, the additional trip time can be neutralized simply because more productive work or activities can commence once the rider boards the vehicle. Once on board a bus, train or HOV, commuters are free from the wheel of a car and can immediately begin their day by turning their attention to their work, chat with other commuters, or get some extra sleep.
Thanks to tech advancements, mobile telecommuting is now possible aboard HOV's and transit, not just at home. We now have mobile high speed internet access, tools that convert 4G cell phone data into WiFi, better cell phone coverage, and free and improved public WiFi services making their way to commuter buses. That means commuters can clock in on the road and begin their employer's work or start the school day before setting foot into the office, classroom or worksite. That includes answering emails, getting the daily accounting reports done, preparing for an exam, reading up on the next company's promotion, completing homework and more. The possibilities are immeasurable. Private employers should be incentivized to permit this hybrid mode of telecommuting for its workers. Many colleges have long offered such features.

Besides work, there's productive leisure that riders can take advantage of too. Many commuters resort to taking a power nap for extra shut eye. Others may catch up on the news. Some socialize and make friends with the other passengers.

What about the driver of such HOV's? Like transit bus drivers, the person driving the vanpool or carpool has already begun work once the vehicle has pulled into the Park & Ride lot or first pick up point. Since commuter HOV's are business-oriented, the driver should be paid the AAA reimbursement rate of $.56/mile from the other passengers to drive the HOV. A 50 mile commute adds up to about $25 each way or $50 roundtrip in compensation. Driving an HOV would thus be considered legit and productive work because the riders can get other things done while the driver can make a few extra bucks on the side to pay for the maintenance of the vehicle, something that generally cannot happen when driving solo to/from work.

The Riverside Transit Agency has a few mottoes for its CommuterLink express bus services. They are "Enjoy Rush Hour: The Riverside Transit Agency is making the miserable commute a thing of the past." and "Take a stand against traffic. Ride an express bus." I was not in a position into driving solo in miserable rush hour traffic for nearly 3 hours. I had other things to do during the time span. That's why I elected to take the bus to my Kearny Mesa appointment last week.