I’ve been commuting between home in San Marcos and work Sorrento Valley every day since I bought my town home three and a half years ago. With the few exceptions when I’ve either been able to telecommute or traffic has been light, it has been an altogether miserable experience. At the beginning of the current recession, traffic improved a bit, but apparently there are still plenty of people who need to drive north on Interstate 5 past Del Mar in San Diego, because this summer has been absolutely awful.
I’ve shifted my schedule earlier for a couple of reasons. First, leaving home before seven o’clock in the morning gets me to work before traffic builds on the freeway; and second, leaving work before five o’clock in the evening gets me home in time for dinner with my daughter. Unfortunately, this summer has seen bumper-to-bumper traffic starting as early as three o’clock in the afternoon.
I’ve gazed longingly at the Coaster as it effortlessly glided by on its rails along the coast, while I crept along at a snail’s pace behind the wheel of my car. For the last three weeks—not coincidently since my return from Portland, where I’ve always enjoyed mass transit—I’ve done more than admire the train from afar, I’ve started to seriously consider using it.
So on Friday I did. I left for work a bit earlier than usual, so I could catch the 6:50 AM train at the Carlsbad Poinsettia station. After purchasing my $11 round-trip ticket, I crossed a footbridge to the boarding area. The tracks aren’t labelled, so I didn’t know which side I should wait on. After a few minutes, people had started to gather on the side I was on, so I guessed it to be the correct one.
When the train arrived, I headed to the upper level, because I wanted to enjoy the view. I wasn’t disappointed. The view of the beaches, the ocean, and the Del Mar Racetrack was gorgeous. In addition to that, I was able to use Twitter and read RSS feeds, something I’ve obviously never been able to do in the car. Twenty-six minutes later I was walking off the train at the Sorrento Valley station. A shuttle took me up the hill and dropped me off across the street from my office. I arrived at the same time, 7:25 AM, I always do.
I had a meeting scheduled from 3:00 to 4:00 PM, so I expected to catch the 4:26 PM shuttle and the 4:51 PM train. Fortunately, the meeting ended early, which allowed me to catch the 3:45 PM shuttle and the 4:05 PM train. That got me home just before five o’clock, which ended in a 75 minute commute. This is a bit longer than it would typically take me to drive home, but I arrived in probably the best mood I ever have after a commute. I attribute much of my mood to the Stone Smoked Porter I drank on the train. That’s right, the consumption of alcohol is allowed on the train. Bonus!
So on Monday I’m going to drive down to the train station and purchase a 30 day pass for $154. Unfortunately, I’ve missed the monthly cutoff to order a pass through my company’s bulk purchase and subsidy program, so I’ll have to pay full price until I can do that. I haven’t worked out how much money this will save me, if any, but right now I don’t care. It’s worth it to preserve my sanity.
This new commute comes with another benefit. We had been considering selling our 1997 Ford Explorer in order to help fund the purchase of a new car. By trading cars with my wife (I drive a 1999 Toyota Avalon) and using the Explorer to make the relatively short drive to the train station, we can get more life out of it, saving us some money. So even if the commute itself is a short-term monetary wash, there is plenty of cost saving in the long run.