Friday, May 23, 2008

As Gas Prices Rise: Laurel Home Values Will Skyrocket

I’ve been thinking about how we are going to survive the coming $6/gallon or worse extortion by the oil barons.

Part of the answer is living here in Laurel close to employment centers and on the Marc Train line. We really don’t appreciate how fortunate we are to have the Marc service in Laurel. Marc only costs us $3/day to commute to either downtown Washington or Baltimore on the heavily subsidized service. Today, Marc cuts your commuting cost in half, if you work in Washington or Baltimore.

I wanted to see how much living in Laurel was worth in terms of commuter savings. So I calculated the yearly cost of commuting to Rosslyn, VA. I assumed the federal government’s 235 working days year. I also assumed your car gets 30 mpg and I used current Marc, Metro and parking fees. I did not account for the public transportation subsidy programs that are offered by many government agencies. The federal program currently pays $110/month to qualified commuters.

I modeled four Laurel to Rosslyn commuting strategies. I estimated the one-way trip time and the total annual costs based on the price of a gallon of fuel.

1. Marc Train from Laurel to Union Station. Metro Train from Union Station to Rosslyn.
2. Metro Bus from Laurel to Greenbelt (routes 88/89). Metro Train from Greenbelt to Rosslyn.
3. Drive from Laurel to Greenbelt. Metro Train from Greenbelt to Rosslyn.
4. Drive from Laurel to Rosslyn.

Annual Cost @ $4/gal $5/gal $6/gal $7/gal $8/gal
1. Marc to Metro (75 mins) $1,575 $1,575 $1,575 $1,575 $1,575
2. Bus to Metro (90 mins) $2,468 $2,468 $2,468 $2,468 $2,468
3. Drive to Metro (60 mins) $3,701 $3,889 $4,077 $4,265 $4,453
4. Drive to Work (60 mins) $2,967 $3,368 $3,760 $4,151 $4,543

The Marc train from Laurel to Union Station is the best value at $6.70/day. You use your $125/month unlimited Marc Train Pass ($3/day) and then add in the $3.70/day for the Metro roundtrip ride to Rosslyn. There is no charge for your cardio walk from home to the Laurel Marc Station. The Metro Bus is the next best solution, but why ride the bus when the Marc is faster and cheaper?

Driving to Greenbelt and taking the Metro to Rosslyn will be the costliest commute until fuel gets closer to $8/gallon. The costs are so high because Metro charges $4.25 to park and $8.30 for your round trip to Rosslyn. Then you add in your fuel cost for the 24 mile roundtrip drive to Greenbelt Station.

Driving to Rosslyn means 50 miles a day on the road. At $4/gal and with an efficient 30 mpg car, it will cost you $6.70 for fuel and $6 for parking each day. I did not include the annual cost of having your head examined.

I commuted via the Marc Train during a year working on Capitol Hill. I read the paper and drank coffee on the way in to my office every morning. My Friday night commute home ritually included a bag of cashews and small bottle of wine. Try that on the Beltway.

p.s. I also really like the idea of brewing my own fuel. Have you seen these new home ethanol factories? Pump in water, electricity, yeast and feed sugar and you can make 35 gallons a week of pure ethanol for $1-2/gallon. Combine the ethanol factory with solar shingles and a typical Laurel family should be able to significantly cut both our energy bills and carbon footprint.

p.p.s. I hope the oil barons find a tasty way to eat all the crude oil that we won't need.


Keith said...

Good stuff, Rick. I was most suprised by the big difference between the "Marc to Metro" and "Drive to Metro" options - until I saw that parking fee. As someone who only rarely uses Metro on weekdays, I didn't realize how much they were charging these days.

And bring on those shingles. There's a whole lot of roof space out there.

Rick Wilson said...

Thanks Keith.

Greed trumps altruism every time. At 6-8 bucks a gallon, we are no longer dealing with the tree hugging, Birkenstock wearing fringe. I’ll bet my, F150-V8-4x4 p/u truck, that even hard core republicans will be looking to bike to work soon.

Fuel prices are not coming back down. People will either find a way to telecommute, walk, bike or use public transportation. Daily driving of their suv, minivan or even their holier-than-thou electric hybrid will be simply out of the question.

I didn’t care too much about my carbon footprint, but I do care about my bottom line.

It ain’t about BEING GREEN anymore, it’s all about SAVING GREEN.

Anonymous said...

Discarded Alcohol Recovery Mode

"The MicroFueler has a distillation-only mode, which allows the consumer to convert discarded beer, wine or distilled drinks ... "

Oh no, I thought it might also MAKE beer or wine.
Jim McCeney

Rick Wilson said...

Jim - Be realistic - When was the last time you disgarded any beer, wine or liquor?

Mike McLaughlin said...

In the early part of the 20th century, my grandfather brewed his own "fuel" a bathtub.

As a Toyota Prius owner I object to the "holier-than-thou" characterization of hybrid owners. Is it so much to ask that you avert your gaze as we drive on by the gas station? It's not like we're asking for genuflection; a simple bow of the head will do.

Rick Wilson said...

Mike: Of course you are right. I'm a sinner. I admit I once thought a Toyota Prius was a pretty silly machine. But now, believe me, I have seen the light, even compact fluorescent bulbs.

I'm ready to become a charter member of the carbon killing, tree hugging, green saints. You'll get more than a head nod from me.

Hell, I'll become a born-again, eco-terrorist when gas goes over $5 a gallon.

Do these Birkenstocks make my feet look flat?

Mike McLaughlin said...

If the price of Prius conversions keeps coming down,, we may go that route. Then you've got a plug-in that is better than an electric car (unless it's a Tesla).

Or in the short term, I’m ready to join a neighborhood ethanol co-op. I only glanced at that web site. Does it say how much raw material it takes to distill a gallon of e-fuel? Are we talking about backyard silos?

Either way, something's got to give. The good that comes out of this craziness is that we will be forced to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, out of necessity...or poverty.

BTW Rick, forget Birkenstocks... Crocs are even goofier looking, but way comfortable.

Keith said...

I'm sure you meant no harm, but phrases like "tree hugging, Birkenstock wearing fringe" and "holier-than-thou electric hybrid" often lead to the kind of useless arguments that you bemoaned in your "Disappointment" post just a couple of days ago. Next thing you know somebody's talking about "greedy, selfish SUV drivers who don't care about anything beyond next week" - and you're off to the races.

Rick Wilson said...

Keith: Fair enough. Obviously no harm was meant. Just a weak attempt at humor. But I agree that it could lead to being off to the races.

My original point, (albeit poorly articulated) was that the cost of fuel is now causing all of us to rspond. Not just the more eco-enlightened of us that have lead the debate for conservation in the past.

Thanks for letting me know when I'm out of line. - chagrined

mike sarich said...

It's interesting how economics works. When it's too expensive to drive, people take public transportation. As Rick demonstrated, it's far cheaper to hop the MARC than hop onto 495.

For the life of me though, why someone would want to work in VA and live in MD is beyond me. There's no way I could have a job-outside of desperation-where the commute time was the hourly equivilant of a part-time job. Although a part time job with cashews and wine does sound interesting!

One of the things that I really hope come out of new developments-like the Hawthorne project the Council approved-is more jobs in the local community and less cars on road. I think it's going to be critical that we focus on more job creation in the local community in the coming years.

Rick Wilson said...


RE: MARC - The Marc is a hell of a benefit to us folks living in Laurel. Even if we don't use it ourselves. Marc increases property values and takes pressure off the road network.

Re: Working in Rosslyn, Living in Laurel - sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. People often get stuck someplace other than their optimum location.

Re: Hawthorne Place - I really think that the long term solution is not necessarily more local jobs but more local bandwidth.

Telecommuting will play a big part in how the next generation of knowledge workers makes a living.

Increased residential density, like the Hawthorne project, is a two-edged sword, it increases the tax base, but it will also puts tremendous pressure on the road network. We need to make sure we are ready to handle the density before the project is completely green-lighted. Bike and walking lanes, public transportation, inter-modal transfers, weekend public transportation, Zip Cars, bandwidth, and all the rest are in the set of practical solutions.

Mike Sarich said...

If you take the extra 30 minutes a day the MARC/Metro option adds to your communte and turn it into an hourly rate it comes down to roughly about $11 hour (taking into account into traffic jams, vacation days, taxes, benefits, etc. you could play with the numbers some more and bring it up or down a few dollars but $11 seems fair.)

Point being, saving those 2.5 hours (30 min x 5) a week has value. One might reasonably pay $1,500 for the extra 125 hours a year you could spend with your family by driving. When that number gets higher, obviously the calculation becomes tougher and the cashews seem tastier.

Interesting post Rick!