What to do when you’re away from public transportation

Now, I know many of you out there probably don’t live in a large city so; you do not have a public transit system that you can use. I fall into this category.  I live in a small town of roughly 9,000 people.  I have to travel roughly 20 miles from my house everyday when college is in session.  I typically am traveling college related things about six or seven days a week.  This, of course, can add up to a lot of miles per week and a lot of energy usage. So, what types of options are there when public transportation isn’t an option?

There are several options that can be used to help reduce your energy usage:

  • Carpooling
  • Purchase an efficient vehicle
  • Maintain your current vehicle
  • Travel less


Carpooling is an excellent choice if you can arrange travel with someone local.  The biggest problem that I have with carpooling is scheduling.  I am not able to carpool because I usually never know how long I will be at school. The amount of time that I may spend at school will vary day-to-day, it all depends on the schoolwork load that I have.  If I weren’t a student and worked a ‘normal’ job then this would definitely be an option I would consider.  If you live near a work friend, then by all means take advantage of carpooling.  Carpooling reduces the energy used because you are driving one vehicle for two people instead of two cars for two people.  Carpooling reduces wear and tear on your vehicle as well as the amount of gasoline used; all of this will save you money as well.

Purchasing an efficient vehicle

Purchasing a new vehicle can be a good option, depending on the circumstances.  If you are in the market for a vehicle, then by all means buy a fuel-efficient vehicle.  If you are not in the market for a new vehicle, then buying a vehicle is typically not very economical.  Usually the amount of money saved by buying a newer, efficient vehicle, is consumed in the interest on the loan for the vehicle.  If you are can afford to buy a new or used vehicle outright then you might experience a net savings.

I have been debating whether I should buy a vehicle or keep my current vehicle, a 1999 Pontiac Grand AM GT.  I like my car but the vehicle has been very repair prone during its life, plus I have 140,000 miles on the vehicle.  So I started looking at used cars in the $6,000 range.  Here were the two things I was looking for:

  1. Reliability
  2. Fuel efficiency

After spending countless hours researching vehicles I came up with the following vehicles that fit my needs: Mazda3, Honda Civic and Ford Focus.  Now the question was could I find any of these vehicles in my price range and would any of these vehicles actually save me money.

The first thing I looked at was the fuel efficiency of each vehicle, in comparison to my Pontiac Grand Am, as seen below:

Vehicle Comparison

Note: These figures were based on the price of gas being $2.50/gal and driving 18,000 miles annually. Courtesy of Fueleconomy.gov.

The above image has two key items to look at:

  1. Combined fuel economy
  2. Annual fuel cost

If you look at the combined fuel economy I would not see a signficant gain from any of these cars, except the Honda Civic.  The next thing to notice is the cost to drive each vehicle annually, which can be seen on the bottom line of the image.  At most, I could save roughly $600 dollars per year by buying a Honda Civic.

If I were to spend roughly $2000 out of pocket after selling my vehicle, then I would have to keep this vehicle three and a half years before I would begin to see a payback.  Now, granted this does not take into account repairs but these are very difficult to account for.

Again, like I said earlier, depending on your situation purchasing a vehicle could actually be beneficial.

Maintain your current vehicle

Another viable option is to maintain my current vehicle and try to make it as efficient as possible.  This in most cases will be the most cost effective method.  I have actively began to do the following:

  • Eliminate excess weight from the vehicle – I have a audio system in my car so I recently decided to take out my large subwoofers and their box.  I swapped them with a smaller, lighter pair that I have.  This way I can still enjoy my music and reduce weight.
  • Check tire pressure – I check my tire pressure every oil change, but doing it more often is preferred.
  • Slow down – Just driving 5 mph slower can make a significant impact on fuel economy.
  • Cruise control - This keeps your engines work load relatively constant which, increases fuel economy.
  • Idle less – This is actually pretty easy, for example, I have made it a habit to shut my car off when I am sitting in an touch-less car wash.
  • Maintain engine – Keeping up on maintenance intervals and repairs keeps your engine in tip-top shape, which equates to better gas mileage.

Even though my car has lots of miles on it, 140,000, I should be able to get another 60,000 miles out of it, at least.  This should get me through college, at which point I could begin my quest for a newer more efficient vehicle.

Travel less

One of the easiest ways to reduce your energy usage is to drive less.  Now, this method may seem way too obvious but, it is much harder than it sounds.  If you are like me and have somewhere you have to be everyday, then this will consist of less joy rides or consolidating vehicle trips.  I always try to consolidate trips and keep wasteful driving down to a minimum anyways.  The problem is that I, unfortunately, have to be at school every day of the week (when school is in session).  Next time you want to make a trip to town for something ask yourself: can this wait or is there anything else that I need while in town?
If there is anything you feel I missed, leave a comment and we can discuss it.

Also, if anyone has any ideas or suggestions regarding my decision to purchase or keep my vehicle, please feel free to leave a comment about that too.

Coming up next…conserving in your home and what I did to reduce energy consumption in my home.  Make sure to bookmark are site or subscribe to our RSS/Email feed(s).

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