“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Alternative transport redux

In a previous post I discussed the benefits of using an electric scooter for the bulk of my commuting to and from work. The analysis there was based on my fuel use in the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited I had when I started this blog. It should be even more beneficial with the Land Rover LR3 HSE that I'm driving now, since the LR3 achieves about 4 m.p.g. less than the Grand Cherokee.

Further, there's a scooter available from Zap!, called the Zapino that, with their optional 60 volt 40 amp-hour battery, claims a range of "up to 65 miles." My commute, as I would have to ride it on surface streets, is 25.57 miles (according to Google Earth) so, in theory, I could make the round trip on a single charge. I wouldn't do it, because the very last part of my trip home is up a very severe hill. I wouldn't want to try it on a dwindling charge. But if I charge it at work, my hope is that it would have sufficient charge remaining to take me up the hill to my house.

There are various factors to consider, even if I stipulate (I've been around lawyers too much lately) that the Zapino is well-built and reliable and will climb the hill at the end of a workday. Most importantly, I need to know the financial impact (the Zapino retails with the standard battery for $3,495, I can't find the price of the optional battery I'd need), and how much time my commute would take.

I can run the route I'd have to take on the scooter but I think it would be foolish to do it in the LR3 at the speed to which I'd be limited in the scooter. So I'll estimate that it would take about 75 minutes each way. My current commute is about 40 minutes. Am I willing to spend 70 extra minutes per day commuting? I wouldn't be able to listen to books on tape or podcasts or even talk radio - such a vehicle requires close attention in city traffic. It's possible that it could be "reasonably" safe to carry a bluetooth ear piece and do limited cell phone business. In most cases, I think I'd have to pull off the road and consequently increase the commute time. It sounds like a non-starter at this point.

For the financial impact, most of the figures in my previous post can, with slight modification, be applied to the use of the Zapino in lieu of the LR3 for the bulk of my work commutes. Of course, these will only be rough estimates, but they should suffice for a "go/no-go" decision. I calculate that the Zapino should cost about $0.10/mile to operate or about $850/year for 180 commutes versus about $4,700/year to operate the LR3 for those commutes. Thus, the potential cost reduction is $3,850/year.

Combining these figures, I'd spend 210 extra hours per year to save $3,850. This means that I'd be paid at the rate of $3,850/210 or $18.33/hour. Unfortunately for my Company, my hourly rate exceeds this by a considerable margin. Thus, in order to make it attractive, I would have to regard the excess time spent on the scooter as personal time, something like a hobby. I think that, to start, it would feel that way. But that would likely get old quite quickly.

These types of tradeoffs are endemic to alternative transport, or even to adjustment of driving techniques to minimize fuel consumption. Professor Steven Dutch, whom I have cited extensively in this blog, makes a cost benefit analysis of public transportation that makes it clear why, for most people, mass transit is not a compelling choice.

Future economic considerations may change the calculus here, and in fact, may make the choice of commuting in a vehicle like the LR3 impossible at any price. Until then, I'm afraid that I just can't justify alternative transport.

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