Thursday, 24 December 2015

Money Saving Tips for Mass Transit Commuters

Mass transportation is a very popular, very viable means of commuting for professionals working in cities that are not close to their homes. Many choose to live in a suburb but work in a nearby city because of better pay and/or more opportunities for people in their industry.
After college, I spent a year commuting from my home in New Jersey to my job in New York City by bus. Riding a public bus when you’re 6′5 with a fractured knee is bad. Having to pay the full cost of the commute yourself when you’re making pennies is worse.
Below are some tips and tricks I picked up that could save mass transit commuters hundreds or even thousands of dollars in transportation expenses per year.
Buy your tickets in bulk
The bus line I rode in and out of Manhattan gave commuters the option to buy a 20-pack of tickets for less than 20 individually-purchased tickets would cost. For my particular route, the 20-pack worked out to be $22.65 cheaper for every 20 tickets.
Math time!
20 tickets divided by two trips per day equals 10 days per 20-pack of tickets
240 work days divided by 10 days per pack of tickets equals 24 packs per year
$22.65 saved on every pack, multiplied by 24 packs is an annual savings of $543.60!
When you’re getting double-taxed and commuting every working day of the year, $543.60 is a lot of money saved. Additionally, tickets purchased before a fare increase (think gasoline surcharges) may be grandfathered, depending on the policy of your local mass transit line.
Buy unused tickets from others
When I left my job in NYC, I had quite a stockpile of unused bus tickets, the cost of which I foolishly ended up eating. I would have gladly accepted far less than I paid for the tickets just to cut my losses. There is, however, no shortage of people in similar situations selling their unused tickets, rail passes and metro cards on Craigslist at a significant discount.
Naturally you must be wary of scams and frauds when dealing on Craigslist. Since most of the people selling tickets probably live in your home or work area, though, purchasing in person is very doable. These deals are plentiful in any major metro area, and the savings add up very quickly.
Find a cheaper route nearby
Speaking again of bus lines, many towns have multiple pick-up points that are priced differently depending on their proximity to the final destination. My pick up was actually in my driveway. However, there was another pick up spot within walking distance that was significantly cheaper. How much cheaper?
As I mentioned earlier, I purchased all tickets in 20-packs. This alternate pick up spot was $7.10 less per 20-pack than the one in front of my house. Using the assumption again that I purchased 24 packs of tickets in a year, my total savings would have been $170.40 per year.
Check the routes on your mass transit line’s website or check at their ticket desk to see if there are cheaper pick up / drop off points on your route. If walking isn’t an option, perhaps your spouse or neighbor could drop you off on their way in the mornings.
Get your employer on board with Commuter Choice
Commuter Choice is a program maintained by the Association for Commuter Transportation in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
By participating in the Commuter Choice program, your employer can give $100 per month tax free to their employees for mass transit or vanpooling. The employer can then receive a tax deduction for the total amount paid out to employees. You, meanwhile, get a tax free $100 worth of transportation each month.
This is only one of the incentives offered by Commuter Choice — for a full outline of programs offered to employers and participating cities, visit their Employer Resources page.
Negotiate compensation in place of vacation time
Companies can be very pliable when it comes to negotiating vacation time for a new employee. I’ve seen many cases where an admin-level employee received twice as much vacation time as their boss, because they requested their new employer match the amount of vacation time they had at their last job.
Instead of asking for more vacation time (which doesn’t impress many employers to begin with), run this one by your boss…
A person making $50,000/yr for 240 work days is getting paid $208.33 per day. Those 5 vacation days carry with them a price tag of $1,041.65. That’s over a thousand dollars for five days of your employer getting nothing from you.
Perhaps your boss would rather put that money towards your transportation expenses and have you in the office being productive for those five days. In this negotiation, not only do you cut your expenses, but you also show your employer that your primary concern is not taking time off.
Telecommute one day a week
This is not a possibility for everyone, but if your responsibilities allow it, see if your employer will as well. Remote workstations and office virtualization software are very common in companies of all sizes.
If your daily transportation expenses total $10/day, that one day a week spent working from home would save you around $480 per year!
Commuting for your job can be tough on anyone, but it doesn’t have to clean you our financially. Question the price tag attached to every aspect of what it costs you to be gainfully employed and accept no expense at face value.
What other ways of saving on your transportation costs can you find?
Update: About an hour after publishing this post, I saw that Sasha over at Consumerism Commentary posted about the Chase Commuter Cash card. The card gives cash rewards for money spent on certain transportation expenses in NYC.

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