…an Experiment in Low-Tech Commuting
Winnie and I purchased a new set of wheels yesterday. After several months of discussion we finally decided to try something different than the two-car family routine. We bought ourselves a 50cc Moped.
Since we’ve been here in Virginia we’ve only had one vehicle, our 2004 Rodeo. Winnie had earned her driver’s license a few weeks before we made the decision to move here. When we knew we were moving, we decided to wait until we arrived here before buying a second vehicle. Then, once we were here, I started using the fairly good public commuter systems for getting to work.
The Prince William-Rappahock Transit line, known as the PRTC, is the local commuter bus line for this region. I think it’s well-run and inexpensive for what we’re getting. The bus I use makes two additional stops in Dale City after I get on. Then there’s about a one-hour ride each way on the High-Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) lane of I-95, with the next stop at the Pentagon. Then I get off at the bottom of a hill about six blocks from my office building. Overall, it’s about a one and a half hour commute. If I’m not too tired, I get to do some reading along the way.
A commuter trip is $4.00 each way which, when compared to the gas I’d otherwise use and $8.00 a day parking fees at my office building garage is a pretty good deal. Not to mention I avoid driving in what is currently reputed to be the the second-worse commute in the US.
The apartment we rented was literally across the street from a PRTC commuter lot. Granted, the street was a six lane highway, but it actually had a “walk” light and crosswalk. Using the crosswalk just made me a moving target for drivers, but whatever. So while we lived in the apartment I would walk across the street every morning and catch the bus to work. Then walk back home again in the evening.
After Winnie got her job, five miles away at the local mall, she needed the car to get to her job. My using the bus routine was extremely convenient and kept us from having to buy a second car. I think it’s an interesting irony that there’s convenient public transportation for me to a job 25 miles away, but not for Winnie working five miles away.
In March, we moved into our present house. While we were house-hunting, I made access to the commuter bus a factor in deciding on a house. We ended up here, and one negative was that this house is 2.4 miles from the nearest commuter bus stop and 2 miles further down the bus line. Not a deal-breaker, but since we’ve been living here my commute is a bit longer.
Now, in the mornings on weekdays when Winnie works, she’ll drive me down to the bus stop. At night, when I get off the bus I start walking home. if Winnie is working the morning shift, she usually catches me about half-way home. If she’s working evening shift, I walk all the way home. If she has the day off, I drive myself to the bust stop and park the Rodeo there. I get to drive home again in the envning, but then Winnie is restricted to the house all day.
Walking is actually not bad as this gives me some exercise, but it does make for a longer overall commute. It’s been a very dry summer as well, so I haven’t got caught walking in a rainstorm – yet. But it’s not ideal, and we knew eventually we’d need a backup for the Rodeo.
After several months of discussion, we finally decided to go with a Moped. Here in Virginia, a motorbike of 50cc or less does not require a motorcycle license, tags, or insurance. However, it’s limited to 30MPH operation (the bikes have a governor installed to restrict their speed) and restricted to the right-hand lane of major roads. On the plus side, they get over 50 miles per gallon, are cheap, and perfect for local transport.
So yesterday, we took the plunge and brought one at a local “Power Shop” motorcycle place near the mall. The model we bought is an “E-Ton” 2-stroke 2 cylinder 50cc moped. It’s a Chinese brand, but I don’t know much else about it, but the dealer has full parts and servicing available. The dealer threw in two free helmets, ten minutes of operational training, and a free fill-up on gas and oil. A whooping one gallon of gas and one quart of oil. Winnie, being the experienced motorcyclist in the family, drove it home while I stayed near her in the Rodeo in case she had problems.
I’ve actually never driven a motorcycle before. In fact the only time I’ve ever been one was with Winnie on my first trip to Nanning. Winnie has promised to teach me how to drive it, sort of payback for my teaching her to drive a car. Tomorrow I plan on taking it to the bus stop for the first time, and just go from there. My thought is that if this works out well, and we find ourselves using it for around-town transportation, we may just gain motorcycle licenses and step up to a slightly larger bike next year.
Winnie and I are both concerned about using the bike this winter in the cold and with icy streets. Rain may also be a problem, if it actually ever rains here again. On days when I may need the Rodeo, it will be a little slow and dangerous for Winnie to use the bike to her job.
So we’ll see how this works out.