Almost every municipality in the country is making a push for alternate modes of transportation. More and more bike paths are being built. Sidewalks are being widened. Community shuttle buses are popping up in towns where car congestion and parking (or lack thereof) has reached critical mass and if you haven’t been on a public bus lately, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Leaving the car at home makes a whole lot of financial and environmental sense if you can manage it. Here are nine alternative ways to make a short trip — to the store, to a friends’, to the beach, etc. and save. (Alternative ways to commute is a topic unto itself, which we will broach another day)
1. Hoof It
Walking is surprisingly fast, especially in urban areas, where cars are victim to crawling rush-hour traffic, traffic lights and finding parking spots. If you’re on foot: you never get stuck behind a city bus making frequent stops; you don’t have to worry about your car overheating in stop-and-go traffic; and you don’t have to scrounge for quarters, provided you’re lucky enough to find a metered spot.
Walkers can’t carry as many things as drivers and there’s weather to contend with but if you can walk to the grocery store rather than drive, you’ll also get your exercise for the day and save hundreds on a gym membership. With the money you’ll save, you can buy a sturdy backpack for the schlep home from the store, and a supportive, good-fitting pair of sneakers.
FYI: Walking burns about 85 calories per mile at a leisurely pace.
More and more people are taking the term “running errands” literally. A short jog to the grocery store or to the barber shop can beat the hassle of getting in the car, waiting through traffic lights, finding parking – the same bothers listed above. In my neighborhood, I’m always surprised at how many runners are out in rain or cold temps. I envy their fortitude from afar, as I idle at a red light and they run right by.
Associated costs with running are reflective vests, hats, armbands, and of course, sneakers. For longer distances, water packs such as the Camelback are great add-ons to help stay hydrated on hot days.
FYI: Running slowly (a seven-minute mile) burns about 900 calories an hour.
The National Bicycle Dealers Association reports strong bicycle sales from year to year. Sales were greatest in 2000 at 20.9 million bikes and lowest in 1997 at 15.2 million. It’s a little hard to tell how strong a correlation this is to gas prices. Fatalities and injuries have gone down significantly, according to one method of tracking by the League of American Bicyclists. Helmets can take credit for most of that, since the first bicycle helmet law was enacted in California in 1987.
Current figures indicate that 18.5 million bikes were sold in 2008, up from 18.2 the year before. The average annual operating cost of a bicycle is $390. Compare that to the average cost of operating a car ($10,259 according to AAA) and you have a major way to save serious dough.
FYI: Biking (with light effort) burns about 375 calories an hour.
Take a cue from the pizza delivery guy you see navigate traffic with ease. Gas powered scooters can get up to 100 mpg and with gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon, this alternate form of transportation is tempting. Parking is a cinch and scooters can cost one-fifth of what a car costs.
New to the scooter scene is the Honda EV-neo (pictured above), which is powered by a lithium-ion battery. It’s quiet as can be and can travel 19 miles on a single charge at up to about 19 miles per hour.
5. Kick Scooters
Self-powered scooters are found on just about every kid-filled cul-de-sac. But on the right terrain, you’ll find adults kicking their way to a quick errand, too.
Benefits include the fact they are inexpensive, lightweight and, in many cases, foldable. They can go up to about 10 miles per hour (about the speed of a bike), and are easy to jump off of, if you need to (Not sure if this is really a “pro,” but it’s worth noting). Expect a distance that takes ten minutes to walk to take about three minutes on a kick scooter.
Many people prefer rollerblades to kick scooters since they more portable and an excellent workout. The downside is that when you reach your destination, you’ll likely have to take your rollerblades off. Stores, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. don’t approve. A helmet and as much padding as you can find is also a good idea.
FYI: Rollerblading burns about 450 calories an hour.
There are skateboards and there are longboards. Skateboards are for tricks; longboards are for transportation and they are surging in popularity as an economical and green mode of transportation for many ex-skateboarders now in their 30s or 40s. “The older generation reinvesting into the sport is fueling the industry’s success,” says xperiencedays.com. “Longboarding saves money on transportation, but for most the savings isn’t the lure.”
Longboards are more stable and maneuverable than traditional skateboards due to longer, wider decks. One of their greatest benefits is that you can pick it up and walk at any time, like when you hop on public transportation.
8. The Segway®
We all remember the hype surrounding the Segway, the first self-balancing zero emissions personal transportation vehicle, when it was launched in 2001 by inventor Dean Kamen. It’s the DeLorean of the decade, offering “Back To The Future” technology for regular folks like you and me.
In 2010, Segways are used by mall cops most visibly but are also used by tour companies and theme park employees. There is a guy down the street from me who uses it to go mailbox to mailbox delivering tag sale flyers and such. Despite a massive recall in 2006 when every one of the units sold to date were called in due to a software glitch that caused the units to immediately reverse, 50,000 more units have been reported as sold.
The maximum speed of a Segway is 12.5 miles per hour and one battery charge will take you 15-25 miles. There are seven models, including a golf version, which sells for $7,799.00 on Amazon.com. Check Craigslist as well. I found the I2 model posted for $4,100.
9. Thumbs Up
Hitchhiking, while terribly economical (and very cool or creepy, depending on your experience) is not a great method of travel for someone who has to be somewhere on time. It also may be the most dangerous option outlined here. It legal, contrary to what you might think but foot traffic is not permitted on highways or toll roads in this country.is Hitchhiking is popular in places like Belgium, Ireland and South Africa and is illegal only in Hong Kong, Burma (for foreigners), and Singapore. It is also much more acceptable on vacation islands where cars are few and far between and distances are short.
Financially speaking, hitchhiking might win the prize for zero dollars out of-pocket unless you are in Argentina, Nigeria or Romania, where payment is expected. In Mexico, Mongolia and Indonesia, payment is optional.
So now that you’ve got nine new methods of transportation available, hopping in your car or truck to drive a few miles just doesn’t sound as much fun does it? Happy trails.
Published or updated April 26, 2010.