Category Archives: transportation

Driving Us Crazy!

As I was driving to work today, despite using Waze, I ran into an unexpected lane closure that backed up traffic on an artery road. There was gridlock, and cars were getting through a traffic light one or two at a time. People couldn’t turn left across the line of cars with drivers impatient to move forward, thereby blocking the intersection.

It was frustrating at first, being stuck there with no way out except to wait. The worst part, though, was watching other people. Not waiting their turn. Throwing up their arms in frustration. Yelling out their windows. And I thought – why the emotions?

Late to the office? People understand traffic.

Late to a doctor’s appointment? So what – they always make you wait anyway.

Late to have breakfast with someone? They also understand traffic.

Late to take your child to school? Your kid is thankful for the delay.

Late to go home? Your family rather have you a bit later and relaxed.

Late to testify in front on Congress? Uh, well, ….

There’s not much we are going towards that’s so important that we seeth in anger when delayed. In it’s most extreme form, we call it “road rage” and people get hurt or even killed.

So why do we get so mad? We hate sitting in traffic. And its costs are huge in terms of our time and gas; almost 2 billion gallons of fuel are lost each year from traffic congestion. Yet we apparently hate sharing rides or taking public transit even more. We’ve set ourselves up for this – uncontrolled growth in areas without an adequate transportation infrastructure.

But maybe there’s more to why we hate driving.

We are out of touch.

Maybe we’re not yet evolved to the motorized vehicle. It’s only been common for the last two generations. Perhaps we simply aren’t wired to be in a tonnage of metal and plastic with more power than a hundred horses. Not to mention the noxious fumes we breathe while in vehicles. Removed from nature, from our surroundings. How can the human mind process the world whizzing by at 60 mph, or at any speed within our rolling cocoons?

Next time you are in a traffic jam, or another driver cuts you off, please remember that it’s not worth the anger. Unless your delay is endangering someone else’s life, it’s not that important.

Slow down. You’ll get there.


Green Wheels — How to Buy a Eco-Friendly Car on Budget

Me and my green wheels

A couple of years ago I traded a minivan for an elderly Corolla. It recently became time to retire those four wheels into assisted living, as my 70-mile daily commute was simply more than she could handle. I left her is the able hands of my college son, who no matter how hard he might try, is way too busy to drive even one-tenth of that. Plus he was willing to pay to keep it running, so no more skin off my wallet.

But I digress. Again I was faced with a consumer decision that was going to have repercussions every day for several years. What could I get within my budget? How could I balance the tradeoff between mileage and price? How could I reduce my carbon footprint with this purchase, or at the least keep it about the same?

I approached the process with over-analysis and a ridiculous amount of research that I’m known to exhibit in such situations. (Of course one first should evaluate alternative methods for transportation. For me, driving is the only viable option.) Yet I had a process, and the outcome was one with which I am content.

Step 1. Establish a budget. I defined a price range. Then I lowered it because I decided I didn’t want to spend so much on a car. My line in the sand was $100/month.

Step 2. Keep to the budget. Buying a car is an emotional experience. We’re culturally convinced that what we drive is an extension of who we are. The automobile industry has spent the last half-century telling us that a car is more than transportation. So we tend to see cars as more than transportation. Which makes it easy to lose one’s discipline in the process and overextend financially.

Step 3. Review how you will use the vehicle. My analysis showed I would be alone in the car commuting for 95% of the miles. No hauling a bunch of kids or junk. No super long trips.

Step 4. Calculate monthly gas expense at different MPG rates, based on your driving patterns. With the high cost of gas, most of us need to budget for gas. Seeing the real amount is helpful. Remember to consider hybrids, not only from their gas savings advantages but also their tax advantages. And consider manual transmission, as it is both a gas saver and price reducer. For my commute, a 10 MPG difference at current gas prices means a one-dollar difference each direction each day. While that does not seem like a significant amount by the time I pay off my four year loan it would have made (at least) a $1,900 difference.

Step 5. Based on usage and MPG, determine car type. I decided on a small sedan or coupe.

Step 6. Find the mileage and year ranges that fit your criteria.

Step 7. Read independent reviews of cars that meet your selection criteria. Consumer Reports online and are credible sources.

Step 8. Narrow down to a few makes, models, mileage combinations.

Step 9. Shop! Besides Edmunds, I found useful. I also searched online inventories of the largest local used-car dealerships. And look at the Carfax for those you seriously consider; it shows accident repairs and previous ownership specifics. Most dealers I came across offered the Carfax for free. It was important to test drive several cars; I tried the Hyundai Elantra, Honda Fit, Nissan Sentra,Toyota Corolla, Toyota Yaris/Echo, and others.

Step 9. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. If it doesn’t meet your selection criteria, don’t buy it. I liked the Elantra a lot, but couldn’t find one in my price range for the model years that it was decent. Honda Fit was OK but seemed overpriced, even used. After much looking around, Sara found an Echo online. She had run around with a friend in one years ago and remembered it well. So we drove across the river, looked at it, and drove it.

But it was a manual transmission (5 speed)! I had not driven one in decades, yet I has owned two manual-transmission cars in my early car owning days. Our embarrassed sales guy had to call another because he couldn’t drive it to take us for a spin. I ended up taking it for a test drive anyway and it WAS like riding a bicycle — I remembered how.

Step 10. Buy it. We tried to haggle with the no-haggle dealership, but to no avail. But it was a good deal — excellent condition for a 2003; 63,000 miles, two owners. Most importantly it met my needs within my budget.

The Echo with it’s 4 cylinder, 1.5 liter engine gets 40 MPG, which is the amount touted in advertisements for the NEW Scion. Plus it’s fun to drive. It won’t win many races but has decent acceleration and handling. The windows are manual and there’s no cruise control. It’s not a status symbol in the traditional ways. Yet I like it and feel right about the decision.


At The Office

It was awful. A meeting was scheduled with four people the other day to provide them with information they need to do their jobs. It was the second meeting in a series and in the first one I used a projector to show the information from my laptop. But that didn’t work so well because of screen resolution and the nature of the materials. Plus those in the meeting asked for the documents to study afterwards. My job was to convey information and I was only partially successful.

So this time, against my mindful consumption tendencies, I printed the documents. And printed and printed. This DID work better for the meeting, and perhaps helped Dunder Mifflin, but I still feel bad. Yet the reality is, sometimes we just can’t do the eco-friendly thing. But there are things we can do in the office.

  1. Don’t print as much. Many of us are in the habit of printing many things – documents, e-mails, and presentations. Stop. Think. Do I really need a hardcopy of this or will the digital version suffice?
  2. Go Gothic and Black. Studies show savings of up to 30% by printing using the Century Gothic font and a 3-5x extra cost to print in color. While it may not cost you personally, the lower costs come from less ink and materials usage which affect the environment as well as your organization’s bottom line.
  3. Recycle. OK, so you print and then realize later you don’t need it. Recycle it. I have a drawer in my desk reserved for recycling paper. Some offices have bins in common areas. Find out what the deal is in your office. And if there is no recycling there, throw the paper in your bag and carry it home.
  4. Reuse paper. I use writing tablets to take notes. After a while those notes become obsolete. But the backs of the papers are not written on. I take those sheets and staple them together, creating a scratch pad for notes. Then I can later send the well-used paper to the recycling bin or shredder as appropriate.
  5. Use a reusable lunch container. Many of us use a paper lunch bag, only to dispose of it after a single use. At least recycle the bag. Better yet, get a reusable bag or even an old-fashioned lunchbox. There are ones to fit any style and budget. Want to be really cool? Try the Tiffin 2-Tier from India. I often use those smaller heavy-duty bags with a handle you sometimes get at stores.
  6. Recycle your lunch foods packaging. Frozen food boxes, yogurt containers, soda cans, drink bottles. Again, many offices have bins. Try to not be lazy – walk your recyclables over. If you can, bring food in washable containers instead of throwaway plastic bags.
  7. Reduce junk land mail. Get off the mailing lists. Former employees still getting mail? Remove them with the Ecological Mail Coalition.
  8. Use a mug, water bottle, or other reusable drink container. Many offices supply paper cups and plastic lids. Try to avoid them by bringing your own. And if you pick up a cup of Joe on the way to the office, use a reusable rather than paper cups; most coffee places offer them these days. Drinks taste better from reusable containers anyway; just remember to wash them once in a while.
  9. Buy recycled or reused. Paper. Ink and toner cartridges. Even furniture.
  10. Manage your computer’s power. “ENERGY STAR power management features place computers (CPU, hard drive, etc.) into a low-power “sleep mode” after a designated period of inactivity. Simply hitting a key on the keyboard or moving the mouse awakens the computer in a matter of seconds.”
  11. Commute wisely. Try to use public transportation, carpool, or other alternative ways to get to the office. Of course, if you can, save energy, costs, time, and pollution by working at home.

There is a lot you can do in the office as a mindful consumer. I’m still feeling guilty about all that printing the other day. But we can’t be perfect. Make the small daily changes to reduce waste.

In sum, do what you can with what you have.

(That’s what she said.)


My New Car is an Old Car


On Saturday I bought 1993 Toyota Corolla with 125,000 miles to replace a 2000 Pontiac Montana minivan with the same number of miles. You are thinking I am not thinking straight. Why make such a decision?


First, the van needs some major repairs; the air conditioner for one. An exhaust leak. And it being a Pontiac, who know what evil lurks under the hood at this high mileage? The ’93 Corolla is from the era when Toyota was the gold standard of reliability, with a new design that year — larger and with a driver-side airbag. It caries a 115-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. It’s gas tank at 13 gallons is about half the size of the Montana’s. But the Corolla should get 30.5 mpg (combined city + highway) compared to the Montana at 22.3 (I drive about 30% city – compare any two vehicles yourself with your own ratio at Annual fuel cost goes from $2400 to $1800. And annual tons of carbon dioxide lowers from above 10 to 8.

So I don’t have to pour thousands of dollars of repair money into the Montana, I’ll get better gas mileage, and there is zero environmental impact that would occur from buying a new car; not to mention no monthly payments. Plus the Corolla should simply last longer than the van would.

Will the Corolla make me look good? Admittedly it’s not a great status symbol, but I’ll live without the status knowing I am lowering my carbon footprint as well as my commuting cost.