Rob McNair-Huff is similar to most weekday workers. He wakes up early, grabs breakfast and prepares for the morning commute. But, instead of reaching for the car keys, he dons a bike suit and straps on a helmet.
With gas prices nearing or at $4 a gallon and climbing, many people are scrambling to find alternatives to driving. McNair-Huff is one of many locals who already began changing their commuting habits.
McNair-Huff’s commitment to cutting back on driving began in the 1990s, but that commitment became a full-fledged habit once he took a job working for the City of Tacoma in 2004. At that time, he and his wife owned two cars, but really only used one full-time.
“We decided to sell it,” McNair-Huff said. “Now we have one car. My wife also works downtown, so it’s easy to carpool.”
Over the years, cutting back on driving helped McNair-Huff fulfill his commitment to reducing his carbon footprint, and saved his family a lot of money.
“When I drove, I would pay over $100 per month just for parking, so there’s the money savings part,” he said. “Not having second vehicle also means I don’t have to pay license fees and insurance for that second car.”
McNair-Huff’s main mode of commuter transportation is cycling. Every day, he rides four miles, each way – adding up to a whopping 1,200 miles per year, he said. Surprisingly, he said it takes him the same amount of time to bike to work as it does to drive.
“(Cycling) has given me more flexibility with my schedule when I have meetings or events,” he said. “Even when I carpool to work, I don’t smile as much compared to when I’m biking. It was fun when you’re kid, and it’s fun as a adult.”
The national price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas is $3.86, as of April 25 – an increase of more than a dollar since last year, according to AAA’s daily fuel gauge report. In Washington, that average bumps up to $3.94.
Although Pierce Transit will make a 35 percent reduction in service by this fall, it is still a great financial savings option for residents, said Jessyn Farrell, the agency’s public relations officer.
“We definitely encourage people to try our service,” Farrell said.
The American Public Transportation Association estimates taking a bus or vanpool three times per week can save commuters about $1,000 annually, she said.
During the last gas hike in 2008, Pierce Transit recorded record-breaking numbers of riders – a 12 percent ridership increase overall.
This June, Pierce Transit will complete its service change, which is the first phase in cuts to service. The second phase will come this fall. This change will shift routes and focus on providing service for commuters and students, Farrell said.
“People are going to find the bus probably won’t come as often,” Farrell said. “But there are still certain trips and routes that people can use.”
Other routes could be restored, she added. For the most up-to-date information on bus schedules, Farrell encourages riders to visit www.piercetransit.org.
Greg Taylor swears by scooters. He has driven two wheeled vehicles for about six years, and often converts many new scooter lovers at his shop, Max MPG Scooters on 27th Street West inUniversity Place.
“A modern scooter is very practical and very beautiful these days,” he said.
Most scooters at Taylor’s shop average about 80 miles per gallon, do not require additional endorsements, and do not require shift gears. They are also very light and small, Taylor said.
“You can get value out of them,” he said. “There’s no question you’re not going to use them in rainy months, but five months out of the year, you can use them.”
And at $1,500-2,000, they are a great investment compared to traditional vehicles, Taylor added.
“My most popular scooter right is around $2,000” he said. “That’s 20 fill-ups in SUV. So, you are going to end up buying a scooter this year, whether you actually get one, or burn it up in gas money that goes to B.P.”
Dmitri Keating started cycling about 21 years ago, after suffering a knee injury. The co-owner of Old Town Bicycle, located on McCarver Street in Tacoma, said bike commuting is a great alternative to driving for pretty obvious reasons.
“It’s cheaper than gas, and you get in shape at the same time,” Keating said. “I know people that don’t own cars at all. They ride a bike, catch the bus or both.”
Although his shop has not experienced the same customer demand surges this year as in 2009 (the shop hit an all-time sales record in one season that year), he expects demand to pick up as gas prices continue to rise.
“People will start taking bikes down that were hanging on rafters in the garage,” Keating said. “We will definitely see an uptick when gas stays over $4 for a while.”
For most novices, transitioning to bike commuting can be challenging and should be started in moderation, Keating said. He often advises newcomers to try cycling two or three days per week, and gradually add days with stronger endurance. Keating also advises getting properly fit for a bicycle before attempting to commute because it enhances comfort.
“People should remember if you’re going to make a carless commute, it’s going to be different,” Keating said. “You just have to be realistic. But once you start, you’ll realize anyone can do it and it’s worth it.”
Next month, the City of Tacoma will celebrate Bike to Work month. Pierce Transit is also sponsoring bike month activities. McNair-Huff said this is a perfect time to get more information about bike commuting and tips to get started.
When asked if he would ever pick up regular car commuting again, McNair-Huff said he would probably never go back, if he can help it.
“There are all kinds of variables… new jobs, or I could get hurt and be unable to bike anymore,” he said. “But, I prefer to bike as long as I can.”