Commuting Alternatives Save Time, Money and Stress

Most Duke employees drive alone to work despite benefits

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Gale Pettiford takes the bus to work, saving money and relieving stress. Photo courtesy of Gale Pettiford.

Every morning, thousands of local residents hop in their car and head out on a commute to workplaces throughout the Triangle.

As roads get clogged with congestion, Gale Pettiford is relaxing in her seat inside a GoTriangle bus traveling from Mebane to Durham. But it wasn’t always that way. 

“Before, if I were driving, I’d be worn out by the time I got to work,” said Pettiford, staff assistant in the Department of Romance Studies. “You felt like stop-and-go traffic or a downpour of rain could take years off your life.” 

In March, she began taking the bus to work after the Orange-Durham Express route started picking up commuters in Mebane. She uses a $25 GoPass for unlimited rides, and in the months since, she’s cut spending on gas and the wear and tear on her car – and wellbeing.

As recent data suggests, other area commuters and Duke employees may be seeking the same peace of mind. 

According to the Carolina Population Center at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the largest cross-county commuting flow in the state is from Wake to Durham County, with approximately 51,400 workers commuting to Durham. About 21,200 come from Orange and Alamance counties, in which Mebane is located. Surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau show the majority of those commuters drive alone in a car, truck or van.

At Duke, 81 percent of responding employees to a February 2015 commuting survey said they drive alone. It’s an increase of 10 percent from 2014 at a time when transportation remains a major element of Duke’s carbon footprint as the university works toward carbon neutrality by 2024.

“As the Triangle grows, so does traffic congestion, and there becomes a tradeoff in terms of commuting,” said Alison Carpenter, manager of Duke’s transportation demand management program. “It’s nice to let someone else do the driving so you can relax and take back that time in your day you might not otherwise have had.”

Additionally, an annual study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute showed that drivers in the Raleigh-Durham area spend 20 percent of their drive time in traffic congestion, with 34 total hours a year spent delayed during peak morning and evening commute times. In all, the study estimated Triangle drivers can lose up to $17.67 an hour in daily value sitting in traffic, between gas and vehicle costs and their own time.

For Duke employees like Pettiford, the value of alternative commuting is like getting free money. She only drives 12.6 round trip miles a week to-and-from her bus’ pickup location, down from 56 when she drove back-and-forth to work. On the bus, she reads or chats with others during the hour-long trip and estimates she’s spending a couple bucks a week on gas now, as opposed to about $40 before.

“It’s so wonderful to be at the end of a week and still have a full tank of gas, even with a few errands,” Pettiford said. “I’ll probably get my oil changed once every six months, too.”