Once graduation hits and the students go home, I rarely head into my office. Many of my class-notes and books are there, and that is a true cost of not heading in, but I generally really dislike my commute for a whole host of reasons. “Pick up and move!” you might say to me. I’d refer you to this for my response. I thought you’d like to see a small calculation of how doing what is in my own self-interest may also turn out to be in the interest of others.
During the school year, I go to campus 6 times per week (at least). I live 13 miles from my door to the parking lot on campus. This means that each day I have a 26 mile commute. With walking time, and getting myself packed and ready, I spend conservatively 30 minutes each way for my commuting. In other words, each day I go to campus, I lose an hour of my time and I drive a total of 26 miles. Let’s make the poor assumption that the entire hour of driving time is wasted. It is typically not. On half of it I usually listen to an economics podcast or a book on tape. On the other half I listen to drive-time sports-radio to hear what folks are saying about the Sabres. I tend to enjoy both of those activities, but certainly not more than what I’d be doing if my body wasn’t strapped into a drivers’ seat of a car.
There are about 14 weeks of time from graduation to when I have to regularly be on campus, so taken together, if I work from home each day (and I tend to) I end up driving 2,184 fewer miles over the summer than I do over a similar 14 week period during the year (that’s the length of our semesters coincidentally). At roughly 30 miles per highway gallon in my 2004 Mazda 3, I save about 73 gallons of gas. This means that I am “saving” society about $51.80 of damages due to my driving, and I am saving myself at least $300 in combined gasoline costs and wear and tear on the car (probably closer to $500). This cost is nothing to scoff about – how many of you would be interested in saving $500 for doing nothing?
Further, I value my time far more than I value that money. Over 14 weeks of working from home, I save myself 84 hours of time in the car. That is 3.5 full days of my life less I will have to be in my car. That is about 10 full working-days worth of time (some of you have privately e-mailed me asking where I find the time to read all those ecology books). If I read 40 pages per hour in a standard book, without taking notes, then this time frees up time for me to read over 3,000 pages of books that I would not have been able to read otherwise. That is something between 5 and 10 books.
If Rochester was serious about being more “green,” and it seems they are, there is no question that a better arrangement of class-times, lab times, advising resources, and the like could be arranged to mitigate how much commuting staff members would have to make. There are, of course, costs to doing such a thing that I am not in the mood to write about right now. Think about it this way: we have 20,000 employees at the U of R. If we were able to reduce every single employee’s need to come to campus by one day per week, or about 50 days per year, we’d reduce 1 million people-days of commuting per year. Insert your own cost-savings estimates for that here. Of course, we’d “eat” up some of those dividends by driving elsewhere on those days, but the savings are still likely to be real. I’m not necessarily advocating such a policy, but I would offer it as a comparison the costs and benefits of the myriad other “green” programs on campus.