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7 ways to slash commuting costs
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Determine the true cost of driving
The first step to commuting savings is looking hard at your current spending. You may be shocked to find the true cost of getting to work.

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You can tally your daily mileage, the per-gallon cost of gas, parking, tolls and insurance premiums with a pen and paper, or you can use an online calculator.

After seeing your total, you may want to look into car pooling, public transportation or alternate driving routes. But, if you can do it, the cheapest options are walking, biking and telecommuting.

Take a hike
The cheapest way to get to work is to walk. Angela Balcita, a graduate student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, saved $80 over a semester by walking 20 minutes to school instead of buying a bus pass at the student-discount rate. And Laura Crossette, a recent graduate, takes advantage of the university's free Cambus service, which transports passengers around the downtown area. Similar free shuttles are available in many college towns and tourist areas.

Ride a bike
If you're able to bike to work, you'll eventually save almost as much as you will by walking. The initial costs can run several hundred dollars, but after that, the savings will pile up.

Piet Canin, Bike to Work director in Santa Cruz County, Calif., says you can buy a bike at all price levels, but if you're looking for equipment that will last, it's an investment of several hundred dollars.

"The cost of starting up biking is $300 for a bike and $30 for a helmet," Canin says, emphasizing that this cost is for good-quality choices. "For lights and rear red blinking light, it's about $25, and a half decent U lock is $35. The cost in these is not the very low end, but decent durable products versus something you might find at Wal-Mart or Target."

Then there are optional accessories that can make the ride more pleasant.

"From the basics you might want a good wind/rain jacket, gloves, rear rack, carrying bags," Canin says. "This might cost you about another $150 to $300, depending on quality."

Many local bike-to-work organizations will help you find the right bike and even match you up with a bike buddy.

The Bike to Work Web site has an "issues and answers" page that deals with concerns such as arriving to work with wrinkled clothing, the cost of buying a good bike and the importance of a helmet. The answers include a bike bag for a change of clothes and the quick payoff from buying a bike.

Jump in the carpool
Carpool matching services are available free in many communities. A Web search or a call to your local government can lead you to a carpool center.

Valley Metro, which provides public transportation in Phoenix, also coordinates carpools, van pools and bike buddy systems through its Web site.

In some municipalities, you may get an extra bonus from your employer, or from the city, for not driving. Phoenix, in its effort to promote ride-sharing, gives a discount card to people who fill out a carpool application through their employer. The Commuter Club card has discounts from more than 100 area merchants -- including restaurants, bookstores, florists, museums and bike stores.

 
 
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