“Why don’t you just take public transit?”  – The perception vs. the reality of leaving the car at home

We challenged a colleague to leave the car at home when travelling to the Unwire office and instead take public transit for a week. Here is their diary of the week.

I was delighted to take the challenge. It was the push I needed to overcome my preconceptions about using public transport.

I live around 20km from the Unwire office outside the centre of Copenhagen, and I usually travel into the office most days. It usually takes me about 45 minutes to get into the office by car.

My home is 2.5km from the nearest train station but only 200m from a bus route which takes me directly there. Unfortunately, my area has no micro-mobility options, but I own a bike.

My thoughts before the challenge

I am going into this challenge with mixed feelings. For some time, I have felt guilty that I rely on my car to get to work, especially as I am a firm believer in the value of public transport, and I should have made this change in my own life sooner. I am also aware of the need to personally reduce my carbon footprint.

On the other hand, I have some negative preconceptions about public transport and how using it will impact my everyday life. I am concerned that crowded and noisy public transport will start my day in a stressful way. I usually pick up groceries on my way home, and not having a car will make this more challenging. I also need to plan ahead more in case of public transport delays and therefore need to get up earlier to ensure I get to the office on time. There also may be an issue of reduced service times if I travel home after rush hour.

My travel diary

Day 1 and 2

For the first two days, I decided to rely solely on public transport and walking to get to my destinations. I took one bus and two trains with a fifteen-minute walk as the final leg of the journey. The estimated journey time is an hour. The journey planner overestimated the walking time – I am obviously a faster walker than average – so the trip only took an average of 47 minutes from home to the office.

Day 3

Today I decided to test the ‘take your bike on the train’ option. I cycled my bike 2.5km to the train station, caught one train into the city, and completed the final 1.2km to the office by bike. This had a shorter estimated time of 40 minutes. I like the idea of bringing my bike on the train, especially as this is free in Copenhagen and it is the fastest way to make the journey.

Unfortunately, many other people feel the same, and the train’s capacity is not always sufficient at rush hour. Moreover, getting your bike to the platform is not as easy as it could be, as you must rely on elevators or a narrow aluminium ramp. Denmark has such a strong cycling culture you would think there could be a better way to get bikes onto the platform.

Day 4

I returned to the same journey as the beginning of the week, and I am still completing this faster than the estimated hour. On this day, I visit family on the other side of the city and take the Metro. The Metro station is only 700 metres from the office, so it is convenient to get anywhere in the city.

Day 5

On the final day, I decided to go all-in on the fresh air concept, walk to the station, and, after taking two trains, walk the rest of the journey to the office. Of course, this is not the fastest option, but it is my favourite. I enjoyed the fresh air in the morning and had a lot of extra energy during the day.

So how did my preconceptions of public transport stack up in the end? 

I found that trains were often on time and that by using my noise-cancelling headphones, the noise on the train was not an issue. I could enjoy a coffee and pastry from a lovely bakery at the station. Getting my groceries was also not an issue as I got off the bus one stop early and added a bonus kilometre of exercise.

There were two things I really appreciated during this week. Firstly, I really enjoyed the extra exercise and fresh air. I usually am really tired in the evening, but during the week, I noticed that I had a lot more energy during the day and in the evening when I got home.

Secondly, having a break between work and home gave me a sense of having more me-time. I realised early on in the week that it would not be possible to work on the journey, so I unplugged and instead read a book which gave me more time to relax, and when I was in front of my computer, I felt more focussed.

One downside, the week was hot in Copenhagen, and there was no air conditioning on the trains. As a result, it can become extremely hot, which can be very draining when it feels like you are travelling in a sauna at the end of the day.

The math

Travel by public transit Travel by car
Parking DKK 0 DKK 550
Transit Tickets (using a Rejsekort) DKK 424 DKK 0
Other car related costs including fuel DKK 0 DKK 960
Cost total DKK 424 DKK 1.510
Co2 Emissions 1.500g 5.200g
Total travel time 500 minutes 325 minutes
Number of steps +50.000  25.000

The conclusion

The obvious downside to using public transport is the extra time it took me, particularly on the way home, but that is more than compensated by the positives. The total cost of travel by public transport was far less than by car, and the extra exercise was a bonus. I also appreciated the spare time to unplug during a busy day.

However, what had the most significant impact on me was the Co2 emissions. I felt ashamed when I saw this comparison, although it did not surprise me. Although I really appreciate all the other benefits of travelling on public transit, the impact it has on my carbon footprint is the one thing that will encourage me to continue using public transit.

Though I cannot honestly say that I will completely stop driving, I have decided to change my car to an electric one, and I will also continue to use public transport some days of the week. My goal is to not exceed 2.500g in Co2 emission from travelling to work per week.

Stay tuned to see the result after the summer break.