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Posted on: June 4, 2019

The Puget Sound Commuter and his 40+ mile commute

Ryan F. claiming the Purdy Connection to himself.

How far would you commute for your job? Most folks would say “the shorter the better,” but some people also enjoy a nice, long trip. That is certainly the case for Ryan F., who writes under the penname “Puget Sound Commuter” on Twitter and his blog. Ryan lives in Artondale (just west of Gig Harbor) and commutes to T-Mobile in Factoria (south Bellevue) multiple times a week. Pierce Trips had a chat with Ryan to find out why and how he commutes the way he does. 

The inspiration behind “Puget Sound Commuter” developed as Ryan frequently found himself having long conversations with coworkers and other commuters about commute strategies. When someone suggested he start a blog, Ryan jumped on the idea. “There are no expectations. I just want to vent out my ideas on my long commutes” he said. His blog covers journal entries of the routes he has tried, lessons learned, and people met along the way.

So why does he call himself the Puget Sound Commuter? Take a look at what Ryan’s commute would look like if he were to drive alone (below). Does it seem long? Stressful? Costly? For Ryan, it was all the above. Since his wife uses the family car during the day to run errands and pick up their kid, it didn’t take Ryan long before he began testing different combinations of non-drive alone trips to get to work.

Sample of Ryan’s commute to work by car.Figure 1: Sample of Ryan’s commute to work by car.

There are many ways Ryan has tried commuting from Artondale to Factoria, including:

  • Riding the Kitsap Transit Foot and Fast Ferry, and Washington State Ferries,
  • Riding the Sounder train, Link and Amtrak trains,
  • Riding Express and local buses, employer-owned shuttles, vanpools and Lyft,
  • Driving car rentals or carpooling,
  • Telecommuting, shifting his work hours, and finally,
  • A combination of walking, running or biking with any of the modes above.

That is why he calls himself the Puget Sound Commuter. 

Ryan’s interconnected network of transportation options. Figure 2: Ryan’s interconnected network of transportation options.

Most often, Ryan drives from his home to the Tacoma Dome Station and hops on the Sounder commuter train. He’ll either get off at the Tukwila or Seattle station and board an employer-owned shuttle to complete his trip to work.

Recently, Ryan also joined a vanpool that travels between Tukwila and the Microsoft campus in Redmond. When he takes the train from Tacoma to Tukwila, this is another option for him to get to work as he can be dropped off along the way near Microsoft’s Advanta campus. While there are vanpools that travel closer to his home, Ryan prefers not to be in a vehicle on I-5 any further south than Tukwila as the jam-packed highway becomes too unbearable for him. “Shoulder driving should come down here,” Ryan added, referring to the peak-use shoulder lane project on I-405 in Bothell that started in 2017.

Occasionally, Ryan will run for a part of his commute as well, with his work laptop, wallet and keys in a backpack. To make things convenient, his workplace has a shower and he has spare clothes at his desk.

From home, he’ll run to the Kimball Park and Ride (about 2.5 miles) or bike to the Tacoma Dome Station (about 15 miles).

From the office, he’ll run to the South Bellevue Park and Ride (about 2 miles) to hop on Sound Transit’s 550 to Downtown Seattle, where he’ll catch the Kitsap Fast Ferry, then Foot Ferry to his vehicle. Sometimes, he'll run or bike to Newport Hills Park and Ride where he can catch King County Metro's 952 to Kent and hop on the Sounder.

When Ryan first started his long commutes, he thought he would land on one commute option and take that route to work consistently. But now, he has realized there is no “regular” commute for him. He’s constantly trying different combinations, as some are better depending on what he is doing that day.  When asked which his favorite commute is, Ryan sided with a ferry ride. You just can’t beat the views from a ferry ride, especially when the weather is nice.

Views of the Seattle waterfront from the ferry.Figure 3: Views of the Seattle waterfront from the ferry. 

So, what does Ryan do on his not-so-short commute? On the train or buses, including Pierce Transit, he’ll often use the public Wi-Fi connection, or his own Hotspot to get some work done. Ryan is likely paying bills, writing his blog, perusing Twitter and listening to music or a podcast. 

Ryan’s super commutes are not all business; he takes transit into downtown Tacoma and Seattle in his spare time as well. Sometimes he will take his wife and 6-year-old to try transit, which often brings him a sense of pride to showcase his smart commute know-how.

One of the best ways Ryan has been able to navigate among multiple modes and transit agencies is through Transit: Real-Time Transit App. “It’s a Toronto based company,” he says. “It includes data from Lime bikes, uber and all the transit agencies.” While he also uses OneBusAway, Ryan points out that not all transit agencies have real-time data available.

Transit app features many modes of transportation.Figure 4: Transit app features many modes of transportation.

Even so, there have been times when Ryan missed a transfer to a ferry or bus because of connectivity and route timing issues. Between and even within transit agencies, Ryan says there’s always room for improvement.

Some improvements Ryan would like to see a frequency increase in Kitsap Fast Ferry, Pierce Transit Route 102 and Sounder commuter train, especially in the morning for those with flexible schedules and/or children. “The southbound 102 that comes into Tacoma just before 8 am is really full,” he speculates this is due to the connection with the last Sounder train. He adds, “there could be more connectivity across the commuting hours, to tie to regional transportation options.”   

Regional train and transit connections can be quite hard.Figure 5: Regional train and transit connections can be quite hard.

As for the Sounder train, implementing change can be tough since a private freight railroad company, BNSF, owns the train tracks. Sound Transit and other train operators have contracts with BNSF to share their tracks when not in use. 

These smart commutes are fine and swell, but if you’re thinking of the cost of the train, vanpool and bus fares, it certainly helps to have an employer who supports smart commutes. Ryan listed off the many ways his employer offers transportation perks: 

  • Employees are provided with a fully paid ORCA card that covers transit fares across multiple transit agencies, Kitsap ferries and the Sounder commuter train (but not WA State Ferries, which costs $8.50 roundtrip for walk-on passengers),
  • There are showers at work for those who bike or run to work,
  • Employer-owned shuttles pick up employees from places such as Tukwila, Seattle, Issaquah, Redmond, Bothell, Edmonds and more.
  • Employer covers the first $75 of monthly vanpool costs,
  • Employees earn small stipends for logging their smart trips on an online calendar (employer sponsored website)
  • Employees can also earn an additional $2/day for arriving at work via any smart commute.
  • There is a telecommuting policy, and
  • The employer has a partnership with a carshare company to encourage commute flexibility.

Other than employer perks, Ryan is also eligible for Pierce Trips rewards when he logs his smart trips, as he is a Pierce County resident. ;)

With all these perks, it’s hard for Ryan not to save. Ryan has seen significant money savings since his transit is paid for. If he were to drive to work, it would cost him about $20 a day for gas and maintenance. He also saves his mental health, as he mentioned driving to work would be “way too stressful.”

For folks interested in trying a smart commute, Ryan suggests doing so on a day you can afford to be late, in case something goes wrong. His advice comes from personal experience as Ryan once missed his ride onto the Kitsap County Foot Ferry when he couldn’t find a place to park his car. “Never count on parking,” he added. “As you commute more, talk to the people who are doing the commute, so you get insider information you can’t otherwise google yourself.” For example, there is a Facebook group “Fast Ferry Riders - Kitsap” where community members can trade their ferry reservations and give real-time updates on capacity.

Some people like short commutes, and some people don’t mind a nice long trip. While navigating the entire Puget Sound transit system may take time to master, spending your commute on a train or ferry ride seems like a nice alternative to bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway. There’s no question that a smart commute can help you save money, fuel, CO2 emissions and your personal health.

Check out his blog, The Puget Sound Commuter!
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