How to Make Your Commute Profitable

Photo: E01

Every day, I use public transportation to commute to my day job. The arrangement saves money, reduces my carbon footprint and actually helps me to earn extra money.  Here’s how I get the most from the local transit system.

Time-deprived car drivers snack, shave, text, study, groom, read and shout into cell phones during rush-hour commutes. But life in the fast lane is dangerous when drivers become distracted by gadgets, food, newspapers and cosmetics.

In contrast, on a bus, train or trolley, I can safely catch up on news, weather and sports. I apply mascara and lip gloss without risking my life or others. Multi-tasking is not an extreme sport when you ride public transportation.

Increased leisure

Business often takes a backseat when I ride the bus or train. I have traveled with EE Cummings, Jane Austen and Maya Angelou during my daily commute. I have watched clouds and studied sunsets. The daily two-hour roundtrip commute forces me to relax. It’s a daily appointment with my sanity. It's easier to turn a clear head into profits.

Extra prep time

Public transit is also my portable office. I walk through fare gates full stocked with office supplies, writing materials and notes. I’ve used commute time to proofread work documents, review presentation materials and to prepare for meetings. It’s an ideal setting to get a head start on the workday because there are fewer distractions. It’s hard to waste time at the water cooler when you’re riding on a hard plastic seat.

Freelance activities

I have written newspaper columns, blog posts and business letters while being driven around by a uniformed chauffeur, also known as a public transit bus or train operator. The travel time offers two hours a day, 10 hours a week or 40 hours a month that can dedicated to second-income opportunities. Therefore, strategic plans, brainstorming sessions and networking opportunities often share my commute.

Zen road

Traveling on a bus or train transports me into Zen space. Frankly, sometimes I just sit or meditate. It’s a frugal luxury.

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Guest's picture

I love public transportation.

I am especially addicted to where I can download all of the latest best-selling audio books. I typically listen to the most recent financial books on my iphone during my morning commute. Consider if I listen for one hour a day, at the end of one year I'll have listened to 260 hours or nearly 10 DAYS of valuable financial information!

Guest's picture

Very nice post, good read. I am actually reading it on my daily commute to back from office.

I can personally verify the truth about freelance activities section of your post. Average American spends about 1 to 2 hours a day commuting. that's a lot of wasted time. I like the way you calculated it to be 40 hours a month. That's almost a week's worth of working hours that can be utilized to make some extra money in this recession.

Guest's picture

I never thought I'd miss my commute. I've been unemployed since April, and the thing I miss most is the commute. Now, I didn't use public transportation (I imagine that would have turned my 25 minute commute into a 2 hour one), but I have an efficient car, so I don't feel too bad. What I do miss is the podcasts I used to listen to. I can't get into the audible thing, but I do miss my podcasts.

Guest's picture

this is a realistic post. you know, this is what i tell my friends. public transport is not only more convenient but cheaper. but the thing is that most of my peers are caught up with idea that a college grad has to look rich and so a competition ensues as to who will have the most toys. its a stupid game but boys will be boys. i am glad that i am not the only level headed guy in the world. nice work

Myscha Theriault's picture

Great one, Sharon! I love the point about turning it into part time job time. Since I now work at home, I've noticed the time pockets in the opposite direction. For example, how much more I get done now that I don't have to both get ready, pack lunch and drive to work. Either way, the time adds up, as you've addressed. So great to have you here on Wise Bread.



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Guest's picture

I used to think about all the things I could be doing while stuck in two hours of gridlocked traffic each way. I wish we had a public transit option when I was doing that commute.

I did read somewhere that Mpls was putting free wifi on their buses.

Guest's picture

It sounds lovely but it isn't realistic for people who live 50 or more miles away from work (which is a 90 minute commute for me, round trip.)

I'd love to have tips that people in the Midwest can follow.

Guest's picture

Hi Stacie,

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Pittsburgh is not in the midwest, but I had some interesting experiences on public transportation in that city.

It took some planning, but I traveled around Pittsburgh and even took a trip to Ohio on a bus. It takes planning, but it's possible.

Have you thought about sharing a ride, van pools or car pools?

I appreciate your thoughts! Thanks!

Guest's picture

Ooh I love the *idea* of Zen Road, but I can never keep my monkey mind quiet for long. :-(

I have some more tips for your readers, Sharon:
1. Read work material
2. Read for pleasure
3. Read blogs – you can download them into a reader
4. Listen to podcasts
5. Listen to audiobooks
6. Listen to music
7. Meditate
8. Work on your laptop
9. Prepare for your day – make a to-do list, go through your diary, center yourself.

(They're from my post:

Guest's picture

I enjoyed your list of travel ideas. I once wrote a list of 50 things to do on a bus or train. I will update that list and post it soon!

Thanks again for your comment!


Guest's picture

Thats all great advice, but unfortunately not very practical (for me anyways). I'm generally squashed in to the subway like a sardine can, so doing anything besides standing still and avoiding the heavy breathing of the guy next to me is about the only thing I can do.

Guest's picture

Hey Fellow Sardine,

When I lived in New York City, the subways were always so crowded! Space was very tight. Is it possible to listen to a podcast,a book on tape or music while you're packed into a train?

Thanks for writing. It's always great to get feedback.
Take care,

Guest's picture

Until public buses have individual travel pods, I can't see myself getting zen about my morning commute, no matter how hard I try.

By the time I get on, it's usually standing-room only, which is not the end of the world, but what really kills my peace is all the shifting and squishing and knocking around. I end up squished between a backpack and a pointy elbow, reading the same sentence in my book over and over. I find myself needing to stick in my earbuds, close my eyes, and zone out, or else go completely mad.

Guest's picture

I greatly appreciate this post. I think more people would use mass transit if this was their experience every time. On a train, like the MetroLink or Amtrak, there is a zen-like quality that allows you to catch up on reading, etc.

However, on a bus (which is really our only other transit option where I live), it's too crowded at peak travel times to enjoy reading.

-Little House

Guest's picture

Or we could try to build/live/move to where our work is.

I figure its worth roughly $100,000 more purchase price to avoid need a car just to commute.

Its only worth about a 1/4 of that if you only take the bus though.

For example, by living near my work, my family can get by with 1 car. So 1 car savings is about $400-500 per month (after all payments,gas,insurance etc). That is worth $100,000 more house. Plus I get to save roughly 30 mins each way.

I personally ride my bike to work. But you get the picture of how we can choose other lifestyles than suburbs and commutes.

Similarly consider if taking a job near your house (even at lower pay) would be better than your commute. If you make 15 an hour for 8 hours + 3 total hours of commute, you could make 12 an hour with 1 total hour of commute...

just some things to think about

Frugal Duchess's picture

Sharon is the author of The Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save  Money.

Great idea! I like the way you break down the numbers and show the value of living close to the office.

Thanks for the response!

Guest's picture

Even if the commute is in a car, there are always CDs or cassettes to listen to on a variety of topics from improving your business or work performance, to better finances to greater health.

Also, just listening to inspirational music can get the juices flowing and have you in a higher state of readiness by the time you get to work. Or it can inspire you toward other goals you'd like to achieve.

How about learning a foreign language on CD's? You can do a lot with that.

Guest's picture

I agree about the benefits of listening to good audio while in your car, and have been doing it for a couple of years now. Zig Ziglar calls this automobile university. He noted a USC study in which 12,000 miles of metropolitan area driving a year for three years afforded enough time to learn the equivalent of two years of college education!

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

I used to have a long-ish commute and I used to get so much reading done. Now it takes me about 15 minutes to get to work and I barely have time to open my book, which I miss.

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Guest's picture

I estimate that buying a car and driving to work would cost me ~$3,000/year more than taking public transportation. In addition, instead of spending two hours per day reading on the bus, I'd be spending 1 hour driving myself to and from work and two hours reading at home (the reading is indispensable).

(And, for the record, this is the second place I've lived and worked in Midwest where I've taken public transportation to work, and I know someone who's done it in a third Midwestern metropolitan area. If you make public transportation a priority when you're seeking work and housing--and sometimes even if you haven't--it's quite possible even here. I mention this in response to Stacie, comment #7.)

Andrea Karim's picture

I sometimes think that I miss commuting via public transportation - goodness knows that I don't enjoy driving the 50+ miles roundtrip. However, I do recall that while on my old commute into downtown Seattle, I pretty much had to spend the time concentrating on not gagging from the smell of the unwashed masses around me (and I do mean "unwashed"; one guy who got on aroun 23rd was frequently covered in human waste).

There is definitely something to be said for being able to zone out to music, though. The emotional transformation that music can provide is amazing. You can wake up in a terrible mood, and by the time you get to work, have calmed yourself down through listening to some of your favorite tunes. And that goes for drivers, bikers, and riders.

Guest's picture

I appreciate the comments. Here are a few of my responses

@Charlie@PayLessForFood: Great tip about audible books. I will have to try those free downloads! It's great to meet another transportation fan!

@R. MAK: Thanks for reading my post during your commute! Your comment made me smile.

@Jeffrey: I understand about missing the commute. On days that I work from home, I miss the emotional buffer I get from my regular bus & train commute. Thanks for writing!

@kenyantykoon: You are so right! Commuting by public transportation is often looked down upon by some. It can be a real status issue. Subways and trains are considered cool in some cities, but there are many cities in which public transportation really lacks status. Thanks for adding your voice to the story

best wishes, from Sharon (The Frugal Duchess) I will continue to respond to comments over the next few days.

Guest's picture

@Myscha Theriault: Thanks for the commenting about how commuting time can be used for part-time job activities. ;)

And, like you, I also find pockets of time when I work from home! Take care!

Guest's picture

@Lucille: That would be great if public buses were wired with Wi-Fi. Earlier this week, I flew AirTran, and that carrier had Wi-Fi on the plane.

Thanks for leaving a comment!

Guest's picture

Great post! I talk constantly about the benefits of public transportation to anyone that will listen.

On the other hand I love riding my bike and the commute time is shorter. I'm often torn about riding to work or taking the bus so I can read.