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Archive for August, 2008

HYPERMILING: A Frugal Journey Ends. Sort of.

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

I was walking to my car after work recently when a maroon pickup roared past.

Hard on the brakes, a quick look at the intersection, and the engine growled again as the truck accelerated – to another stop sign.

All I could think of is, “Man, that guy’s wasting a lot of money for nothing.” I never would have thought that before.

I’m not here to wag my finger with a holier-than-thou rant about drivers like that. I was “that guy” about two months ago.

I didn’t know if hypermiling was going to work, but I decided to bring you guys along for the slow, slow ride. As far as the blog is concerned, I’m done.

I’ve become a bit obsessed with, and transformed by, the experience. I’ve discovered the near limits of my car’s performance on the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m much more aware of the cost of driving. I even learned a lot about myself.

Usually we write stories and never hear a word from the public. With these blog entires (especially when they ran in the paper.) I heard from more people than I ever have – especially the one about coasting in neutral. (BTW, I don’t do it much anymore. Sixth gear works fine. And a informative morsel – the nice folks at Kitsap County District Court did some sleuthing. Guess how many tickets they found for coasting in neutral? One.)

In two months, I burned five tanks of dino juice and averaged 33.7 miles per gallon. (And that includes a couple tanks where my right foot got a little heavy.) Up from 28 before. I’m living proof that a lead-footed rat race commuter can save money without queuing up for a Prius.

Did I mention I saved about $50?

Some people hypermile as a political statement against American dependence on foreign oil. Some people do it to save the environment. Well and good.

I just want to keep more money in the bank. Feel free to choose your own reasons. That’s the crux of hypermiling – it’s your choice. You don’t have to boost your mpgs, but the money’s there waiting to be saved.
Do any combination of these things, and you’ll save at least a little.

* Keep your tires properly inflated.
* Change your oil.
* Take all the junk out of your trunk.
* Accelerate gently, and try to gently slow to a stop.
* You know the speed limit? Obey it.
* Imagine there’s an egg between your foot and the gas pedal.
* Unless an emergency maneuver requires it, don’t drive over 60 on the highway. Use cruise control to prevent your lead foot from taking over.
Pick out more of the legal hypermiling tips, and you’ll save even more.

More importantly, the first step is to change the way you think about driving. You’ve got to convince yourself that rocketing around usually doesn’t get you there much faster – ESPECIALLY in urban driving. (That’s where my greatest gains were made.) On the highway, stay right and take a deep breath. It’s OK to let people pass you. If you’re late for work, is 2 minutes really a big deal? It can be, but at least consider it. If it’s Saturday and you’re just getting groceries, what’s the hurry?

Now that I’m done blogging about this adventure, I will keep hypermiling. I’m hooked. (Maybe not on long road trips.) We can’t control how much we pay per gallon, but we can control how many gallons we use and how many miles we drive. I’m cutting back on how much I drive, too.

And I’ve come to accept that slow and steady is OK.

Don’t get complacent because gas prices are a little lower. We all know that over time it’s a graph that favors climbing the Y axis. Only four years ago gas topped $2.

More often, we either grumble about what we payed at the last fill up, or wax nostalgic about when gas was only (insert small number here.). Consider the future, and whether you’ll change the way you drive.
I’ve been number happy the last couple months with the blog, so I’ll toss one last equation your way. (Help calculating is HERE and HERE.)

Imagine it’s 2012 and you have the same respectably-economical 24 mpg car, and you drive the same average of 15,000 miles a year. And get this, gas is $6 a gallon.

Here’s an odd way to imagine how you’ll pay for your petrol.

Drive over to the bank and ask the (now stunned) teller for a wheelbarrow packed with rolls of quarters. Sorry, you’re going to get terrible gas mileage on the drive home.

Anyway, grab a couple rolls every time you get behind the wheel. For the next 365 days, every time your odometer ticks off another mile, toss a quarter out the window.

I’ll let you do the math this time.


HYPERMILING: Is That Trip Worth It?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

It took a pair of running shoes and a conversation with a coworker for me to realize something. Thinking in miles per gallon is (almost) pointless.

It’s good to keep track of how many mpgs you cobble together each tank, with the goal of scrounging up more. But when you’re really trying to map out your finances, think in terms of cost per mile, which is an easy bit of math to the cost per trip.

Reporter Steve Gardner brought that concept up over a conversation a while back, and it made sense when I thought about a recent trip I made to buy a pair of running shoes. I live in West Bremerton, and couldn’t think of anywhere in town to procure said sneakers. (That’s a WHOLE other issue by itself.)

What if I drive the approximately 15 miles to the consumer megaplex in Silverdale? What’s that trip cost me? If gas is $4, I get 34 mpg, and drive 30 miles roundtrip, I’ve spent $3.60 on fermented dinosaur juice.

What if your truck gets 15 mpg? The same trip costs you $8.10. Is it worth it?

To make it easy to calculate your cost per mile, GO HERE.

(If you really want do extract the numbers, including insurance, etc., go HERE.)

A logical way to think about your next shopping trip might go like this: I need to drive 30 miles roundtrip for my Very Important Household Object. If my SUV’s gonna charge me $8.10 for the pleasure of driving, is that a trip I’m willing to make? Will it cost less to buy it online, including shipping? Can I take care of several errands at the same time, avoiding future trips and saving some dough?

(If you really want to get fancy with the math and Google maps, figure out the costs of your ferry destination – Seattle or Edmonds – versus driving around.)

Every time we step or drive onto a ferry (if it’s a discretionary trip) most of us instinctively do the “Is the cost worth it?” dance. When we drive, we don’t.

If we take the cost-per-mile equation further, and calculate our yearly gasoline bill…well, the numbers can speak for themselves.

The left column includes groups of two. A high and low number. The low is a theoretical current mpg. The high is an mpg increase of 20 percent, a figure that isn’t ridiculous to attain if you hypermile, or EcoDrive, or whatever you want to call it.

The next column shows the cost per mile for the respective mpg ratings.

Column three is your annual fuel bill, at $4, if you drive 15,000 miles (A figure that seems pretty commonly used as an average yearly clip.)

The fourth shows your annual cost if you drive 12,000 miles.

15    .27    $4050        $3240
18    .22    $3300        $2640

20    .20    $3000        $2400
24    .17    $2550        $2040

25    .16    $2400        $1920
30    .13    $1950        $1560

30    .13    $1950        $1560
36    .11    $1650        $1320

Just for giggles, let’s peer into our crystal ball for a moment. In 2004, gas was around $2. If it’s $6 by 2012, what’s your annual gasoline bill going to be?

If you go by today’s average fuel economy in America (See it HERE. PDF) of 22.5 mpg, the average American will pay $4,050 per year if they drive 15,000 miles. If they still have a 15 mpg truck or sports car, it’s $6,000 (40 cents per mile).

That’ll really make you think, “Is this trip worth it?”


HYPERMILING: Hey, that’s what I’ve been saying!

Monday, August 25th, 2008

You can call it hypermiling, or if you’re the Governator, EcoDriving. 

It’s the same thing, really. Well, EcoDriving is like hypermiling-light. But the premise is very similar to why I started this whole blog adventure. My motivations are more closely tied to my pocketbook than CO2 emissions, but that’s a positive bonus. 

You don’t have to buy a new car or hybrid to reduce your fuel bill. You do have to overhaul the WAY you drive. It’s not that hard.

You can get some sound tips on EcoDriving HERE. 

By the way, I filled up this morning and got less-than-stellar fuel economy – 32.2 mpg. But I have a confession. A couple days there I got acquainted with the gas pedal again. I just can’t help myself. Still, for the tank I managed 4 mpg better than my previous average.

 

 


Narrows Bridge Up For National Award

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

The new Tacoma Narrows Bridge is one of 10 projects in the running for the People’s Choice Award, a nationwide competition sponsored by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, the American Automobile Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The winner is decided upon by people across the nation via an online voting process.
Last month, The Western Association of State Highway Transportation Officials awarded the bridge one of its highest honors, the America’s Transportation Award, making it a finalist for the Grand National Prize and the People’s Choice Award.
“Now is the chance for the entire region to show the rest of the country that our project — on time and on budget — was the best of the best transportation projects in 2007,” said state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. “
The winner of the People’s Choice Award receives a substantial cash award to donate to a local or regional community service project of its choice. The Grand National Prize and the People’s Choice Award will be announced on Oct. 16 in Hartford, CT.
Cast your vote at http://www.americastransportationaward.org/Voting.aspx.


Can’t Hold It Any Longer Part II

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

A story in the BBC News Tuesday talked about passengers being ticked off at a ferry company for not having toilets available on an overnight crossing from Liverpool to Belfast.

The ferry left late Saturday and the plumbing system broke down at about midnight because somebody flushed a piece of clothing down a toilet. If would be fun to speculate on why they might want to do something like that. Maybe the cops came and they couldn’t get the drugs out of their pocket fast enough so just flushed the whole jacket.

One passenger said: “We spent almost 10 hours on the ship without toilets – it was disgusting.”

Engineers got the problem fixed at 7 a.m., after the passengers got off.

When they arrived in Belfast at about 6 a.m., the terminal building was still closed and there was no place to go to the bathroom.

For the complete story, go here.


Hot Lanes a Fair Way to Pay for Roads

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

A new study by UCLA and USC claims that hot lanes like those on Highway 167 are fairer to low-income people. Hot lanes are those that you can pay to use to bypass the slower “free” lanes.

That seems like a no-brainer. Maybe I’m not getting it, but the people who can afford to use the fast lanes are probably middle- or upper-income. So they’re paying more than their share for the road that poor people can’t afford to drive on.

If the road is paid for with gas taxes or sales taxes, people of all incomes pay about the same for them, but it would be a bigger percentage of  the poor people’s incomes.

The good news is that poor people don’t have to pay so much. The bad news is they’re stuck in the slow lanes. It’s another example of getting what you pay for, which in this case seems like a good thing.

Although the only hot lanes in Washington now are on Highway 167, there will be many more to follow.

Popular wisdom is that toll lanes are unfair to the poor. But the study compared paying for a highway with those tolls versus a statewide gas or sales tax and found the opposite. It makes sense, because those who use the toll lanes are probably middle- or upper-income people, so they’ll contribute more to paying for the road


Can’t Hold It Any Longer

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Ferry staffers either mixed up their words or were goofing around with us when they sent this e-mail alert out on Aug. 8:

Subject: Ferry Alert: Edmonds / Kingston – Late Boats
Both vessels are running 15 to 20 minutes behind schedule. We apologize for
any incontinence this may cause you.


The Story I Couldn’t Write

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

I wrote a story Friday about Naval Hospital Bremerton corpsman Robert Ripps, who had just returned from several weeks in Laos digging for the remains of a co-pilot of a C-119 transport plane. He and his team didn’t find the co-pilot, but found pieces of his plane and other stuff.

The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which is in charge of searches like this all over the world, didn’t give me the name of the co-pilot, but told me they thought he was in the area because the pilot had been found there. They don’t release names because they don’t want to upset the families if they know they’re searching for a family member and then don’t find him.

But by Googling a couple keywords from the information they did give me, it was pretty easy to find out who both the pilot and co-pilot were. It’s an intriguing story but I had promised not to give out the names in my story. I do recommend you that you figure it out and read up on it. You’ll find it worth your while. Let me know what you think.


HYPERMILING: It’s All A Game To You, Isn’t It?

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Sometimes things just pop into focus.

Today, I had one of those zen-like moments, just like I did when I learned how to beat those pesky Bullet Bills, or later, when I discovered that a carefully placed crouch in Super Mario Bros. 3 leads to a secret room.

Anyway, I promise there’s a reason I’m writing about Super Mario Bros.

People of my generation (At least the slightly geeky set who don’t mind prolonged couch surfing.) should be called “The Gaming Generation.” Not pinochle, but video games. Eight bit, then 16, 32, 64, 128, and now 98073497239084023.

And video games might help your driving.

Yes, that’s right motorists of my generation, Super Mario Bros. could help you use less gasoline.

My watershed moment came today when I read a blog post on Wired.com equating the blogger’s friend’s successful Weight Watchers experience with an RPG. (RPG = role-playing game. You know, like Zelda, or World of Warcraft if you’ve cultivated your dweeb quotient a little more.)

It all came together. I’d seen isolated reference after isolated reference about hypermiling as a game. A game, of course! Duh!

Right now I’m still playing pinochle in my Vibe. My games involve throttle actions, deft shifting and praying that the gas needle moves as slowly southward as possible. But this game could be SO 8-bit.

I’m getting closer to buying a ScanGaugeII, a digital device that plugs into your car and gives you real-time fuel consumption data.

“With the ScanGauge, the effect of driving style on fuel economy is instantly apparent. My mileage game just turned pro, and now I can have as much fun as those Prius and Civic hybrid aficionados with their fancy dashboard displays,” wrote metrompg.com.

Sounds like the Camry Hybrid is even better.

A CNNMoney.com article about the Camry Hybrid tells of the virtuous mpg game that is “Excellent!”. When your trip is at least 35 mpg, “Excellent!” flashes on the dash. (I should lobby Toyota to include “All I have to say about that is, asphinctersayswhat.” when you’re below 35 mpg in the next Camry Hybrid.)

Lots of newer cars already have similar (though more boring than the Camry) readouts. I’m all for them. After all, we’re hardwired to compete whenever there’s an LCD around.

It’s no secret that auto manufacturers are doing whatever they can to spur a sale or two. What if the mpg gauge kept track of your mileage, as compared to the vehicle’s combined average calculated the EPA? By the time your next service rolls around, if you beat the EPA, you get a free oil change. Or an album from iTunes.

It’s all the fun of Super Mario Bros. and you get paid. And your thumbs aren’t sore.

Mario would think the idea is “Excellent!”


How Are Those Backroads Working?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

It’s only been a few days since they blocked off Burley-Olalla Road from Highway 16, but I was wondering if it’s going to a big deal. Are Olalla Valley and Bandix roads becoming freeways? Has the mess in Purdy gotten even worse than usual?

I notice the highway speed limit is still 50 mph through there. I’ve written a bunch of times they’ll be reducing it to 40 mph, so that must be right.

The state will be having a big shindig down on Burley-Olalla on Friday, somewhere over by where the creek goes under. Paula Hammond and Judy Oke will be there, among others.