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Old Orange Metro At Station In Brussels

Pros and cons of public transport for daily commute

Last Updated on January 1, 2021 by Mr. FightToFIRE

Don’t you just love public transport? I do, at least, most of the time. Although as of late, “most of the time” has become “half of the time”. Ever since I started working in Brussels, I commute to work using public transport. In theory, it works pretty well. It takes exactly 1 hour to get from my door to the doors at work, all modes of transport included. In practice, there are some clear advantages and disadvantages of using public transport for my daily commute.

Icons of my daily means of transportion to reach work (bike - train - metro - walk)

My 45 minute commute contains ~25 minutes of train and ~10 minutes of metro. The rest is walking. Unfortunately, this schedule has become rarer in the last few years. It’s almost like expecting a politician not to try and circumvent an uncomfortable question. It’s not impossible, but it sure as hell is not something you expect to happen.

My public transport cons

Delay, delay, delay

Desiro train of the NMBS/SNCB on the move
The Desiro trains are the most recent trains of the NMBS/SNCB. They have good air conditioning and are OK in terms of comfort. This type of train is mainly used for the so-called Suburban train offer in and around Brussels.

These delays have become part of my daily routine. If it was only a few minutes, I wouldn’t care, but alas, more often than not, it’s 10 minutes, with spikes well into the 20 minutes region.
The National Railways is working on improvements, but it’s not really showing. Their punctuality even decreased to 87.2% (FYI, a delay here means: a train that doesn’t reach the end station within 6 minutes of its foreseen arrival time).

And sweating during hot summers

Whether it’s winter or summer, I have come to accept that I sweat profusely by the time I arrive at the station. It isn’t “the fault” of anything or anyone: I just sweat faster than most (most likely due to my fitness level).

This grievance gets validated almost daily. Even as recent as this week just standing still on the metro. During rush hour it can get crowded on the metro and due to lack of airconditioning, it becomes damp and hot (at least for me) fast.
What do you think happens after not even a minute in? Correct, I feel my pores opening and the salty liquid merely pouring out like they are sliding down a slide at the water park.
By the time I’m at my destination, I have to walk like a bodybuilder on steroids to prevent my shirt from becoming a wet rag.

The Pros of public transport

Pro number 1: Saving money

Even with the daily annoyances, I really do prefer the public transport for my commute. Besides the aforementioned benefits of not having to drive yourself, there is one additional major reason for it:
I save money! Because the government gives a tax incentive when you take public transport it’s free for me.
On top of that, I earn money because I bike part of my commute.

“Earn” and “save” don’t say a lot, so let me put some real numbers:

  • One yearly pass for both my train (route) and metro:  1781 EUR
  • 12 km round trip/workday for an entire year, excl. holidays@0,22 euro/km: 538.56 EUR

This gives me a total of 2320.56 EUR/year I save and earn.

And this doesn’t include the money I save by not getting a (salary or personal) car. The benefits are even greater if I include the additional costs saved by not having to pay car costs.

Public transport rules: main advantages

In the end, I stick to everything but the car to reach my workplace. Why wouldn’t I, after all:
  • I can do other things while commuting, such as sleeping (protip: never forget a timer!)
  • It saves me money, by not having to pay for my transportation and by not spending it on a car
  • I earn ~45 EUR per month biking, to and from the station

With the above summary, I have concluded my daily struggle with Belgian public transport.
It won’t be the last post, especially if I ever do decide to switch to a car but that’ll do for now.

This was my story but what about you? Please leave a comment telling how your daily commute is like. Or do you live close to your office not needing public transport? Maybe your home is your office? Do you have a financial incentive to ditch the car and take public transport?

I'm a developer for a major financial institution in Belgium that is present in over 40 countries. I have over 8 years of working experience in the development of customer applications focussing on all aspects of banking. This helped me gain a deep understanding of the inner workings of a commercial bank. All of this experience in both banking and life culminates in this blog about personal finance and my fight towards FIRE.

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