Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Do you pay the tolls or go the long way 'round?

When you have a choice between a shorter route with tolls to pay, or a longer one without them, what do you usually do? Do you pick time or money?

I drive very rarely, so I don't typically have to make those decisions. But earlier this week I borrowed my boyfriend's car to drive to New Jersey to visit friends for New Year's, and I was faced with exactly that dilemma.

Originally I was just going to take the route that Google Maps said was the quickest. But then I asked my Mom (who drives that way to NYC often) how much I'd expect to pay in tolls. She started rattling off numbers-- $3 here, $5 there-- as I added in my head. "Wait, you mean that it's going to be $45 in tolls to get there and back?!" She nodded. "Yup, that sounds about right."

So I started looking for another way, and found a path through Pennsylvania on major highways without a toll in sight. The catch? It took about a half-hour more in driving time each way. The money question was pretty straightforward-- an extra 40 miles round-trip would be less than $5 in extra gas costs, and even if you factor in wear and tear using the IRS mileage rate, it would only be about $20 vs $45. But was it worth spending an extra hour of my life driving?

I ended up deciding that it was. I hesitated, because driving stresses me out and I don't enjoy it. If the cost savings had been smaller, or the alternate route had been much more confusing (I get lost at the drop of a hat, which would mean more stress and extra time and miles), I might not have. But the directions were very straightforward, so essentially it was like putting in an hour's stressful but simple work in exchange for "earning" $25-$40, and I was up for that.

I wonder what the tipping point would be for me. If it had been the same financial savings for twice as much extra time ($25-$40 for two hours' extra driving) I don't think I'd have done it-- but if it was the same amount of extra time for half as much money ($10-$20 for an hour), I probably would have. So I guess it's not a simple $/time ratio!

How about you? Do you have any rules of thumb? Do you almost always go the cheaper way? Does the length of the overall journey affect your decision? Do other factors?


bpt said...

I factor in the fact I feel very guilty driving at all. I would go with the tolls, if I have established that there isn't any way to get to my destination by public transit.

Lauren said...

My fiance plotted a route for us to take at the holidays to get home to our parents' places that took us an extra hour each way to avoid paying a toll on the New York Thruway. I wouldn't have minded the extra hour if that had been it, but we hit this massive construction traffic jam and ended up taking about 2.5 hours more than if we'd been on the turnpike. I am a time vs. money person, he's strictly money...