The Dunn Brothers coffee chain has “belts” in terms of when its stores open, said company President Chris Eilers.
“Urban stores open about 6:30. First- and second-ring suburbs, 6. And in the outskirts — Elk River, Monticello — it’s 5:30,” he said. “Typically, what sparks it is the number of people who show up before you open, pounding on the door and wanting their coffee.”
That side trip alone can add a half-hour to an already epic daily trek. And it means a staff member from the day care needs to walk the first-grader to school later in the morning, when it opens. Eager would love to arrange to work from home. And she says it “makes me want to cry” to have to crawl into town alongside so many freeway-clogging single-driver cars, when more carpooling and bus rides would speed the trip for all.
But Ardner, the mayor of Mora, sees the stresses that creates. “Truth is, we’d love to have a four-lane road up here,” he said. “If you know anyone whose arm we can twist, we’d love to hear about it.”
But that’s just it, said Johnson. What people do in their own lives to save money, finding a cheaper home farther out, creates costs for society.
“The public massively subsidizes all of this,” he said. The cost of adding lanes in Mora, for instance, would be averaged out across all users, even those driving a lot less. “Just imagine what would happen if we charged people what it costs to live this far away. That’s sort of behind a growing inclination, in Minnesota and elsewhere, to think about taxing mileage rather than fuel, to really calibrate how much you’re using the roads.”
Gov. Tim Pawlenty has talked of moving toward what he calls a “fuel-neutral mileage charge,” partly because new technologies such as electric cars will make it harder to collect revenue from road users. Six states are taking part over the next two years in a major study aimed at experimenting with using onboard computers to gauge roadway use and charge drivers accordingly.
Many megacommuters, partly in response to the cost of gas, are making big adjustments. Toni Roy, coming in from Claremont, in Dodge County, to Bloomington, often stays with her folks overnight. Davis, the Mora commuter who gets but an hour at home at night before turning in, works 10-hour shifts four days a week so she doesn’t have to drive in on Wednesdays, and sometimes trades homes with her city-based sister. She hops an express bus in Blaine many mornings, letting the driver deal with the stress of the trip’s most-congested stretch.
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