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Fueling America

Gas prices too high? iReporters use bikes, trains

By Kate Taylor
CNN
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(CNN) -- Americans are seeking new ways to get to work, with soaring gas prices suddenly making their cars and SUVs uncomfortable -- or at least expensive -- places to be.

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Heath and Danya Johnson work together, and they always carpool, sometimes on their motorcycle.

On average, Americans spend almost 50 minutes driving to and from work each day and changing habits can be hard in cities where public transport has not kept up with the growth of suburbs.

With the average price of gas up to $3.92 a gallon Friday -- a record high, according to the American Automobile Association -- many commuters are considering alternative means of transportation.

iReporters told CNN that going car-less just takes a little research, exploration and planning.

Soon after Elizabeth Peisner of Los Angeles, California, bought a new car, gas prices exploded. After years of driving around Los Angeles, Peisner decided to look into the Los Angeles Metro.

Peisner was delighted to find she could take the Metro from a stop near her home in the Valley straight to her office downtown. Since then she's reorganized her life so that everywhere she needs to go is accessible via the Metro. She even found a new doctor whose office is on the Metro line.

A teacher, Peisner runs into fellow staff and students on the train. She says she's forged new friendships by sharing commutes.

"It has become a new way to rediscover the city I have called home my entire life but never really knew that much about," Peisner explained. "I love my Metro."

It appears that Peisner is not alone in making the switch to public transportation.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, ridership increased by 2.1 percent in 2007, with Americans taking 10.3 billion trips on public transportation, the highest level in 50 years, the group said.

Those numbers add up to fewer cars on the road. Americans drove an estimated 4.3 percent less in March 2008 than in March 2007. That's 11 billion fewer miles, the DOT's Federal Highway Administration said Monday, and it is the sharpest yearly drop for any month in the agency's history.

Robert Elliott used to go to the gym every morning, but after the birth of his two children 13 months apart, that changed. One day at work, Elliott was complaining to his co-workers about the weight he'd gained, when one of them suggested he bike to work.

"I said, 'Are you kidding me? In Phoenix?' " Elliott envisioned himself as the sole biker surrounded by cars on the city's grid system of streets. Instead, Elliott's co-worker used Google Earth to show him a 12-mile network of paved trails, a section of which passed by their office. Elliott says he'd been looking for bike trail maps for a while with no luck. "You have to ask around," he explained.

Now, Elliott rides 23 miles round trip three times a week. "It started off being a bit of a challenge," he said. "You have to bike both ways. Sometimes you feel a little concerned, am I going to get home? You can literally run out of energy. You have to make sure you drink plenty of water." See a photolog of Elliott's bike ride to work

"And," Elliott added, "You're used to having your car at work, to run errands and stuff."

But, Elliott says, the payoff has been worth it. He did a few weekend test runs to make sure he was ready to bike so far. "The wife's always on call with the minivan," he added.

He's gotten used to the distance, and now Elliott prefers biking to driving, although it takes about 20 minutes more each way. "I'm losing weight, and it's stress-free, not having to sit in traffic." Take a narrated tour of another city's gridlock traffic

To pass the time while biking, Elliot has been listening to Spanish lessons on his MP3 player. "I'm out there on the trails, speaking Spanish," he mused.

Kate Mullins lives just outside Springfield, Missouri, and admits that she finds the city bus system in her area "weird." Wanting to avoid spending money to drive their 1979 Chevy Nova, Mullins and her husband each bought a used scooter. Now, she says, they save about $200 a month on gas.

Mullins rides her scooter to work every day, and it's not powerful enough to take on the highway, so the trip takes her twice as long as the 15-minute drive to work in the car. But Mullins doesn't mind; she enjoys the wind in her hair and calls it "a fun little ride." Hear from another iReporter who adores his scooter

"It saves me a heck of a lot more gas," Mullins said. "It's gotten to the point where most of us are doing what we can."

When Heath and Danyah Johnson of Roanoke, Texas, were given the option of working in the same building, they jumped at it. Both teachers, the Johnsons work in a school district that allows married couples to work together.

Although, as Heath said, it's "a lot of togetherness," the convenience makes up for the challenge. The Johnsons have one car, which they usually take to work, dropping their sons off on the way. On the days the boys ride the bus, Heath and Danyah Johnson take the motorcycle. Hear from an iReporter who calls motorcycling a 'Zen vacation'

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"We feel pretty smart," Danyah Johnson said. "We save on gas, insurance and maintenance."

Danyah Johnson knows she's lucky to live in such convenient circumstances, but, she said, "we'll keep it up as long as we can."

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