2012/03/21

Car free

my Volkswagen Golf, under snow - I biked this day

I’ve been car free since August 2011, when I finalized my move from Carson City to Sacramento. I have been trimming down use of my car, driving less each year. This was not an insignificant accomplishment, given that in the not too distant past I regularly drove 25,000 mile per year, but the final year it was down to about 3,500. I never brought my car over from Carson City, instead loaning it to a friend who used it sometimes, and I used it sometimes when I was in Carson City and needed to transport things for work, or to the Goodwill as I was also gradually getting rid of many of my possessions. And I eventually gave it to her. I think fondly of my car, as it was cute and reliable and got me where I needed to go, but I don’t miss driving it.

I had been thinking about becoming car free for a long time, and wondering what it would be like. The questions, the raised eyebrows, of my friends and acquaintances made me think it might be a big deal, but in the end it turned out to be pretty much a non-event. All it took was a commitment to planning out my life better and not using the car as a crutch for lack of planning or forethought. It just isn’t part of my life anymore, and unless people ask me about it or I write a blog post on it, I don’t think about it.

So how do I get around? Well, having an iPhone with GPS and the Maps app helps a great deal. Most trips are multi-modal, involving light rail, bus, bike, and walking. The transit element of the app helps me figure out the transfers and the timing.

I’ve kept my ZipCar membership in case of emergencies, and there are several ZipCars in downtown and mid-town Sacramento, but I’ve not used one since July. When I travel to Las Vegas to visit my mom and other family, I use my sister’s car to pick up my mom, which my sister can no longer do because of my mom’s limited mobility. I’ll continue to do that as long as my mom is alive. And in April I’m going to visit a friend in Springdale, Utah who I’ve not seen in many many years, driving the three hours up there. There is no public transportation to Springdale, just outside Zion, though there is a shuttle inside the park. I may also take a ride from another long un-seen friend who lives outside of Olympia, Washington. I also sometimes catch rides from people when they are going the same direction as I, but I am insistent that they not take me out of their way to get me where I’m going.

Have I saved a lot of money? Some. I still buy insurance (non-owner) so that I can get rental cars, if needed, though again, I haven’t rented a car in almost a year. I’ll probably stop carrying insurance completely within a year. ZipCars include insurance. Obviously I’ve saved money not buying gas and paying for maintenance. but some of that is taken up with transit passes and bike maintenance. Significantly less, but then again I wasn’t paying that much anyway. I don’t think gas is expensive! I think it is way too cheap. In addition to the externalized costs that we don’t pay at the pump, it just amazes me that people take for granted a fuel source that can move a ton or more hunk of metal and plastic, and our fat asses, 30 miles or so, for only $4. I’m sure I’ll blog in the future about the price of gas and more detail on the economics of being car-free.

To my surprise, one of the things I’ve saved is time. I use my time on light rail and the bus to think deeply, or read, or listen to podcasts and books, or even just to enjoy people watching as there are always a variety of “interesting” people on pubic transit. None of those are really safe when driving, though certainly a lot of drivers do it. I spend no time, zero, thinking about where to park, driving around the block looking for spots, trying to find free or less expensive parking, worried about time limits, searching for quarters.

I just got a California drivers license, and I’m thinking it might be my last one. Becoming car free is the first step, but becoming free of cars is the next step, and I’ll work on that.

For those who will say, sure, for him it was easy, but it wouldn’t be for me, let me just challenge you. Be car free one day, and then one day a week, then two, and then…

While typing this blog I’ve typed care free instead of car free a number of time. Well, there you go.

About Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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