Hi. My name is Amanda Eaken and I'm a walking, biking, transit-riding hypocrite. All this time I've been advocating sustainable transportation choices and shared mobility, and yet I still own my own car.
At least for the next few weeks.
And I'm counting on you, the readers of my Switchboard blog, to hold me to this pledge:
My family and I will live car-free in San Francisco beginning on this date: Feb. 23. That's 12 days, 11 hours and 25 minutes from this posting, but who's counting?
Actually, we at NRDC Urban Solutions are.
Feb. 23 is the date of Live Ride Share: SoCal's Emerging Mobility Marketplace, a first of its kind in Southern California and a conference we've been planning for more than a year. Together with some great partners including Move LA, TransitCenter, Shared-Use Mobility Center, FAST, pointC and ULI, NRDC Urban Solutions is examining one simple question:
With smart technology and an explosion of innovative mobility choices, coupled with the emergence of the sharing economy and a souring of America's romance with the automobile, should anyone living in a city actually need to own a car? The conference has a terrific line up of speakers, so I encourage you to join me for the conversation with some of the biggest thought leaders in the country and the world on this topic on Feb. 23 at the conference.
There are some obvious reasons to walk away from my 7-year-old Toyota Prius, including my 100,000-mile maintenance bill ($600), recent tire replacement ($539), annual insurance ($1,200) and my routine-yet-maddening 45-minute searches for a place to ditch this hunk of plastic and metal since I refuse to pay another $300 per month for a permanent parking space. The really shocking fact is that just owning and operating a car costs Americans an average of $9,000 a year, a fact illustrated in a heartbreaking piece last week in Grist about how sometimes buying someone a car doesn't solve anything.
But I'll focus on illuminating the ways in which my life will improve without a car.
It has never before been so easy to gain access to a car when and where I want one. What I've realized is that I need a car *sometimes*--like during the holidays, when my mother ships a giant outdoor fire pit to my office and I need to haul it home.
Here's the thing, though: Unless I want to pay $30 to park near my office and deal with the headache of having to drive downtown, owning a car doesn't help me in that situation, because it's in the wrong place. My car is sitting on the street in my neighborhood, and I still need wheels where I am. I'm better off taking the bus to work and grabbing a cab or rideshare service home. Keep in mind, $25 is the average daily cost just to own and operate a car in the United States, so the $10 cab ride home--or even cheaper if I can dynamically share the ride with someone else through services like LyftLine and UberPool--is a bargain.
And, the options are growing. Through Citycarshare, ZipCar and new peer-to-peer rental services like Getaround, I don't need to own my own car because I can pull up an app on my phone and see that there are hundreds of options at all price points and styles within a few blocks of my house. I can pay $7.50 an hour to drive someone else's car if I need one. (I've learned from personal experience that other people's cars are a heck of a lot nicer than mine, too.) This is the phenomenon Rachel Botsman describes in her book "What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption". You get to upgrade your life, while paying less. The perks of sharing!
I actually dipped my toe in the sharing economy from the owner's side last year when I signed up with Getaround. I made almost $2,000 in the first year and was delighted at the idea that my car took on a new life as our neighborhood carshare car. And when I could make $150 a weekend by letting someone else use my car, I figured I was better off renting it out, and then paying $7.50 an hour if and only if I actually needed a car. The fact that Getaround helped me - a dedicated sustainable transportation advocate--make more rational, informed financial decisions about using my car versus other modes was surprising and exciting.
But at some point I realized: Other people are using my car much, much more than I am. And then I'm the fool left paying all these insurance bills, and having to re-park it every time there is street cleaning.
What finally tipped us over the edge was that one of the windows broke (another $368 down the drain). And because the window was broken in the open position over the holidays, we had to store the car in a friend's garage. A few weeks went by. We never drove it, we didn't have to think about moving it, and you know what? We didn't miss it. At all! That's when I told my partner: "Honey, we're selling the car".
Here's something else I observed: I think one reason it's so hard to park in my neighborhood is because no one drives much! I imagine that I live around people just like me who mostly take transit, ride their bikes, or pay for rides to, from and around the city, reserving driving mostly for weekends.
The average American car sits parked for 95% of its life. In San Francisco, I'll bet you that number is even higher. So when no one moves their car, parking is virtually impossible. I just started to realize that I AM A PART OF THIS PROBLEM. So, that means I could also be part of the solution by selling my car and using someone else's car only when I need it. I really started to think that the whole notion that we all need to own our own cars, just so we have them available for the tiny percentage of the time that we actually use them, is a little crazy.
I'm not the first to realize that if we would all just share resources -- use cars when we need them, move toward real-time, seamless, dynamic ridesharing so the average occupancy of cars is greater than 20%, and make point to point bikes publicly available through bikeshare programs, we could solve a lot of our congestion and parking woes.
Imagine - relief from all that daily stress and responsibility. It's as simple as it sounds, yet I admit I'm a little nervous. After all, I recently bought the Yakima bike racks I wanted so I could take my mountain bike up to Mt. Tam and then lock it in place while I ate dinner afterward.
Wait, did I just say I own a car so I can ride my bike?
Sure, I've taken some great road trips to Tahoe and river rafting, and my car has my iPhone charger in it, as well as my special old sneakers and kayak straps in the trunk. But those things will never outweigh the peace of mind I will feel in never again having to pay for maintenance, insurance and FasTrak; or become oddly obsessed with parking spaces--dashing like a lunatic (even putting obstacles in the street to "reserve" a spot) to move the car to the other side of the road to get that perfect Friday spot!
Oh, and, by the way, it's my life's work to further sustainable transportation and contribute solutions to the fight against climate change. Driving less, burning fewer fossil fuels, and participating in the leading-edge of change puts me more in alignment with that.
So, back to walking the walk. I am starting hyper-local at the neighborhood level. I am following through on the challenge popularized by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition T-Shirt we all love: ONE LESS CAR. I actually saw a new spin on that old phrase this weekend: ONE LESS CARE. Indeed. Will you help me pull the trigger?
Come to our conference and ask me if I have the money to buy the family electric bicycle I've been dreaming of. If I do, you'll know I took the plunge.
WHAT: Live Ride Share Conference
WHEN: February 23rd, 8:00 am - 5:15 pm with reception to follow
WHERE: Japanese American National Museum, 100 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles
WHO: More than 75 Speakers from South LA to Helsinki
HOW: Register now