Carless but not Careless

Did the photo of the smashed Prius get your attention? More on that later…

I wanted to talk about my personal evolution toward being more green and socially responsible as it relates to transportation choices in Los Angeles.

A good place to start would be early 2003 when I “needed” to get a car after having returned a leased vehicle. I made the not-so-thought-out decision to lease another vehicle, a Jeep Liberty. It was big and clunky (though not as big as the Jeep Grand Cherokee that I returned) and gas mileage was crappy. Gas prices in 2002 were not too bad.. about $1.65/gallon (hard to believe, huh?) but the Jeep averaged about 14mpg so it wasn’t exactly fuel-efficient. Fast forward a few months, and a disturbing trend developed — I was having to bring in the Jeep for the same maintenance issue over and over again. After 10 months of this, Chrysler took back the Jeep under the lemon law and returned all my lease payments — wow!

I decided to use this opportunity to rethink my carbon footprint and what I needed in a vehicle. The second generation Prius had just come out and I was attracted to the technology and its gas-sipping abilities. Right around Christmas 2003, I took delivery of a “Golden Pearl” (aka Tan) Prius with all the fixin’s. I was really happy with this car — impressed by the technology and super fuel efficiency and not caring about the nay-sayers who said it was ugly and lacked power and performance. I was even happier with my purchase as gas prices trended up and up into 2008.

Taking the Train

Fast forward to early 2012 and my daily commute consisted primarily of going to and from Kleverdog (Highland Park to Chinatown). I started to think about what it would be like to use other forms of transportation instead of driving. The Chinatown Metro station is just 2 blocks away from Kleverdog and actually has a stop on my street in Highland Park. At about this time, I was made aware of a program that the Metro offered — essentially a big discount on an annual TAP card (more info here). I spoke with a Metro rep and got Kleverdog on board to take part in the program. Now, about half the coworkers are eligible and take the metro trains and buses to and from Kleverdog and for their own weekend and other commutes. I started slow by alternating between driving and taking the train and really enjoyed the convenience and dare I say, fun, of taking the train into work.

This continued for a few more months and I started to seriously think about selling my car and doing it fulltime. A disclaimer, I do have access to another car in case of emergencies but my intention was to go as carless as possible. I was especially inspired by Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits, which I read religiously. I researched resell value and bluebook value and let people know that I wanted to sell my car.

Smash!

This brings us to the photo at the top of this post. On November 11, 2012 (my birthday, to make the impact even more profound), I got into an accident just a few blocks from my house (don’t they say that most accidents happen within a couple miles of home?). A car turned unexpectedly in front of me at an intersection giving me no time to even hit my brakes. I was shaken up but no injuries to myself or the other driver. After a painful tow to the nearest repair shop and an inspection by my insurance company, it was a declared a total loss.

So, I was free from my car but not exactly the way I thought it would happen. My insurance company sent me a check but I didn’t contemplate getting another car — here was my big chance to put the carless “experiment” in full gear.

Pedal Power

So, in addition to the Metro buses and trains, another convenient (and healthy) mode of transportation has been my bike. I got a folding bike this year that makes it super convenient to bring on the train and you can even bring it on the bus (instead of placing in the rack on the front of the bus — I always imagined my bike falling off and being crushed under the wheels of the same said bus). There’s a few of us that ride our bikes to Kleverdog and I’m hoping that more will join in. Wouldn’t it be great to take a break from work by riding into Downtown or Little Tokyo or just touring around the neighborhood?

Zipping with a Zipcar

Admittedly, there are times when a car becomes necessary. I had heard about the unique car sharing company, Zipcar, and saw their cars on the street before but hadn’t seriously thought about it until I became carless. I looked into the details and really liked what I saw. A big plus to me was avoiding the car rental companies where you have to first get there (sure, Enterprise picks you up but not always at your convenience) and the lines and time it takes for you to get the keys and finally get out of there. Plus, with a car rental, you usually need to plan ahead of time. With Zipcar, there’s a handy smartphone app where you can see where the cars are and when they are available. You can book them right from the app too. When it’s time to pick up the car, you just walk right up, hover your Zipcar pass over the sensor and the door magically unlocks. You jump in and go. And, you can rent it just for a couple of hours if you need to. Perfect if I have to see a client that’s not easy to get to by the Metro or even to make a run to IKEA to pick up some stuff for Kleverdog.

The good folks at Zipcar came over to talk to us about their company and set up a page where our coworkers can have the $75 application fee waived! Smiles all around. I definitely see using a Zipcar for those car emergencies when public transportation or my bike won’t cut it.

Moving Forward

Going carless is certainly not for everyone although I would argue that many of the excuses that people use to not experiment with different modes of transportation are easily countered with a growing list of viable alternatives. For me, the path to this realization was a little skewed, but I’m certainly happy for it.

What do you think? Could you try going carless for a few days a week? Please comment below.

One Response to “Carless but not Careless”

  1. JTBookworm April 30, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    Inspiring story! I’ve just started taking the train, but I don’t think I’m ready to go carless yet. Too far from the train station! However, I’m signing up with zipcar so we’ll see if it can help wean me off my car!

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