what i learned in my month without a car

here's something that rarely happens: a ride in an empty bus!
here’s something that rarely happens: a ride in an empty bus!

it’s been a month! it kinda flew by, but lo, i am dropping my car at the mechanic today. i learned a lot about transitioning to transit this month, and as i found myself planning my day, strategically combining a few lessons i grossly failed at mere weeks ago—all excited about how perfectly it would work out and how i would challenge myself to even walk the last leg rather than ride a bus to my stop—my epiphany became clear: i am hooked on avoiding driving!

but i can totally see how hard it is to make the transition. i’ve gone through periods of more transit and those virtually without, and it takes a different mindset. as timing would have it, our city’s pro-pedestrian ambassador, alissa walker, just wrote this piece for LA magazine, better off ped, with tips for living this way. i love her suggestions for success, but i found myself making far more novice errors, so i thought i’d take it from a much-more-recently behind the wheel stance.

thoughts on adapting to transit

travel light. whether you’re walking, bussing or biking, you’re not going to take a giant shoulder bag with everything you need. you’ll want something that carries your accoutrements [a book or notebook? a water bottle? a snack? anything you’d keep in a purse?] without killing your posture. you might eat out strategically rather than carry a lunch, or switch to a backpack on the days you need to carry extra cargo home. this is true for shoes, too. i got some cute sporty shoes that work well and stand up to a good walk.

get the lay of the land. locate your local bus stops, take note of the busses that stop there and look up the routes on metro.net. you can download pdfs online, or store them in ibooks on your phone. load up your tap card so you don’t have to worry about change. you can download the metro LA app to get info on maps, stops & next arrival times on your phone when you’re out. after your first few trips, you’ll find yourself at new stops with new connections. you’ll learn a lot more about the possibilities as you go.

you’re going to mess it up a few times. it happens, you look up a trip and it seems to work out, but one of many things go wrong, and now you’re late—only you can’t do anything about it. this is a great opportunity to learn about acceptance and the inability to control a situation. the lesson i’ve learned about control is that we often distract ourselves in thinking we’re controlling something that we’re not. like stressing out about being late? call ahead and explain what happened and move on.

plan weeks, not days. when i drive, i do errands all in one day, they are all off a main route and it makes sense to do them all together. it seems that transit is better geared to smaller clusters and more simple destinations, lest you end up on a marathon trip or carrying too much. i have learned to generally arrange the next week in my head, figuring out appointments first, clustering any errands that make sense with them, and deciding what is a priority of what’s left to do. which day will i walk, when should i commit to a transit trip? it will also help you place the more critical time-sensitive trips so you don’t run out of cat prescriptions without rearranging your whole day at the last minute.

understand that some people are going to feel sorry for you. i got a lot of shock and dismay at the idea that my mechanic was booked for a month. it didn’t bother me, but to some, it was an outrage. i also got a lot of insistence at accepting a ride home when it was found out that i took the bus to my destination, in the way you know a person wants to help you but it sounds like they’re suggesting you should never have to do something as lowly as public transit. sometimes it feels weird to have people pity you for something you feel good about. the complicated feedback loops at work here are not about you. you can comfort them that you are okay and the bus is okay and everything is okay.

but some people are going to offer you the much-needed ride home! there were lots of times that i wasn’t exactly going to ask for a ride, but when one comes up that keeps you from waiting around at night for a 3-legged trip, you take it graciously! this might be the ultimate lesson in acceptance, but it also got me wondering how i’m really living without a car while in someone else’s car. i didn’t wonder about this too long though, because a carpool trip is a great time for conversation.

you will become more comfortable all up in everyone’s grill. you will see the best and worst of people. it will be a barrage of fashion, attitudes, fragrant discoveries, conversations, exercises in avoidance, all kinds of hilarious and treacherous first-world urban survival skills will surface. some new shit will come to light, man! you will learn about yourself, and people, and about more acceptance, and it will all be okay. i try not to dwell on this, because it’s mostly not a big deal. then every once in awhile something jarring happens. some guy will not want to stand next to that other guy. someone might want to talk loudly about racism, or jesus, or share their paranoia or ask for money or suggest you are a scoundrel for refusing to loan them your phone. great social upheaval will happen! and then it will resolve itself. nothing jarring happened to me this month at all. everyone was cool. thank you, everyone, for being cool this month.

what’s the cost breakdown of this experiment?

the truth is, unless you completely ditch your car, benefiting from maintenance & insurance savings, if you don’t drive much, you are trading gas expenses for transit fares and conveniences. a week metro pass is $20, and though i don’t quite ride often enough to need one, my week would sometimes max out right at $20 on the tap card. a tank of gas in my car right now runs around $50, and i was doing 1-2 tanks per month. so my gas money would go to mostly transit fare and little snacks i’d buy along the way unless i was a daily commuter who stood to cut high mileage out of my life. however, like many things, the cost tradeoff alone shouldn’t be your only guide. on how many normal days do you just sneak in 2-4 miles on foot? or get to relax and enjoy the scenery? my body just caught up with all the exercise last week and i started to lose weight, so …!

what happens when the car comes home?

keep it up! so, last night when i was planning my day and realizing i wanted to walk part of my trip, the big takeaway is that i am going to keep walking as many trips as i can. i’m also going to keep taking the bus to all the daytime destinations i’ve been doing. the times i’m going to make exceptions are for 1 weekly run to an inconvenient errand of my choice [basically, the ones with heavy cargo] and any inconvenient night events.

drive 1 tank or less of gas per month. when i did my taxes recently, i noticed i was averaging 500 miles per month. my car gets 300 miles per tank of gas, so my first measure is going to be to drive only 1 tank of gas per month. considering how few times i would have used the car if i had the choice this month, i think this is going to be easy. the next discovery will be, exactly how little can i get away with driving below that tank? and how soon before something jarring challenges my comfort zone?

these are the mysteries that await! in the meantime, i got myself a pedometer app and i’m going to start tracking my trips. time to start measuring a different kind of mileage [i just walked 4 miles home from the vet after dropping off my car, cat meds in hand well before we run out this time! thanks myfitnesspal pedometer app!]

alissa has a follow-up to her LA magazine piece on her own blog: awalkerinla.com: better off ped full of resources for making your transition. share any you have here!

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