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8 Tips for Car-Free Commuting
—Patricia Sampson, writer
Being able to get to and from work reliably is a fundamental requirement for living car-free. Clearly, if you can’t get to your job on time every day, you’ve got problems. Not only will you be able to get to work reliably, you'll also find your car-free commute more enjoyable and more productive and likely save money on your monthly fuel cost.
1) Researching Transportation Options
What would you do if gas prices shot up to $5 per gallon? (Which, incidentally, may happen not too far in the future.) You’d probably start looking really hard for a way to get to work that didn’t involve driving your car. Could you ride the bus? Take the train? Carpool? Ride your bicycle? These are the questions to ask yourself in this chapter. Is your car truly necessary, or is it just a convenient habit?
Researching transportation alternatives is simple and easy and won’t take much time at all. Half the battle is just opening your eyes to what’s around you. Here are the best ways to find a car-free route to work.
2) Explore Your Neighborhood and Community
If you currently have a car, take a drive around the neighborhood where you live. Look for things like bike paths, bus stops, sidewalks, light rail lines, hotels with taxi stands, pedestrian overpasses, park-and-ride lots, car-sharing hubs, rental-car company locations, shuttle and trolley stops, and carpool or vanpool sites. Make a note of what you find.
3) Talk to Your Friends and Neighbors
You might be surprised to learn that your next-door neighbor or a friend from down the street takes the bus or rides his bike to work. But you may never know unless you ask. Finding someone on your street or block who can show you the ropes is one of the best ways to learn about car-free commuting.
Also look for bicyclists, motorcyclists, scooter riders, walkers, joggers, in-line skaters, and other people moving around your neighborhood without a car. Stop and ask them where they’re headed and how they get to work and back. Most people who don’t rely on a car for their daily needs are proud of that fact and eager to talk about it.
4) Ask Your Coworkers
People you work with are a good source of car-free commuting information because they go to the same place you do every day. If you have an internal email system, send out a mass email asking to hear from car-free commuters. Or post a flyer on a company bulletin board or on the refrigerator in the lunchroom. Chances are good you’ll find a few people who don’t drive to work. Ask them for advice and suggestions.
5) Contact Your Local Mass Transit Authority
Most cities have some sort of bus, train, or other public transit system. One of the most important parts of a successful mass transit program is providing useful information to users. A simple phone call to your local transit authority can usually provide you with a system map, user’s guide, and a brochure with commuting tips. Another option is to visit a transit stop and talk with other riders about their experiences.
5) Search The Internet
One of the many blessings of the information superhighway is that it can help us stay off of the asphalt highway. Just go to www.google.com and type in your city name, the plus sign (+), and the words “public transit” in quotation marks. For example, when I do this for the city where I live, I type “St. Louis”+“public transit” and press Enter. Then just peruse the results.
You’ll probably find the official website of the public transit authority in your city, plus other groups and organizations that promote the use of mass transit. You may find it beneficial to repeat the search using your city plus the words “mass transit.” Sometimes these terms provide different results.
Most mass transit providers have excellent, user-friendly websites. Your first stop should be the system map. You’ll be able to see right away if a bus line or light rail stop is located near your home or office. Most public transit websites also have tips for new riders, fare structures, monthly pass information, and a list of rules and prohibited items.
6) Contact Local Groups
Almost every city has a group that advocates living car-free. Many of these are local chapters of national organizations. These groups are easy to find by doing a Google search with the keywords “car-free”+“[your city].”
There are also bicycling, walking, motorcycling, and scooter clubs in almost every city. These organizations are an excellent source of information for commuting without a car. Most bicycle shops can get you in touch with other bicycle commuters.
7) Visit Carpooling Websites and Message Boards
As the cost of owning a car continues to escalate every year, so does the interest in carpooling. If two people are going from the same neighborhood to the same office building, why shouldn’t they ride together and split the costs?
National websites have sprung up to connect carpoolers. Visit www.erideshare.com and you can browse the carpools available in your area. The website also links carpoolers for running errands and for out-of-town travel. We’ll cover carpooling in more detail in chapter 11.
8) Call Your Local Chamber of Commerce
If you’re still striking out, you may want to call your local chamber of commerce. Efficient transportation is vital to the economic success of any city. And the chamber will be able to get you in touch with public transit organizations. Most chambers also have some sort of welcome kit, which they will mail to you. These kits usually include maps, coupons, and information about local attractions, as well as a list of regional transportation providers.
From "How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life" by Chris Balish. © 2006 Ten Speed Press.