Last month Metro and local officials encouraged Angelenos to forgo their private autos and give public transit a try for National Dump the Pump Day. While it’s nice to hear our local leaders promoting public transit and its promising future here in Los Angeles, as a transit advocate who dumped the pump long ago, I’m asking my fellow Angelenos (or at least the readers of this blog) to consider joining me in living completely car-free, starting today. Sound impossible? It’s not, and this list of suggestions is meant to ease the transition.
Like the sleazy car dealer, but in reverse, I’m asking “What will it take to get you out of your car today?”
Now I’m not going to pretend going car-free is easy or even possible for everyone. But in L.A. there are as many lifestyles as there are people, and there’s a chance that living without a car will work with your lifestyle. Take a look at these tips – compiled from personal experience and chats with friends and colleagues who have made the transition – and see if you can pull it off.
1. You need to WANT to Dump the Pump.
Sounds obvious, but if you have no problem with getting around L.A. in your car – heck, you may even enjoy it – then the car-free lifestyle just isn’t going to work for you. On the other hand, if you dread the thought of getting behind the wheel and facing L.A. traffic, if spending your hard-earned money on gasoline makes you sick, if you hate the idea that your mobility is tearing up the environment both natural and built – basically, if you feel like your car is a one-ton monkey made of glass and steel on your back, then you’re going to want to keep reading.
2. Use the web to find the transportation alternatives available to you.
We live in the future, so take advantage of it. Google Maps has every single Metro bus stop and rail station built in – just search for your address and see what (if anything) is nearby. Chances are that at the very least you’ll discover that there are a few bus lines near you. Now cross reference those lines with the timetables and maps on Metro.net to see where they go and how often they run. Note that not every local transportation agency (like Santa Monica Big Blue Bus and Culver City Bus) is on Google yet, but they all have websites which can help in your search for available alternatives. Use Google or the Metro Trip Planner to see if there’s a route that takes you from your home to your place of employment, or any other important destinations you visit on a regular basis (ignore the non-essential trips you make for now).
There’s one important thing to consider as you search for transportation alternatives…
3. Don’t dismiss the bus.
I’ll be honest, buses don’t have the charm, the comfort or the speed of rail. But, they’re also not as bad as you think and they currently make up the bulk of L.A.’s expansive transit system. Supposedly Margaret Thatcher once said, “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” Well, I’m 29, ride the bus, and consider myself wildly successful – I just don’t buy the billions of dollars car companies spend on marketing to convince me that driving a nice car equals being really successful. So if you don’t live next to a train station, don’t fret. Shake your reservations and perceptions honed by the auto industry’s marketing dollars and hop on the bus and give it a go. My guess is that you’ll find it’s not as bad as you imagined, and depending on what route, it might actually be pretty darn nice.
4. Be prepared to make changes, some might call them sacrifices.
Look, no matter where you are or how great the system, riding public transit is not like driving a car. It’s called public transportation for a reason – you’re sharing the space and the trip with other people. So you can’t blast your favorite radio station, you can’t choose your speed and you can’t stop and go whenever you please. There’s a chance your trip will take longer than it would if you drove. But think about the sacrifices you make when you drive. Your trip may be faster, but it’s probably also more stressful. You can’t take a nap while you drive, you can’t read a novel or work documents when you drive, technically you can’t (and you really shouldn’t) text when you drive and there’s abundant evidence making a phone call is a major compromise to your safety. When you get to your destination on public transit you just hop off, whereas in a car you may be where you need to be — but first you have to find a place to park your car which can be time consuming, stressful and expensive. In fact, your hard earned money is probably the biggest sacrifice you make to drive, which brings us to the next tip…
5. Start keeping track of your monthly car expenses.
And this goes beyond just what you spend on gasoline – think car insurance, parking, tickets, valets, repairs, car washes, registration and if you really like to crunch numbers you can throw in the cost of depreciation. Then come up with a list of stuff you’d like to have if you had the money – a vacation, a new gadget, a piece of jewelry, a fatter retirement fund. What you’ll find is that even if you’re not driving your car that much it’s still sucking gobs of money from your wallet every month that could be going to the stuff you really want, the stuff that could improve your quality of life.
Check out the next five ways to Dump the Pump, after the jump…
6. Take it slow. Park your car (preferably where you can’t get to it easily), but don’t dump it… yet.
Weirdly, in our society owning a car is right up their with having shelter and food on the table, which means there’s going to be some separation anxiety as you adjust to a life without a car. That’s why you need to ease off – going cold turkey will just leave you cold, scared and taking out a pricey lease for a new car in no time. Start off giving yourself one day a week where you refuse to use your car, and stick to it. Gradually add more car-free days until start to question the necessity of your vehicle. At that point, see if you can move your car to a place that isn’t convenient to get to – be it a few blocks away or hundreds of miles away. When I was in the process of giving up my car, I took a road trip to my parent’s house in Arizona and took a flight back – leaving my car in their driveway, virtually impossible for me to get to (and much cheaper and friendlier than L.A. parking). Within months I decided it was time to sell the car.
7. Get a monthly pass.
A Metro Monthly Pass costs $75/month and gets you unlimited rides on all Metro buses and trains. An EZ Transit Pass is $84/month and gets you unlimited rides on virtually all transit carriers in the region. For an EZ Transit Pass that comes out to $1,008/year, which is nearly $2,000 less than the yearly cost of owning a very inexpensive car (as calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). The advantages of using a monthly pass are convenience – you don’t have to carry around exact change all the time, you can easily make unplanned trips (important if you’re living car-free) and there’s no standing in line at ticket vending machines as your train passes by. Don’t forget to see if you qualify for any special discounts (seniors and students do) or if your employer can help you out with the cost of a pass.
Of course, this recommendation will change once the cash-purse feature is added to TAP cards. Once that happens TAP will have the convenience of a pass with the potential cost savings of paying as you go. No word on when this will be implemented though (read our answers to TAP questions here).
8. Invest in a smart phone.
If you don’t already have one, the first thing you should get with the money you’re saving on gas is a Google-enabled smart phone. I can emphasize enough how these smartphones are revolutionizing getting around on transit, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of the potential. Already I can use Google Maps on my iPhone to find transit directions from wherever I am and get scheduled arrival times. This means you don’t have to lug around scores of timetables and a system map to plan your trip – in fact it makes it possible to not plan trips, and live by the seat of your pants, like you might do in a car. As more local transit providers open their data, it’s only going to get better. For example, Metro is currently in the process of getting a system in place to provide real time transit arrival data which will invariably make its way into a smartphone friendly app. Even without real time, there’s already 14 apps out there that put Metro data to good use and make the car-free life so much easier.
9. Get a bike and join a car sharing service.
There’s many who would say that getting a bike should be first on this list, but personally I’m a transit guy first and foremost, and tend to use a bike for trips that are too far to walk to but are either not accessible by train or bus or close enough that I wouldn’t want to bother waiting for transit. In other words, I find a bike to be an essential and inexpensive tool in my car-free mobility arsenal. You may use it more or less than I do, but I think a bike is essential for anyone who doesn’t own a car. I don’t recommend spending a lot of money on a bike because they are really easy to steal, but make sure you get one that rides comfortably.
Another tool in my car-free quiver? Membership with a car-sharing program. Admittedly, they are far and few between in L.A. – LAXCarShare and Zipcar are the two companies that currently offer short term car rentals in the region. They both have geographic limitations when it comes to car availability, with Zipcar limited to the USC and UCLA campus in Los Angeles (there’s also Zipcars in Pasadena next to Caltech) and LAXCarShare with a handful of cars spread about in Downtown, Santa Monica and Hollywood. But, if you are lucky enough to live within a short walk or transit ride to these services, they can be invaluable for those times when you need a car. And there will be times when you need a car – trips to Home Depot or Ikea come to mind. There’s no shame in that, this post is about giving up car ownership, not banning cars from existence.
10. Move to a transit-oriented neighborhood.
Here’s the big one. The one where I ask a lot. If you’re really committed to the car-free lifestyle, you’re going to want to live someplace that is truly conducive to it. This doesn’t mean you have to move to a shiny new Transit Oriented Development (TOD), although more and more are popping up. It simply means that in L.A. some neighborhoods are better served by transit than others. And the better of these neighborhoods are actually walkable, bike friendly and mixed use – all which make living without a car much easier. Metro Rail adjacent neighborhoods in downtown L.A., Koreatown, Hollywood, North Hollywood, Pasadena and Long Beach all come to mind. By choosing to live in one of these transit oriented neighborhoods as opposed to a more suburban or auto-centered neighborhood you’ll not only make your life easier, you’ll also be encouraging further development along transit corridors – something that will only serve to improve the life of a car-free Angeleno in the future.
Here’s a tip to help you find a transit hood: the website Walk Score compiles data including transit stops, grocery stores, restaurants, schools and more for any given address and comes up with a score that helps determine how livable the location is for someone without a car. My downtown L.A. address scores a 95 out of 100 for its immediate proximity to rail and bus routes, a nearby Ralphs supermarket and countless restaurants and bars within a short jaunt.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a car in L.A. Certainly going without a car is not the norm, but as someone who’s successfully lived without one for over four years now, I can say that not only is it doable, it’s made L.A. a much more interesting and enjoyable place to live.
We’d like to know what you think. Have you given up your car? Would you consider doing so? Is there anything you feel I left off the list?