Durable Growth, Transportation

Traveling from door to destination without a car

Transit-accessible theatre in London

Transit-accessible theatre in London

When the day comes that costs of living are more accurately assigned, with some of the external costs of sprawling subdivisions and internal combustion engines instead internalized, many people will choose to conduct a portion of their lives without cars.

And some of those of people will go even further, choosing to live completely without a privately-owned automobile, deciding that their lives would be better if the costs of acquiring, maintaining, and storing a car are reallocated to other priorities such as travel, entertainment, or retirement savings.

I’m not arguing that everyone needs to live car-less but, because an accurate assignment of costs supports it, I find it appropriate for people to have the option.  And someday, as I move further into my senior years, I hope it’s a choice that’ll be available to me.

But making a life work without a car isn’t simply walking to the grocery store and riding a bus to the dentist.  A full and rich life has numerous aspects that we’ve customarily accomplished by private automobiles, aspects that will need to be filled either by private enterprise reacting to market opportunities or by public transit evolving to serve a broadening set of needs.

A reader recently sent me a photo of PetBus, a New Zealand business that transports pets around the two islands, allowing pet owners to stay home while puppies are delivered to new owners or to travel by train to vacation spots to which household pets will be delivered.  In a place while gasoline is near $8 per gallon, Pet Bus seems a logical alternative to using an SUV for every pet transport need.

And PetBus require didn’t require government action.  Once the prices for gasoline were set correctly, PetBus was a rational response of the free market.  Long live the free market.

Even more important to many is personal travel in the absence of a car.

I recently had an awakening on this point.  The SMART train will begin running later this year.  In response, Petaluma Transit is considering route adjustments, including adding more hours of service for a route that passes near my home.   I suddenly realized that I may soon be able to toss my car keys in a desk drawer, head out the front door with a suitcase, walk a block to a bus stop, ride to the SMART station, ride SMART to the Santa Rosa Airport, fly to a transit friendly destination, perhaps London, and enjoy a full vacation without any use of privately owned vehicles.

The possibility tickles me.  I’ve had marvelous vacations in cars, most recently cruising around the countryside with old friends catching minor league baseball games.  But there’s always been a bit of guilt in those travels.  A fully door-to-destination-to-door public transportation vacation seems a dream.

In the same vein, a planning friend recently told me about his year of college in England near London.  Eager to fit in with his fellow students, he became a fan of the local soccer club, even traveling to away matches by train.  As my friend describes the outings, the train travel may have been more fun than the game itself, as the hours of rail-borne camaraderie were interrupted by a couple of hours in a stadium where the primary activity was standing and flinging insults at the host fans.

A few days back, the friend sent me the map for the weekend travel recently taken by the fans of his old club.

When Blackburn, an upcoming opponent in the northwest corner of England, was unable to sell-out for a match against my friend’s club, 7,000 tickets were released for sale to the visiting fans.  All 7,000 tickets quickly sold and 7,000 fans boarded trains for a four-hour, 200-mile trip.

Seven-thousand English soccer fans riding 200 miles each way to watch a soccer match.  Compared to the American model, which would be over 2,000 cars making the same trip, I love the English model.  As does the atmosphere, which prefers the emissions of a few trains over the emissions of 2,000 vehicles.  (Plus, the trains are usually closer to being converted to carbon-free energy sources.)

Transporting pets and taking ourselves on vacations are only two aspects of living without privately-owned vehicles.  But the progress being made in those two areas proves that our world can change to accommodate the people who choose to live car-free.  We only need to keep moving ahead, one step at a time, and the world will keep changing to accommodate us.

When I next write, I’ll connect rhetoric from the current presidential campaigns to a topic I briefly touched in my first paragraph above, urbanist thinking on the correct pricing of the costs of living.  I can hopefully convince readers to view some of the more outrageous speechifying through a different lens.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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