When I was asked to be a part of the car-free challenge, I was somewhat surprised. Having been car-free ever since college, when it was more of a financial necessity, I thought it was funny that I was being asked to basically keep doing what I’ve been doing for many years now. Being car-free in Memphis is certainly a challenge, and requires planning, preparedness, a keen sense of time management, and a healthy serving of patience. That said, there are certainly some great benefits to being car-free, not the least of which is in my wallet.
I’ve been using public transit since I was in college. I have always been known for getting the data on an issue, and riding MATA was no different – as I always had an up-to-date library of MATA bus schedules in my backpack (naturally, sorted in ascending order by bus route number). It’s obviously important to know where the buses go, when they start running, how frequently they run when they do, and when they stop running. These days, it’s easy to download the bus schedules to my phone, to access bus route information from Google Maps, and even track buses in real-time by using the MATA Traveler feature. Having rapid access to accurate information makes planning much easier, and it’s easier than ever to get that information.
I’ve also found that being prepared for the unexpected is very important. Keeping an umbrella on hand is always a good idea in Memphis, particularly in the springtime (the first day of this challenge being rainy illustrated that lesson pretty well…) Dressing appropriately for the weather, from hat to shoes, also takes some extra thought. Getting groceries around can be particularly challenging. Taking an insulated bag when shopping is an important part of being prepared, and only shopping for what you can carry is necessary (but also helps you prioritize!) I’ve certainly brought groceries home via bus and walking many times in the past, but have increasingly appreciated that carpooling can be the most time-efficient way to get that chore done.
Benefits in the Wallet, and the Waistline
Because I am more familiar with carpooling, walking, and riding the bus, I’ve mostly used these during the challenge so far. Certainly, the direct and indirect costs of car ownership: vehicle cost, gasoline, insurance, maintenance, parking, etc. pale in comparison to costs of transit fare (and buying shoes a little more frequently). Aside from financial benefits, there are also health benefits – I am far more active when living car-free than otherwise. With a pedometer app on my phone, I can track how many steps I take each day. In comparing two fairly comparable weeks, one week in March where I caught a ride each day, and one car-free week, it’s clear just how much more walking that I have done in the car-free week. Except for the day in which I forgot my phone at home, I recorded many more steps taken on each car-free day than on the related car-dependent day. In fact, I reached my goal of 10,000 steps on five out of the six days that I recorded my steps in the car-free week (notice the green horizontal line). I didn’t reach that goal once during the car-dependent week. My friends and family have always asked my secret to staying fit over the years; it’s not a freakishly high metabolic rate – it’s my car-free lifestyle.
Reflections on Living Car-Free
I have enjoyed much of my living car-free over these years, and appreciate this opportunity to tell others about its benefits and challenges on a large scale. I would find it very difficult to live car-free if I lived in a different neighborhood, had a family, or had different job responsibilities. We, as a community, need to be more thoughtful about our fellow citizens who have these challenges and for whatever reason are transit-dependent. Our transit system needs more of our support to adequately serve our Memphian brothers and sisters, and with more public support, we would all find it more feasible to use. For those who do have a choice, I find that we all have the potential to strike a balance with our personal car usage and using alternatives. The benefits are tangible and the challenges can be overcome.