Single-occupant driving, whereby individuals rev up 1.5 ton cars to move their 150 lb bodies, is the American norm. It is also enormously wasteful. Driving sucks up our time, our money, our planet’s resources, and emits pollution. Fortunately, for those who want to expand their transportation options, we now have many new tools in the kit.
Walking is the lowest tech option. It does not require coordinating schedules, buying tickets, or making any other arrangements. I recently took a prospective Mt. Airy resident on a walking tour of our neighborhood and was tickled to show him four independent coffee shops, a bookstore, a food co-op, a bank, a train station, yoga studio(s), haircutters, physicians’ offices, a playground, a library, a drug store, restaurants and even a brewers’ supply store all within a mile or two of my house. I almost never drive if it my destination is less than a half mile, an acquired habit.
Check out WalkScore for your address and you may be inspired. My house scores 71 out of 100 for walkability.
Philadelphia’s biking infrastructure has improved dramatically in the last few years. There are more bike lanes, added signage, and expanded recreational biking trails, with more to come. PHEW, Mt. Airy’s electric bike store, offers new technology to the biking mix. Electric bikes pair an assisted ride up hills with conventional biking when the engine is turned off. Electric bikes are very efficient for local errands, since the rider is moving just a bike, not a whole car, to transport him/herself.
Public transit use has increased each year for the last many years, for a host of reasons. Many teenagers are unmotivated to learn to drive these days. Texting and other electronic social networking have, perhaps, made it less crucial to go to specific places to connect. Busy high schoolers do not want to devote the time to rack up the requisite 50 hours of supervised driving, nor are their parents pushing them to do so.
At the other end of the age spectrum, baby boomers 65 and up ride Septa buses for free and pay only $1 for regional rail. Seems like there is just as much traffic as ever, though; perhaps people look at commuting by mass transit as a better time and financial investment. One can read, listen to an MP3 podcast, or snooze, rather than being a stressed-out driver navigating a traffic jam.
Public transportation options continue to grow. The Bolt/Chinatown/Mega bus routes keep expanding their reach and competition has lowered conventional intercity bus ticket prices as well. Amtrak’s adoption of congestion prices means that by booking early, one can often snag a much cheaper fare. Regional rail has unfortunately not expanded its offerings, but have you seen the beautiful new trains SEPTA added?
Even King Car options have proliferated. Perhaps a family wants to go carless, or second carless. The Philly Car Share solution has been around for awhile, and now our neighborhood boasts ZipCar as well. My son Zach in Washington has a car-sharing contract with a friend. Ari owns the car, but he and Zach share the insurance, expenses, and parking detail. It has worked really well, saving Zach the expense of owning his own vehicle, while lowering Ari’s carrying costs. And they have remained friends!
For those willing to take on some risk, social networking sites are pairing owners of underutilized cars with those seeking transportation. RelayRides is a peer-to-peer car rental. Joe doesn’t need his car on days he takes the train; he rents it out for those days, undercutting the cost of conventional car rentals. Maryann needs a car for a few hours and finds Joe’s online. They arrange a deal, and RelayRides gets a cut. (Caveat emptor: Joe’s car insurance likely will not cover expenses incurred by a paying driver of his car. Bear in mind car accident suits can run into the millions, something which, sadly, just happened to a RelayRider.)
Need a long distance ride? Check out Zimride, an electronic ride board. Plug in the origination city and destination and perhaps there is an available space in a car heading that direction. Philly is not yet well-covered, but in time perhaps it will be. Note that this is a business, akin to Air B&B. The site takes a modest fee for making the connection. It is encouraging that social entrepreneurs are working to create and expand these options.
Philadelphia’s most under-appreciated mass transit asset is our bus system. It is expansive and inexpensive. To my amazement, a bus I took not long ago had Wi-Fi! The main problem with taking the bus is lack of information: When is the next bus coming? Hopefully Philadelphia will soon have the app for that: NextBus.com. My daughter-in-law Becca takes the bus to work in DC; she considers NextBus her most important electronic information. She times when to leave her house based on this information, a much nicer and more efficient start to a workday.
May your parking tickets be few, and may you whittle those 150 lbs down a bit by walking!