Nine weeks ago, I lost my fancy hybrid street/trail bike to one of San Francisco’s plentiful bicycle thieves. Seven weeks ago, in preparation for a big move east, I sold my car. Now I’m settling into a new apartment in Cambridge, MA, and for the first time in my adult life, I don’t own a set of wheels.
It’s a strange feeling—both disorienting, since it takes a little longer to figure out how to go places, and liberating, since I no longer need to pay for gas or worry about where to park my car or lock my bike. At the moment, I have no plans to buy a new car, and I’m not even sure if I’ll get a new bike. Thanks to the Boston area’s extensive public transportation system and its dense vehicle-sharing network, I don’t really need them.
If I want to go a short distance and the weather is cooperating, I can grab a Hubway bike. If I need to go all the way across town or it’s wet out, I can take an MBTA train or bus, rent a Zipcar, find someone on Ridejoy who’s going my way, or call Uber or Lyft or even a regular old taxi.
In Boston and other metropolises, growing numbers of urbanites have the same expanding list of options. It seems inevitable that the big cities of the mid-21st century—the ones that aren’t underwater, anyway—will have fewer cars spewing less carbon dioxide. It’s exciting to live in one of the places where this future is being modeled and tested.
Here’s a little glimpse into the life of a bike- and car-sharing convert. Last week, I had to pick up a package at a FedEx facility in an industrial section of South Boston. I grabbed a bike from the Hubway station one block from my apartment. Using the bicycle lanes along Boston’s Greenway to zoom past the gridlock, I reached a branch library in South Boston, where there’s another Hubway station, in just 28 minutes. (On Hubway, knowing where you’re going to dock your bike at the end of a trip is key. For $85 per year—or just $25 in my case, thanks to a subsidy from my employer—Hubway members get unlimited use of the bikes, but extra charges pile up for trips over 30 minutes.)
From the library it was a short walk to FedEx, then another short walk to a Hubway station on Drydock Avenue in Boston’s seaport “Innovation District.” Another 23 minutes of biking took me to the Bunker Hill Mall shopping center in Charlestown, where I stopped at Whole Foods to stock up on dinner provisions. One more quick jaunt from Charlestown back to Cambridge over the Prison Point Bridge and I was home.
What makes a system like Hubway, San Francisco’s Bay Area Bike Share, or New York’s Citi Bike a nice alternative to owning a bike, in my mind, is the ability to dock your bike and forget about it. When you need to go somewhere, another bike will be there. The eternal war between bike owners and bike thieves is moot.
A couple of days later, I wanted to go to Ikea in Stoughton, MA, about 22 miles south of Cambridge, to pick up some patio furniture for my new place. There’s a Zipcar lot just a 10-minute walk from my building, so I fired up the Zipcar app on my iPhone, reserved a Ford Escape, and got down to Ikea and back in just three hours. Rental fee: $32.
Yes, I confess to being a spoiled, smartphone-toting urbanite who shops at Ikea and Whole Foods. I’m even lucky enough to have three equally convenient options for commuting to work: a 25-minute walk, a 15-minute Hubway ride, or a 10-minute shuttle bus ride. My point is that with accelerating re-urbanization—the undoing of the automobile-enabled sprawl that caused so much social and environmental damage in the 20th century—there will be more and more people like me who find that owning a car isn’t the necessity it once was.
Why deal with car payments, insurance, maintenance, and fuel costs when you can leave all of that to Zipcar (now a division of Avis) or one of its competitors, like Daimler’s Car2go, BMW’s DriveNow, or the San Francisco non-profit City CarShare? When you buy your own car, you’re paying for all the time when the vehicle is sitting idle in a garage or parking spot. With car sharing, you only pay for what you use. The American Automobile Association estimates that the average cost of owning a car in the U.S. is … Next Page »
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