by BEN WOOSLEY
My question is how did the transition happen. Was it more just a matter of you stopped using the car and started using just public transportation?
In a sense, yes, it was as simple as using transit instead of a car. However, it takes some actual effort to discover that it is possible to get where you want without that car you’re used to. For me, it was a process of migration and discovery, each step intentional, encouraged by the reasons I described earlier, but also testing the waters to ensure that I wasn’t choosing the path of martyrs. Happily, I can attest I was not.
The important benchmarks in my transition, which may be helpful in making yours, were:
1) Using Transit as a Commuter
As I wrote, busing it to work was a given, and it served the important role of introducing me to transit here. This was a significant step for someone whose transit use was previously non-existent as a child of the suburbs, and in Austin limited to my weekend use of the E-Bus (aka Drunk Bus) which runs between the University of Texas Campus and 6th Street (infamous for its numerous bars & venues).
But then, if you’re reading this blog, you’re already familiar, so we may as well go on to step two…
2) The arrival of Google Transit
Don’t get me wrong, the King County Trip Planner is pretty good. But Google Transit (previously mentioned) does it much better, because it allows you to interact visually with your options on Google’s draggable, zoomable maps. This is a matter of night and day for anyone as visually-driven or memory-challenged (where was that street again?) as I.
Better still, it recognizes and accepts far more place names and address formats, so you need not hunt around for the address or answer questions about whether you really meant PL instead of Place. It’s free and highly recommended. To use it, you can either use the link above, or from any Google Maps directions page, click the “Take Public Transit” link in the upper left, once you have your destination plotted.
3) Taking the One-Less-Car challenge
The one-less-car challenge (also mentioned previously) offers incentives for those who commit to not using their vehicle for a set amount of time. The program isn’t active yet for 2008 (we’ll update you when it is), but you don’t need the program to get its most powerful benefit, which is the commitment itself.
Like others who have used this program, it was taking this challenge that pushed me to go out and try the other ways of getting around which I wasn’t used to; to rent a Flexcar even though I had my own car out on the street, or to take a bus to a seemingly out-of-the-way place. Only to find that the experiences where painless.
So look for the return of the challenge, or, if you’re able and willing, simply challenge yourself to go without your own car for a while. You may find it easier and more liberating than expected.
4) Renting my first Flexcar (now ZipCar)
For the foreseeable future, there will be parts of Seattle that aren’t well-traveled by transit, where either there is no route when you need it, or there is no direct route. Sometimes, those place happen also to be your destination for the night. My first Flexcar rental was also my first trip out to the (AFAIK) sleepy and suburban Mercer Island.
It was a pleasant trip, and easy to manage, in the time of computers (to find & reserve the car) and cell-phones (to extend the reservation if necessary).
I’ve since taken out a ZipCar, and the experience was the same, but a bit friendlier. For example, I find their web experience more intuitive, and there’s never a need to carry around the car’s key, because your card always does the locking.
5) Taking a bus out into the Unknown
Or in this case, Greenlake. All my time here, I’d traveled to and from my friends’ place in Greenlake via auto. But finally the aforementioned commitment pushed me to check out the other options (found via Google Transit), and I found them quite pleasant. The point being, just because you’ve never taken a bus over that way, doesn’t mean it’s inconvenient to do so. I’ve since traveled as far as Everett without incident.
A Step Not Yet Taken: Put the Internet in my pocket
The next big enabler I see in my future, which I’ll suggest to you all as an option, is the extra ease which will come once I have the internet in my pocket, via a web-enabled phone. Both for transit and ZipCar, a certain small amount of planning is necessary, to minimize waiting time and to know the route, or to find and reserve the car. Having the internet available from the street means that no matter where I am, or what I’ve been doing that day, if it comes up that I need to get somewhere unexpected, I can pull up these sites and find my way. Thus I’m a little more free, which of course is the goal.
So after all of these, I’ve made a successful transition. Everyone’s needs are different of course, or as they say, your mileage may vary, but I’ve found these steps are a sensible way to try things out.