February 20, 2015
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Why I've Just Decided to Sell My Car

A millennial and sustainable transportation advocate explains why her car is increasingly irrelevant

BY AMANDA EAKEN, Deputy Director, NRDC Urban Solutions, San Francisco

Hi. My name is Amanda Eaken and I’m a walking, biking, transit-riding hypocrite. All this time I’ve been advocating sustainable transportation choices and shared mobility, and yet I still own my own car. At least for the next few weeks. …
With smart technology and an explosion of innovative mobility choices, coupled with the emergence of the sharing economy and a souring of America’s romance with the automobile, should anyone living in a city actually need to own a car? ...

There are some obvious reasons to walk away from my seven-year-old ­Toyota Prius, including my 100,000-mile maintenance bill ($600), recent tire replacement ($539), annual insurance ($1,200) and my routine-yet-maddening 45-minute searches for a place to ditch this hunk of plastic and metal since I refuse to pay another $300 per month for a permanent parking space. …

It has never before been so easy to gain access to a car when and where I want one. What I’ve realized is that I need a car sometimes—like during the holidays, when my mother ships a giant outdoor fire pit to my office and I need to haul it home.

Here’s the thing, though: Unless I want to pay $30 to park near my office and deal with the headache of having to drive downtown, owning a car doesn’t help me in that situation because it’s in the wrong place. My car is sitting on the street in my neighborhood, and I still need wheels where I am. I’m better off taking the bus to work and grabbing a cab or rideshare service home. Keep in mind, $25 is the average daily cost just to own and operate a car in the United States, so the $10 cab ride home—or even cheaper if I can dynamically share the ride with someone else through services like ­LyftLine and UberPool—is a bargain. …

I actually dipped my toe in the sharing economy from the owner’s side last year when I signed up with Getaround. I made almost $2,000 in the first year and was delighted at the idea that my car took on a new life as our neighborhood carshare car. And when I could make $150 a weekend by letting someone else use my car, I figured I was better off renting it out, and then paying $7.50 an hour if and only if I actually needed a car. The fact that Getaround helped me—a dedicated sustainable transportation advocate—make more rational, informed financial decisions about using my car versus other modes was surprising and exciting.

But at some point I realized: Other people are using my car much, much more than I am. And then I’m the fool left paying all these insurance bills, and having to repark it every time there is street cleaning.

What finally tipped us over the edge was that one of the windows broke (another $368 down the drain). And because the window was broken in the open position over the holidays, we had to store the car in a friend’s garage. A few weeks went by. We never drove it, we didn’t have to think about moving it, and you know what? We didn’t miss it. At all! That’s when I told my partner, “Honey, we’re selling the car.”

Here’s something else I observed: I think one reason it’s so hard to park in my neighborhood is because no one drives much! I imagine that I live around people just like me who mostly take transit, ride their bikes, or pay for rides to, from and around the city, reserving driving mostly for weekends.

The average American car sits parked for 95 percent of its life. In San Francisco, I’ll bet you that number is even higher. So when no one moves their car, parking is virtually impossible. I just started to realize that I AM A PART OF THIS PROBLEM. So, that means I could also be part of the solution by selling my car and using someone else’s car only when I need it. I really started to think that the whole notion that we all need to own our own cars—just so we have them available for the tiny percentage of the time that we actually use them—is a little crazy.

I’m not the first to realize that if we would all just share resources—use cars when we need them, move toward real-time, seamless, dynamic ridesharing so the average occupancy of cars is greater than 20 percent, and make point-to-point bikes publicly available through bikeshare programs—we could solve a lot of our congestion and parking woes.

Imagine—relief from all that daily stress and responsibility. It’s as simple as it sounds, yet I admit I’m a little nervous. After all, I recently bought the Yakima bike racks I wanted so I could take my mountain bike up to Mt. Tam and then lock it in place while I ate dinner afterward. Wait, did I just say I own a car so I can ride my bike? …

[I]t’s my life’s work to further sustainable transportation and contribute solutions to the fight against climate change. Driving less, burning fewer fossil fuels and participating in the leading edge of change puts me more in alignment with that.

“Switchboard” is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council. ©2015. All rights reserved. Reprinted and excerpted for length with permission. For details, click here.

This “Commentary” section features different points of view from various sources to enhance readers’ broad awareness of themes and views that affect public transportation.
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