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Book Review; How to Live Well Without Owning a Car

January 7, 2008 Books, Environment, Scooters 33 Comments

When I went car-free in the first half of 2007 I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into (see post). Sure, I had owned the scooter for a while but I still had my car for shopping trips and other errands. One of my first purchases after going car-free was the book by former St. Louisan, Chris Balish, titled How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breath Easier and Get More Mileage out of Life.

Balish’s book is not a preachy save the planet from doom type of book. Instead, it is a personal finance book, showing the reader how to save thousands of dollars each year simply by not owning a car. Instead of focusing on the environmental impacts of cars he narrows in on the toll car ownership can take on personal finances and how it often dictates much about your lifestyle. Balish argues, convincingly, that you can get rid of the car and improve your standard of living. Having lived it now for six months, he is so right.

Balish acknowledges that car-free living is not for everyone. The outside salesperson or carpenter that hauls many heavy tools around, likely needs a car. For many others, however, Balish lays out all the issues he faced when going car-free while living in St. Louis and later in Los Angeles. Throughout the book are personal testimonies from people from North America that are also car-free.

He is quick to point out that car-free does not mean you will never rent or ride in a vehicle ever again. Car-free, to Balish, is about not owning a car. Car-lite applies to say the family that reduces their ownership of cars (from 3 to 2, from 2 to 1), basically owning less cars than you have licensed drivers.

The book is full of great tips to help you plan your new life without a car. Rather than having transportation at the ready as with a car, going car-free requires doing some planning ahead, changing buying patterns and potentially changing the location of where you live and/or work.

The notion of place, where you live or work, is where the book falls short. When Balish lived in St. Louis he lived in the Central West End which afforded him many opportunities to walk to local stores as well as access to bus and light rail mass transit. Had Balish lived in say O’Fallon (Missouri or Illinois, doesn’t really matter) he would have had a difficult time being car-free. Chapter 9, ‘Should You Move Closer to Work?’, suggests that moving to within 2-3 miles of work will “change your life.” Well, that heavily depends upon the context of where you work. Someone might live behind the Galleria and work at the Hanley Industrial Court only a few miles away but getting back and forth between the two was a challenge even before the reconstruction of highway 40.

This is not to say that suburbs are bad and the inner core city is good. For example, a person that works in say Webster Groves or Ferguson and works nearby could likely function quite well without a car. With all the basic services within walking distance to adjacent residential neighborhoods (which are connected via a good network of streets) a person could live well without owning a car.

When Balish does a 2nd edition I’d like to see him have a chapter on things to look for when deciding where to live. Does the area have good sidewalks and curb cuts (for pushing the baby stroller)? How far away is the nearest market (not necessarily a ‘supermarket’, just market)? In the book he does devote a good amount of ink to suggesting that you look for local churches, schools, dry cleaners and so on when going car free. If someone doesn’t live in such an environment, they need to know what to look for and what to avoid. He does suggest locating near a transit stop when possible.

Balish breaks the chapters up into four basic sections: 1) Why you’re better off not owning a car, 2) getting to work without a car, 3) non-work transportation and 4) living well without a car. It is within this framework that Balish basically covers all the issues that a person will face going car free — from basics to getting to and from work, to handling social functions to dating.

Again, the book isn’t remotely preachy except that car ownership costs more than we all think — often twice the price paid for a vehicle after 5 years of ownership. The $25,000 car will likely run you about fifty grand after five years. Balish does the math for you showing how if you invested that same money instead you could save money for a kid’s education, a down payment on a house or retirement.

Another area the book falls short is with respect to families. He, like me, is single and therefore says a family can be car-free but he doesn’t really offer tips on the best types of strollers or other items a car-free family might need. The volume of toys, diaper bags and other items being toted around in a car for junior now is amazing. Without the SUV to permit the relatively easy transport of such items, parents would need to think on a smaller scale of what items do they need for a particular outing.
However, Balish does suggest that families consider going from two cars to one — shifting schedules and making other changes to permit eliminating one of the cars. I know many couples in the St. Louis area that have only a single car.

To me this is a great resource of easy to understand concepts about taking taxis, using transit, bicycling short distances and so on. The car is a wonderful tool that has given Americans mobility for years. As expenses rise and many now go into debate for 60 months or more to finance a car this mobility has turned into a requirement. Getting rid of the car does allow you live well as Balish describes and it gives you a new sense of freedom that no car can match. Highly recommended for anyone looking to be car-free, car-lite or perhaps just head that direction.


Currently there are "33 comments" on this Article:

  1. john says:

    In the Cars-R-Us culture of StL, you’re really sticking your neck out here. In this area, the leadership-public prefer to spend hundreds of millions to support foolish dependencies. The average driver will spend between $350,00 to $700,000 to commute by auto in their lifetime and this assumes cheap gas, no tolls, etc.
    – –
    A few decades ago, the typical household had more money in their home furnishings than in their wheels. Families survived with one car…now every family member of driving age insist on having their own car. A family of four have four cars and with these vehicles becoming the living room of entertainment, it is no wonder that families have much more money tied up here as this is where much of their time is spent. This misuse of family finances lead to more dependencies on other publicly funded resources beyond roads and highways, like Medicare (poor health) and Social Security (lack of savings).
    – –
    A dependency becomes an addiction when it is the only perceived solution.

  2. Nick Kasoff says:

    As a “car-heavy” family with 2 licensed drivers and 3 cars (my Mini Cooper convertible is a “garage queen” during the winter), I have a few comments:

    1. The family thing is more complicated than you think, especially if you had one of the 50% of marriages that ended in divorce. I live in Ferguson, but my ex-wife lives in Chesterfield. Picking up the kids on a scooter isn’t an option. Neither is going hiking at Pere Marquette on a 70 degree Sunday with my wife and infant daughter. It isn’t that we haul around a load for the baby, you just can’t take a scooter with two adults and an infant.

    2. Ferguson is a walkable community with everything you NEED. But that doesn’t mean it has everything you WANT. And I’d spend a whole lot more money if I was purchasing formula and diapers at Shop ‘n Save instead of Target or WalMart. Same with most non-food items. You have to figure this into the “cost of ownership” equation.

    3. Access to transit is great. I have several bus lines within a block of my house, and I even use them occasionally. Problem is, taking transit doubles or triples my travel time. And when I’m going to a client in O’Fallon or Chesterfield, it just can’t be done.

    I won’t dispute that it would be possible for a single person, with a lot of extra time, an appropriate work schedule and environment, and no desire to go to places like Pere Marquette, to live without a car. If your work frowns on you arriving wet on a rainy day, that makes it tricky. If you work in a suburban office park, it’s even more difficult. If you have an infant, or multiple children, very difficult. If you don’t have time for public transit, that’s a problem. All things considered, living without a car is a neat idea, but for most of us, it is impossible.

  3. I’ve recked every car I’ve ever known. it’s sad really. i wish america had more options for carless lifestyles. so far i’ve only got three major cities (nyc, chicago and san fran) to choose from. here’s hoping that st. louis actually becomes a carless functional city!

  4. loft says:

    And NY, Chicago, and SF are 3 of the most expensive cities in the country. Correlation? I think so…Wanna be happy? Live in STL and drive a car!

  5. Frank says:

    Before 2006, I lived car free for nine years….in New York. I rode my bike everywhere for transportation, shopping even work (part time bike messenger). When I moved back to St. Louis, I biked to work regularly, but now that my wife is pregnant, it’s gotten quite a bit more complicated. My biking has always concerned the people in my life, and it’s been a struggle to balance my convictions about biking vs. driving to people who thought I was risking life and limb every day. Now it’s absolutely unconscionable to say to my worried, pregnant wife that my committment to 1 car living is more important than the risk of getting doored or bashed into (never mind that it’s statistically safer to bike than drive). As much as I absolutely hate the idea of the cost, the environmental impact and the overall unfunness of car ownership, it looks like I’ll have to have a second car. A big one at that, that’ll at least make my loved ones FEEL safe.

  6. KBO says:

    I live in St Louis, and we went car-lite (I sold my car, my husband still has his) in August. So far, there have been a few hassles, but really, it’s worth it when I think about how much I am saving by getting rid of my car payment and gas and halving our insurance. Even better, I don’t have to mess with maintenance and, after this past year, personal property taxes and that ilk.

    Fortunately, I live very close to my work (walking/biking distance and on bus route) and my mother-in-law has bailed us out with her extra car on the few occasions we needed one. I think more people could make the shift if they wanted to, but it’s an intimidating step. I’ve had to be more patient in many situations and be more deliberate when I run errands, but I don’t think those are necessarily bad things. There was a period of adjustment, and now it’s just how we live.

    However, it’s not for everybody. The important point is that we should be thinking about living in communities where a car-free life is possible. We chose to live in the city where we could utilize businesses within walking distance and spend as little time as possible on highways. I’m tired of hearing people complain about the 40 nonsense–live closer to where you work. Convenience is not a right.

  7. LisaS says:

    I’m more car-heavy than Nick is (we never sold our classic Mustangs), but often envy the carless or carlite. I’ve run the numbers and we could go to one newish car, and save a lot of money, even figuring my renting a car for our frequent road trips. In fact, that would have a benefit because we’d always have the right vehicle for the activity: a cruiser for highway trips to Grandma’s, a pickup for scuba and biking, a minivan for camping. It’s the planning ahead part that’s difficult–remembering to reserve cars, etc.–and finding one on short notice, when somebody gets sick and needs picked or there’s an issue for a client that needs taken care of NOW …. can be an issue.

    I don’t know that it’s possible in St. Louis to be car free with kids, though. Until your kid is 1, it’s not recommended for them to ride in any bicycle conveyed means of transportation. After they’re 1, the trailer is heavy … and those seats on the back of the bike throw balance off big-time. Both make it hard to respond quickly to danger. (Mind you, I’ve done both of these, even riding the Girl to school every day when she was in the neighborhood, but I’m just saying.) And using transit as one car–particularly if you depend on the bus system–has a serious price in time. If my husband rode the bus to work the kids would never see him, not even for the 2 hours a day they get now.

  8. Scott O. says:

    I’ve been car free off and on over the years. Here’s another option that I’ve used: My wife and I have 2 cars, one reliable, under 100K miles with good gas mileage. The other a cheap beater. We only insure the cheap car during the winter months, say from oct. to march. I ride a bike to work, but in the winter when the weather is bad I have the option of the car. That saves us $400 – 500 on insurance in the summer, plus gas during the summer months, plus the old car only accumulates 1-3 thousand miles a year, which means we save on maintenence, and since its not driven very much, we don’t feel like we need to have somthing newer or nicer. Plus, I think I’m a hell of a lot happier getting outside everyday than driving around in traffic.

  9. Jim Zavist says:

    Life is full of choices – this book provides another perspective to the decision-making process. As someone who’s been “car-heavy” most of my adult life, as well as an on-again, off-again commuter cyclist, I’m not going to pontificate on either side. The one big challenge I see here is the negative perceptions (and some realities) about the Metro bus system (along with far fewer negative perceptions about Metrolink).
    Much of the bus system shadows the old streetcar lines. This is great if you work downtown, but not so if you’re making the suburb-to-suburb commute many of us are making today. Since moving here, I’ve lived in Kirkwood and the Lindenwood Park part of south city, and worked in O’Fallon, Olivette and Clayton. Every move I’ve made has improved my transit options, but they’re still not very good. Sure, if I were willing to walk more than a few blocks (the ¼-mile comfort zone for most humans), I’d have to make fewer transfers. But the simple reality remains that taking transit takes 2-3 times longer than driving, if not longer.
    I’m also painfully aware that this is a chicken-and-egg conundrum that won’t be changed without more resources and a major shift in public attitude. My nearest bus stop sees a bus only every hour during rush hour because there are so few riders now. More-frequent service would likely attract more riders (like me), but would require commiting services without any real assurance more riders would show up. And to do more service in my ‘hood would either require cutting service somewhere else or seeing more tax support from the public.
    The other half of the equation is that every existing bus route has an existing constituency, who will complain long and loudly if anything changes (for the worse) on “their” route – there is no similar consituency for new routes. If Metro really wanted to serve their riders, they’d move away from the existing radial system and switch to much more of a grid system with timed transfer points and free transfers – a trip from Ferguson to Kirkwood shouldn’t require a trip through Olivette or Clayton!
    Bottom line, it is the bottom line. Metro is struggling. They need a tax increase to just maintain what’s in place now, without any improvements. But without offering any specific improvements, it’s gonna be mighty difficult to convince many voters (especially non-riders) just why they should be paying more in taxes. I know Larry Salci’s public legacy is the Metrolink suit, but he apparently kicked enough butt to leave a pretty good bus system in place, given its current constraints. If it works for you (routes and schedules), it’s a pretty good system. It’s just sorely lacking in service outside the core city, where more and more of us are living and working every day.
    Totally unrelated to Metro, but highly relevent to this post is: http://www.walkscore.com/

  10. Court says:

    Great topic Steve! I am a carless St. Louisan – I live in University City and work near downtown. And I have to say – I LOVE it. It’s not always convenient, and there are times when I can’t do certain things. But I really enjoy my quality of life. I ride MetroLink to work, and often take my bike on Metro so I can get around to local stores. I joined a local hiking group whose members, for the small fee of contributing to gas, graciously allow me to catch a ride to hiking and camping all over the Bistate Region (including Pere Marquette!). It takes a lot more planning and often the compassion of friends and family, but its doable. Health and piece of mind-wise, I feel great about it. Driving has a sort of chaotic and claustrophobic feeling that I don’t much like anymore.

    Now for the disclosure: I am single, with no children, young and in good shape, and had the opportunity to choose my housing, so I chose to live close to three MetroLink stations. I realize that not everybody can or would want to go carless – it’s a fairly major lifestyle choice (or nonchoice, if you just can’t afford one). I don’t think anyone here should feel defensive about their choice to own a car if their situation demands it. Just promote responsible car ownership, like the way that we remind ourselves to turn off the lights when we leave a room. Don’t take the car just because you have to make a trip, and don’t make a trip just because you have the car. Plan ahead, use multipurpose trips, carpool with friends, ditch one of the cars…there are numerous ways to cut back on driving. And it’s not an issue of transit. Metro runs often and on time, and if it extended service, it wouldn’t necessarily get people to dump their cars. It’s an issue of making a conscious effort, much as we do in other areas of green and sustainable living, in ways that benefit the community as well as ourselves.

    But if you are thinking about it, I personally recommend going carless. For me, the benefits outweigh the negative aspects.

    And for goodness sakes, give a ride to a carless St. Louisan when they need one. It’s great carbon karma!

  11. ex-stl says:

    I would echo most of Court’s comments, it’s not for everyone, but I mention that for those who can, they face a huge psychological jump. I was a little freaked at first, but fortunately it was in SF which made the transition less daunting. Personally I can’t imagine being completely car-free in STL.

    H. Alan Scott: I would add Boston, DC (mostly), Portland and Seattle to that list.

  12. Dennis says:

    Since the new Metrolink line opened in August of 2006 I have been riding the bus and the trains to get to work everyday. I have a monthly pass so on weekends I try to use it if I can, but I have family an hours drive out of town so for that I have to use my car. One thing I learned real quick was to learn the time scedules of the buses. You can’t just walk up to a bus stop and the think you will get lucky and a bus will show up just a couple minutes later. It NEVER works out that way. Just the opposite will happen. You will walk out to the bus stop, stand around for five miinutes, then pull the schedule out of your pocket and realize the bus just went by 5 minutes before you got there and since it’s on a weekend and they run less frequent you will be waiting about another 20 or 25 minutes at least. However if you get that schedule out in the morning and just plan your day ahead a little you can really make good time. I was sort of forced into it this past weekend. My car was stolen so yes, I am as you all say CAR FREE, just not by choice. My car has been recovered, but it was damaged so it’s in the shop for awhile. I planned my entire weekend around the bus & Metrolink. I was able to get everywhere I wanted to go by using my bike and the bus on Saturday. I learned long ago shopping can be a breeze if you watch the time. If the bus runs every 20 minutes I can run in a store and grab what I want and be back out at the bus stop in time to catch the next bus. But I usually want to go straight home with groceries so the bus traveling the opposite direction may come sooner or later. For those of you that use Metrolink I want to add that it is possible to get off at the Maplewood station, run up Manchester to that Aldi’s store and grab just a couple items (milk & bread) and get back down to the station before the next train arrives. I find myself patronizeing different businesses according to which side of the street they are on in relation to the bus stops. I can get off the Chippewa bus and go in Garavelli’s for supper on my way home and be back out at the bus stop in 20 minutes. Garavelli’s is an old cafeteria style restraunt so you don’t loose any time waiting for a server to wait on you. It’s just like a fast food joint only they actually have GOOD food! Saturday when I was just a few blocks from home on my bike I noticed a barber shop that I didn’t know existed. I also catch myself noticing things on the bus that I’ve never seen before simply because I am sitting in one of the sideways seats. Hey gotta run , my train is coming!

  13. Cheryl Hammond says:

    I think this blog has covered the usual reasons why it is difficult to take transit – including the issues of time and kids. And, there are occasions that I have many times spent three times the amount of time on the bus that it would have taken me driving.

    But we can’t just say transit does not work for us. We have to figure out what we can do to get out of our cars. Using transit reduces our carbon footprint. Every time we do anything to reduce greenhouse gases, we are making a better future for our children. The trick is for us to find a way to live in our car centric city and not contribute to the mess we have created with a new and worse climate – a climate that we are leaving to our children.

    We already know our children our destined to live in a world that, despite anything we do now, will experience effects of climate change. We have to try to reduce what we know is coming. Extreme weather, lost species, environmental refugees. It’s here and more is coming.

    We have to work with what we have and be loud and louder for more transit and safe streets to bike and walk. Our children, or grandchildren in my case, will appreciate this when they grow up and learn that their parents tried to do something.

  14. Scott O. says:

    ^amen to that. we all need to learn how to sacrifice for the greater good. otherwise…. I think we all know inside that things are going to get really bad, possibly pretty darn quickly. Of course, the other possibility is that the end of oil and the coming of serious climate change will screw things up so badly that we will all end up sacrificing by default, the way people in poorer countries are already doing.

  15. GMichaud says:

    Successful transit requires a comprehensive system with timely stops. Those running the show all the way up to Congress are not interested in making transit work. The oil lobby owns America, it’s that simple.
    It is interesting to note the comments of Dennis where he runs to the store at stops, depending on the side of the street etc.
    In Europe the stores and shops are small, many and related to transit stops. They call that Transit Orientated Development here in America, which means they don’t do anything but name it and make it sound like they are actually considering something.
    In Europe, whose countries are not run by big oil and their various partners, are sensible and enhance the transit experience by not only making it efficient, but by including convenience for shopping, dining and entertainment as part of the transit experience.
    For the most part, it is easier to take transit than a car in Europe, quite the opposite the experience in the US.
    Unfortunately, despite global warming, energy and other concerns, our fab presidential candidates don’t mention anything but alternative energy sources such as ethanol. And who is going to control those sources, why big oil of course.
    The failure and weakness of transit in St. Louis is purely artificial and by design.

  16. ex-stl says:

    w/o delving into a socio-economic analysis of rural development post-WWII in Europe vs. the US, I would suggest a splurge on a road trip and check out the railroad farm towns along state highways 42 and 50.Gerald? Bland? Sedalia? Moberly? fine places, but somewhat neglected by large business and the related sales tax-funded improvements. If oil does (and it will) reach prohibitive prices, these old rail towns may return to the regional centers they once were, whatever the scale. My prediction is the ex-urban future will look much like that. It’s easy and fun to talk about solutions for those of us in urban centers and the alternatives that exist, but I wonder what will happen to those who live 10 or more miles from a stop sign much less a place to buy and sell goods. Crops are no good if you can’t afford to get them to market.

    sorry that went kind of off-topic. But I think I do relate to GM’s comment in that I believe an urban setting is easier to fix and I wonder what will happen in the rural, where it’s not so simple to replace or improve the infrastructure that once existed.

  17. Adam says:

    “And NY, Chicago, and SF are 3 of the most expensive cities in the country.”
    i don’t think chicago is one of the most expensive cities in the country. and what about portland? it has excellent public transit and, as far as i know, is not one of the most expensive cities. i could be wrong… anybody know?

  18. ex-stl says:

    Chicago’s up there price-wise, and yes, Portland can be very cool – sort of Savannah but with high-rises and weird accents (multiple city squares on a regular grid in the center). it is cheaper, or was, than SF or Seattle. wages tend to be higher in these cities in case anyone is relocating – 10-30% – but rent/mortgage will offset any real gains.

  19. Nick Kasoff says:

    My family moved out of Chicago because it was insanely expensive, and traffic was a nightmare. Yes, even with a huge transit system and toll roads, traffic was still a nightmare. They now live in Salem, Oregon, which is quite a bit cheaper than Portland but still more expensive than St. Louis.
    Dennis – I live in Ferguson, and I can walk to Aldi, no train or bus required. And I have one of those “old lady” carts, so I’m not restricted to a few items. You should get one. You’d have to take the elevator to get up to the Maplewood train station, but you can pile quite a bit into one of them.
    Jim Z – I live a block away from at 3 different bus lines, but it still takes too long to get anywhere. You say that service is “sorely lacking in service outside the core city” but I’d say that is a good thing. Providing transit in the ‘burbs is a good way to bankrupt your transit agency, and will make little to no difference in the number of people driving. If living a block away from three bus lines still leaves me in a position where taking transit doubles or triples my travel time, how can we possibly provide usable service in areas like Chesterfield? The only thing you can do in the ‘burbs is “park and ride” transit, but that takes away a larger portion of the environmental impact than most people realize. And, the additional mode change makes it even less desirable.

  20. john says:

    Perhaps relevant but often misleading, “walkscore” is another service that is oversimplified and ignores barriers to walking. For example, a “walkscore” of 80 implies a “very walkable” rating and shows that numerous stores, shops, restaurants are within 0.3 miles. However, the true distance is over 3.4 roundtrip miles by pedestrian paths as highways, built for the exclusive use of motorized vehicles, block and interfere. If MoDOT provided pedestrisan with wings to fly over the highways then the score would be accurate.
    – –
    This becomes the real problem: one person’s “perceived need” becomes the life-altering reality for another, via public policy. Dependency is thus forced on others and even “safety”, not just convenience, becomes an issue. For most, these extra expenses to satisfy designed addictions will cost them over $1,000,000 in lost savings. The real costs though are much higher as public assets like police, ambulance, administrative services, etc. must be used to support the dependencies
    – –
    The healthiest choices (financially and physically) one can personally make for themselves and their families is to become car-light (or car-free), walk, cycle and insist that elected leaders provide Complete Streets and walkable communities. A well designed mass transit system that supports this lifestyle will be successful and fully funded by an appreciative public.
    – –
    Having lived in downtown Chicago for over 20 years, the city is quite affordabe, easy to walk, mass transit convenient, bike friendly, etc. Prosperous cities offer great career opportunities and the value of real estate appreciates at much higher rates than StL due to these factors.

  21. Joe Frank says:

    It’s funny Jim should say “a trip from Ferguson to Kirkwood shouldn’t require a trip through Olivette or Clayton!” because it actually doesn’t anymore. The #61 Chambers Road goes straight from downtown Ferguson (northern edge, anyway) to North Hanley MetroLink. There you can catch the #49 Lindbergh all the way down to Kirkwood Road. Only one transfer, and at one of the better places to make a bus-to-bus transfer — a MetroLink stop.

    Nevertheless, this is an interesting discussion. Yes, I’m driving now, but I did resist it for years and years. I can give a lot of reasons why I started driving to work (convenience, scheduling, free parking, etc.), forsaking my 15 years or so of transit expertise, but the #1 reason comes down to personal safety in my own neighborhood!

    I just got really tired of getting hassled (and, once, mugged) walking down the street in my own historic, traditional-grid-patterned, but also crime-ridden neighborhood. We just had another murder Sunday night, less than four blocks away… and I called in shots-fired last night too. It’s nerve-wracking enough waiting as the 911 system rings and rings because it’s so busy… we don’t need further anxieties.

    So, I’ve started driving the full 3.5 miles to work downtown, where I have the unusual privilege of parking indoors for “free.” I know it really isn’t free, but neither was my WashU student transit pass truly “free.” Everything costs something to somebody, even if you are a “free rider” yourself. OK, now I’m showing my poli sci background a bit too much. 🙂

    Ultimately, we all have to make our own choices, but those choices are constrained by societal decisions. Maybe if there was a park-n-ride lot near Grand & Gravois, say, I’d consider driving there and then taking the bus the rest of the way. Or if I lived right next to a bus stop, instead of having to walk three blocks and every time think about which route to take to avoid a potential trouble spot, I would be more comfortable.

    After all, I never had to worry about this when I lived in South County and rode the bus to work downtown, or lived at UMSL and walked to class or rode MetroLink to work. Sure, there were many other hazards, but I’ve just about had it with the crime situation. I know a lot of places have it even worse off than we do, and I symphatize.

    Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

  22. Jim Zavist says:

    Nick – I agree that fixed-route bus service doesn’t work well in the ‘burbs, but you “gotta give ’em something” if you expect to get them to vote for higher taxes to fund bus service “in the city”. In Denver, the three things that their transit system does (that Metro doesn’t do here) are express bus routes to suburban employment centers, demand-responsive buses in areas that can’t support fixed-route services and special buses for major athletic events. They’re also building 80+ miles of new light rail that will be done in 5 years or so. They can do all this because they have a full, dedicated 1% sales tax, compared to Metro’s ¼% sales tax.
    Special buses – they run buses and trains for every Broncos home game and increase regular service for baseball and hockey games – Metro eliminated special Rams games buses several years ago (“budget”), which conserved money for “regular” routes, but alienated potential suburban voters.
    Demand-responsive – in suburban areas, they have an increasing number of areas with Call-n-Ride buses, small buses like the ones Metro uses for ADA services here, with drivers with cell phones – you call them directly and they pick you up at your door (in the cul-de-sac!) and take you wherever you need to go in the area for a regular fare, or you can make a free transfer to a fixed bus route or a light rail train if you’re headed out of the area. Yes, it costs a lot more on a per-rider basis, but it still costs less to provide this “premium” level of service than it would cost to run nearly-empty buses on fixed routes and fixed schedules, as Metro does here to appease the suburban elected officials who approve their funding. Think outside the box, look at the bottom line cost – not everything needs to be “equal” – it’s the results that matter! http://www.rtd-denver.com > Special Rides > Call-n-Ride
    Express buses – Suburb-to suburb service is tough anywhere, but if there were better (faster) options, Metro might be able to attract more riders. Why aren’t there express buses between Earth City and the Hanley Metrolink station? Between Chesterfield Mall and West Port? Between O’Fallon, IL. and the Gravois Road corridor around I-270? Not everyone wants to go to downtown St. Louis or Clayton? And the longer the trip, the more irksome all those local stops become.
    Like I said, I understand Metro’s current financial constraints. But until you give the ‘burbs something to support, that they like and might consider using, you’re not seeing the forest for the trees. A promise of one light rail line in maybe 20 years won’t convince most people to increase their taxes. we need to be both creative and open to change (yes, I know this is St. Louis). The alternative is the status quo, a system that continues to shrink and to meet fewer and fewer potential riders’ needs . . .

  23. Dennis says:

    Jim, we have express buses here still. Those are the ones that only run in the morning and evening rush times. However there probably aren’t enough of them.

  24. Susanne says:

    One more point about going car-free/car-lite with kids . . . .you never know when you’ll get the call from daycare or school saying your little one is sick and needs to be picked up NOW. This is especially frequent with infants. I wouldn’t want to rely on bus or taxi service when my kid needs to get to the doctor right away. This is something that wouldn’t have occurred to me before parenthood.

  25. Dennis says:

    Jim Z & Nick, I’m glad you guys read my comments, I just have time for a quick one again and then I have to catch the train home. I have one of those little ol lady carts hanging in my garage someplace and intend to find it one of these days which should be easy now that my car is not in my way, ha ha. I agree with you Jim on the buses in the burbs situation. If we keep providing service farthur and farthur out it will only encourage more sprawl. I look at it this way, if those people made the decision to move way the hell out in bumf**k nowhere then let em suffer! Rather than help them out with better service Metro should improve service in the city first to make it a better place to live. I love it when I see all these Wash U kids getting off & on Metrolink. Even tho I know they have a free pass at least they are learning that you CAN live without a car! Hopefully when they are thru with school and out in the working world they will consider that lifestyle.

  26. Ed Reggi says:

    Steve, Kudos on the review – I love when you get a chance to mention SCOOTERS on your blog. I just wanted to point out that we have found many of our 30 plus active members in the St. Louis Scooter Club (www.stlscooterclub.com), only about 4 have gone completely car-free. That is 4 out of 30! No a good sign, if anything it just perpetuates the typical American culture to buy more autos, boats, and now SCOOTERS!

    I don’t think this can be a black or white answer. I think we must think of these green-life-without-carbon-times as a transition into something better down the road. Its no different than what PETA did some 10 years ago to pull back on their harsh marketing machine on demanding everyone go vegan. Today, they have gained so much more support by supporting “vegetarian moments.” In other words, they put more effort into the “meat consuming society” having vegan moments rather than giving of the animal-flesh by the means of cold turkey – bad pun but you get my point.

    As one of the founders of the St. Louis Scooter Club and Forum, I personally have made the move over to using one of my three scooters rather than lugging out my car for a simple trip. For that matter, this summer when I upgraded and purchased what the industry calls a “maxi-scooter” (generally scooters 250cc and greater in engine size) I found that I began to really use my scooter more. I think the Utopian idea of everyone buying small “putt-putt” scooters is nice, but what you really should distinguish is the need for safer, bigger scooters with more storage and features – this kind of transportation is what will drive the American market to buy and use them.

    Let’s face it, we are not all Italian women with pretty red skirts trying to zip through a stone-lined street on a small Vespa! I think when scooter manufactures understand this dilemma they will successfully sell more scooters to those that are buying cars.

    [SLP — Well, the small “putt-putt” scooter serves my personal needs quite well — ample storage and it gets me where I need to go.  I can also see something up to 150cc being reasonable as well.  For me, a 250cc scooter is no different than a 250cc motorcycle.  Which is fine and well but that goes beyond basic transportation and is not something I’d advocate.  At that point it is still about speed and power which is part of the car culture and overkill for urban living.]

  27. With scooters 250cc’s and up barely getting better gas mileage (if at all, and polluting far more than) your typical European style small, diesel powered city car I too don’t see them as a very wise choice for green urban transportation. Heck, even ones already available here – my last TDI VW got 50mpg, and could run on waste vegetable oil – A new Vespa GTS 250ie with all the whiz-bang pollution stuff gets around 60-65mpg if ridden gingerly. What does a 400, 500, 600+ cc scooter return? My modern Moto Guzzi 750 got low 40’s.
    The days of “women in skirts with little red Vespas” died with the 60’s. Check out Rome today… what you’ll see are slews of Japanese and Piaggio big-wheel scooters with engines under 200’s. Often with the same frame & bodywork as the American 250cc+ version, just with a smaller engine.
    Though I don’t quite *entirly* agree with Steve however… my new Royal Enfield Bullet 500 I expect to return 70-75mpg, and will allow be to take some rides out beyond the StL Metro area with relative ease. Much can be said about the Bullet – but excessive speed & power shure ain’t one of them! 😉

  28. Ed Reggi says:

    A 250cc scooter is NOTHING like a 250cc motorcycle. The “step-thru” design of a scooter and “fully automatic transmission” is EXACTLY what attracts urban residents to use them all over the world. (Not to mention the cheaper cost of a scooter vs. a motorcycle.) When I travel throughout the Philippines, China and Japan a maxi-scooter (and “dirt bikes” with small engines) is the “family car.” I just don’t think most American cities are designed without the need to make a longer trip to the “city next door.” Even in NYC and Chicago, your 35 mph speed limit on a 49cc scooter is going to be pushing the reality of _safe_ and efficient commuting. Sure if everyone in an urban city shared only the road with 49cc scooters it would be nice, but again I don’t equate 250cc (or even 500cc scooters) which can safely hold a passenger (in my urban life I have a partner) , exactly CAR culture, I call it Toyko, London and Milan – all of which are very urban. But Steve, I do give you credit for your commitment to the 49cc lifestyle – you seem to do it very well.

    [SLP — I just don’t get why you found it necessary to use terms such as “putt putt” and the “49cc lifestyle.” Myself and many others do quite well do quite well on 49c-150cc scooters.  The book argues a car-free lifestyle and avoiding depreciation and costly maintenance.  I don’t see spending $6,000 on a 400cc scooter a wise financial decision unless your lifestyle demands that you be able to get everywhere in a region.  For me, when I need to go way out, I often carpool with someone else going to the same event.  Other times I seek closer alternatives.  Less storage and carrying capacity on my scooter means I buy less crap to fill up my house.  When we eventually get car-sharing in St. Louis I will be able to get a car for a few hours.  This leaves me quite content with my sub-$2,000 scooter.  I may, in a few months, get a 125cc scooter to use for longer trips in the region but the concept is still to go with the minimum necessary.  In car terms that would be like a Smart car vs a Hummer H2.  Less is more and less is certainly more green.]

  29. Ed Reggi says:

    Stop being so defensive Steve, I was actually giving you a compliment that _YOU_ are able to get around with your smaller scooter that is limited to a 35mph legal speed limiter. Your last comment proved my point when you made your car comparison: the problem is you compared car to car – why? Why even get a Smart Cart for $14-18K when you can get a better mpg 250cc – 400cc scooter for under $6K (realistically around $5K no one pays the retail sticker price and my 400cc can get anywhere from 58-64 mpg that’s still better than most hybrids.) But then again, if you are speaking from a “strictly depreciation and cost maintenance” cost – the maxi-scooter still wins hands down. Fossil fuel burning cars still are going to pollute more and create more “waste” (they require bigger manufacturing plants to produce, more metal, more rubber, etc. see this 1998 report) and at the end of their life cycle the auto leaves a bigger footprint in the landfill/junk yard. Furthermore, in your example: when you carpool that means you are still depending on someone else’s gas guzzling machine, when you missed the point – I am not. When I use my urban designed street and highway efficient maxi-scooter, its a different solution to the auto. Sure a 125cc scooter is a step up, but the fact remains you are never going to safely commute from city-to-city with its limited engine size. It has nothing to do with _speed_ Steve, or room to clutter your house – it has to do with safety, efficiency and most of all – practicality.

    You and your readers might want to check out scootermaxi.com for a great blurb about the modern maxi-scooter, or the New York Times article The Roar of the Anti-Hog: Make Room for the Scooter. Both somewhat address the benefits of maxi-scooter usage for urban settings.

    This is a great conversation about the CAR-FREE LIFESTYLE and I believe I have suggested an great solution – a maxi-scooter. Sure you will never be able to pick up your kids on a scooter, or ride in severe weather conditions, but it sure beats all those single passenger cars I passed on 270 tonight. Love to continue this conversation but it doesn’t seem appropriate here, so everyone is invited (including you Steve) to come here to continue this lively debate. – Ed Reggi

    [SLP — Ed, the car comparison is to say that larger scooters with bigger engines are the Hummer of the scooter world — excessively large for the task at hand.  I wouldn’t buy a Hummer as a vehicle and wouldn’t get a maxi-scooter.  A $6K maxi-scooter is going to have far greater depreciation than a $2,500 125cc scooter.  Each will get you where you need to go.  Also, four people out on four maxi-scooters will consume more gas and pollute more than those same four people in a single Prius.  The cost will be about the same too.  Ditto for two people on maxi-scooters vs two people in a Smart Car — then the car wins.  However, the Prius and Smart would have a harder time competing on fuel efficiency and emission of smaller 49cc scooters.  Factoring in depreciation and parking fees and the small scooter wins.  I’ll stick with smaller scooters and rent anything I need of a larger size for those times in which I need something bigger (be that a motorcycle or car or truck or whatever).  Of course you are shamelessly trying to direct traffic to your forum knowing that I am a co-founder of an earlier & larger forum, stlscooterforum.com.] 

  30. Ed Reggi says:

    It’s clear that if anyone presents any other idea outside your view you dismiss it using ridiculous examples. Who was comparing 4 people on 4 different maxi-scooters to four people in a single Prius? I am sorry, I wrongly assumed this was a mature blog where lively debate and comments can take place but its clear you are always “right.” The best part was when I left a link to take the conversation off here (a gesture for those who are reading this and scratching their heads) you then accuse me of shameless traffic direction? I have better things to do than bicker with a blog Queen. Cheers –

    [SLP — I see, so I am the “queen”.  You advocated the use of a maxi-scooter over a 49cc “putt putt” scooter and I simply pointed out that due to their engine size the advantages of using a scooter over that of a car diminish greatly.  Car-free living is just that and having a massive scooter that costs three times what a basic scooter costs is not a wise route for someone trying to save money.  For those that wish to collect scooters as recreational toys, or those that need to travel great distances to get to work (15+ miles each way) they are fine.  Otherwise I see them as excessive.  What I don’t appreciate is efforts to use the comments section to promote other forums — the use of a domain in the URL section is certainly acceptable but trying to get additional traffic to another website is really just sad.] 

  31. Maggie says:

    Steve but would you not agree that if someones needs call for just a slightly larger scooter that is better than a car?

    I guess it is from ones perspective about why they bought the scooter in the first place.

    Check out your forum in Upcoming Rides, we have one tomorrow, would love to have you come out and discuss this in person.

    [SLP — The whole point of the book is to save money by living more locally, walking, bicycling and using transit.  Having a scooter to extend that is a natural fit.  Starting with a 49cc you look at what you need to do the task at hand.  For millions all over the world the 49cc scooter does that — hauling family members and possessions.  Numerous choices above that from 80cc, 125cc and 150cc step up the speed and performance to a point more than capable for urban travel on roads (not highways).  If someone has a necessity to take the highway and travels long distance to get to work, say an hour or so, then a larger scooter/motorcycle may well be a wise choice.  Having a large scooter for the purposes of going on long recreational rides in the country is a wasteful use of resources and defeats the purpose of eliminating the car expense to save money.  This is akin to the person who has a basic used urban bicycle to get to work vs. the person with the fancy road bike costing thousands that is hauled on a roof rack out to the country for a bike ride.  Both are bicycles and both are getting someone from A to B but the scenarios are quite different.  The person with the $4,000 bicycle may look down upon my $200 used hybrid bike with fenders and a rack on back but my bicycle is betting for getting groceries and doesn’t require special shoes.  The maxi-scooter is a fine vehicle if someone needs something that size.  Personally, given the places where I park my scooter anything bigger would be a liability to my lifestyle.  If someone needs that size a vehicle I have no issue with that — it is the continual implication that smaller scooters are somehow less worthy than a bigger scooter that gets under my skin.  We are the scooters, the bigger ones are motorcycles with a pass through frame.]

  32. Maggie says:

    You are just to green for me man.. kudos that you can alter your lifestyle that way.

    I am just going to have to be wasteful while I am out enjoying the countryside on my scooter. I enjoy it way to much in town or out.

    Still would love to have you come out on the ride posted on your scooter forum.

  33. Jimindiana says:

    Hi I presetly ride an 850cc Moto Guzzi and gets from 35 to over 50mpg it is a 36 year old motorcycle great for long or short rides. I also have a pickup truck. I love going for rides on rual roads and the 49cc two wheeler would seem to be a wise choice plus it has the advantage of saving on license fees and insurance


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