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I’m Car-Free…Again!

April 16, 2012 Economy, Featured, Public Transit, Steve Patterson 19 Comments
ABOVE: Steve Patterson in his vehicle of choice

On July 5th 2007 I was so excited that I was car-free (First Time in 25 Years, I Don’t Own A Car!), having only a 49cc Honda Metropolitan scooter and a bicycle. A year later I bought a car again — I could no longer ride the scooter & bike due to a stroke (I Drove My Car Today). I had to have a car in St. Louis, right?

I felt guilty though:

So now my trick will be to see how seldom I can drive the car. I feel like a failed environmentalist selling the scooter and getting a car. As I start to buy gas I know I will quickly be reminded of just how efficient the scooter was. 

The scooter was very efficient (90+ mpg) and I did a good job of not driving my car often (5k/year).  In July 2010 I bought a monthly transit pass and began to use and learn our public transit system. After nearly two years as a regular rider I knew I was ready to ditch the car. Why you ask? To improve my standard of living!

You’re probably confused how NOT having a car will improve my standard of living, most view car ownership as increasing one’s standard of living. As a low-income person the cost of insurance, maintenance, taxes, and fuel were too much even though my car was paid for. In addition to the expenses the car’s value was dropping. The car was a burden rather than the key to freedom.

I’ll save money by not having to pay for auto insurance every six months as well as annual personal properly taxes. Based on my annual driving and MPG I’ll save about $750 a year in gas.  I’ll also be able to rent my parking space to a neighbor. I’ll be able to increase my available cash by 15%!

After the couple test drove my car they made an offer and I accepted, then it hit me — this will very likely be the last time I own a car. Ever. I’ve been driving for 29 years and all but one year I’ve owned a car, sometimes 2-3. Before when I went car-free I had the scooter and thought that yes I might have a car again but with my income and my inability to work in a paying job the only way I’d ever have a car again is if I won the lottery.

In addition to taking MetroBus I’ll be getting rides from friends and taking cabs. I’ve downloaded the Taxi Magic app to my phone and set up account with debit card. Two St. Louis taxi firms, St. Louis County & Yellow Cab and Laclede Cab Co. use this service. This will allow me to schedule and pay for a cab from my phone without having to call someone. It stores my home address and I can easily type in the other address. Even if I spend $20/month average on cab fare  I’ll still be way ahead of where I’ve been.

I’ve also, reluctantly, gotten a credit card so I can rent a car on occasion, mostly when traveling. I can’t use car sharing services like WeCar because I require a spinner knob to steer the wheel and a crossover bar to operate turn signals with only my right hand.

I understand that my situation is rather unique, I don’t have to drive 15 miles to a job five days per week. It will be a challenge to not have the convenience of a car but I’m looking forward to facing  and overcoming them.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "19 comments" on this Article:

  1. Sarah says:

    Wow. Now you are just like all the other people who are so proud not to have a car. As you said, you will use your friends for a ride. Great way to feel self-important, talk down to people who have a car, and then in the same post mention you will get rides from friends, who I feel sorry for because I’m sure while they are driving you around in their car you will extol the virtues of being car free. Pompous mooches are the best!

    • Michael says:

      Sarah, you’re a dick. Congrats Steve, sounds like a challenge. In the future I’d love to know when (not like time, date, personal info I mean) you use a car and why.  

      • I can’t imagine renting a car locally, that I’d do on trips such as visiting family in Oklahima. I do want my teenage great-niece to visit me for a week this summer or next so I’d probsny rent a car while she’s here, although we’d use transit too. Because I require modifications to drive getitjng a rental isn’t as easy as it used to be.

    • During the last four years my friends and I would take turns driving — no point in everyone showing up st the same place in seperate vehicles. The friend I ride with often lives nearby and we’re using visiting her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in St. Charles. They include me on holidays, I bring food for all and gifts for the kids. Now that I won’t be able to offer her rides to dinner I’ll have to use gift cards like I do for others that hsve helped me with things I can’t do because of my stroke. If a friend is going the same plsce I’ll suggest we carpool. A neighbor has already offered me rides when she goes shopping. Friends do things for each other.

  2. RyleyinSTL says:

    I always enjoy going car free when in cities like Milan, Paris, London, New York, etc.  In those places transit is so good a car is a liability and you have a huge feeling of freedom not having to deal with it (or the expense).  I applaud you Steve for giving this a go in St. Louis.  For me, transit isn’t yet convenient enough nor is traffic bad enough in STL to ditch the car.

    My compromise is that my wife and I are a one car family.  By choosing to live in the city close to work, renting when required (rarely) and pooling resources with other one car couples, it’s very easy to do.  I suppose it saves some money as well but amusing you already own the car $2000/year really isn’t going to change the budget much so we do it mostly for the anti pollution/feel good points.    What’s with the credit card phobia?

    • One car for a couple is very reasonable. In the past I’ve spent too much on credit cards — I had sworn them off 4 years ago but I want the ability to rent a car if I need one.

  3. Justin says:

    Hooray! Welcome back to the wonderful car-free world! I’ve never owned a car  – living in the city of STL I don’t need it to get around and maintain a high standard of living. During spring, summer and fall months my bike is my primary mode of transport; in the winter and when weather is nasty I’m on board MetroBus. I’m also a member of WeCar and use their services from time to time; while having the car is convenient, actually getting it isn’t. Cars are only located downtown so for me, living in Bevo Mill it’s a bit of a hassle if I want to have a car for a night out because Metro still stops operating around 1am. 


  4. JZ71 says:

    Congratulations.  One part of the equation you skipped over is your physical location (home address) which is conveniently located near several public transit routes.  Was this selected pre- or post-stroke, and was it serendipity / dumb luck or a conscious decision to live someplace with better-than-average (for St. Louis) transit service (and not just in a cool urban loft)?

    One of the challenges many other people face, with similar driving challenges, in the region is that they’re not located near a bus route or Metrolink station, so their only public transit option is Metro’s Call-a-Ride, which is more expensive than a regular bus, requires calling ahead and scheduling, and (I’m pretty sure) doesn’t offer a discounted monthly pass program.

    I know it’s a part of the larger urban design discussion, but should there be / is it fair to expect people who can’t (or choose not to) drive be “forced” to live in high-density urban areas instead of the suburbs or rural areas where “they’re more comfortable” and where their friends and extended family currently live?  My brother-in-law, a paraplegic, chooses to continue to live “on the farm” outside a small town in Illiinois, and seems to be doing just fine without public transit or taxis, relying, instead, on a retrofitted pickup (with hand controls) or riding in his wife’s Ford Escape for all his transportation needs.

    • Good point, I moved into my loft 3 months prior to my stroke but the decision to move wasn’t based on transit options.

    • Eric says:

      Call-a-Ride is only for the elderly/disabled, no?
      Really though, taxis are a form of public transportation. And with self-driving cars they will get much cheaper in a few years.

      • JZ71 says:

        Please explain how they “will get much cheaper”.  You have capital costs (vehicle, fuel, maintenance, insurance) and you have labor costs (drivers, dispatchers, mechanics) – which, if any, will be going down in cost in future years?  Or, are you visualizing a driverless vehicle appearing at your door, that you then enter, program your destination, swipe your credit card, and then you settle back until you reach your destination?  And all of this technology will be cheaper than the present, “crude”, human interface operating second-hand cop cars?!

        As for Call-a-Ride – it is only for people who live within a quarter mile of an existing bus route and are incapable of using an existing bus, usually because of severe mobility impairments.

        • Eric says:

          Driverless cars won’t need drivers. Look at any transportation blog, you will see they take for granted that driver labor is one of the largest expense for buses and trains. For example, Vancouver’s subway can run every few minutes even late at night because it is completely automated and thus cheap. With taxis, the labor cost per passenger is of course dozens of times higher than with buses and train. So presumably it is the dominant cost. The fact that taxis are much cheaper in third world countries, while fuel/vehicles aren’t, further supports that conclusion.

          The technology is comparatively extremely cheap. Compare a $500 computer which lasts several years to a minimum wage worker who earns $15k/year.

          Gas costs will remain high and likely even rise, but the only alternatives to spending that money are 1) much improved electric cars (which might not happen), 2) denser development (which can’t happen overnight), or 3) a drastically lowered standard of living.

          • JZ71 says:

            Driverless vehicles already operate on fixed guideways, but they’re nowhere near being the equivalent of a taxi or private vehicle that can go pretty much anywhere there’s pavement.  And yes, driverless vehicles are in their design infancy, but are far from being road ready.  Besides the technical hurdles of actually making the technology work (and be fail safe), there are multiple legal issues to overcome:  http://www.popsci.com/cars/article/2011-06/nevada-passes-driverless-car-legislation-paving-way-autonomous-autos . 

            Out in the real world, accidents happen.  We have a whole subset of the legal system and the insurance industry devoted solely to vehicle accidents.  What hapens when an autonomous vehicle hits another vehicle?  A pedestrian?  A cyclist?  A building?  What happens when someone is assaulted in a driverless vehicle?  What’s going to prevent vandalism?  How will the vehicle understand parking restrictions and time-specific speed restrictions (school & construction zones)?  Will it be smart enough to know that failure is imminent (and pull out of traffic)?  Or will it just crash (in computer terms) and block traffic until the IT guy can get to it?  What if a homeless guy decides to move in?

            There’s also the simple perception issue of having an actual person present, for both information and safety,  The elderly and those needing extra assistance rely on taxi drivers, and many oblige, helping them get in and out and with their parcels and packages.  And if I’m in a strange city, I rely on taxi drivers to have local knowledge, including knowing which areas to avoid and knowing alternate routes.  While there may be “an app for that”, given my experience with Dave, my GPS’s voice, it’s going to take some serious convincing for me to get in a driverless taxi anytime soon.

  5. Urban Reason says:

    And looking quite dapper, I might add.

  6. moe says:

    Going car free works for some, doesn’t work for others.  Congratulations Steve.

  7. imran says:

    I am envious. someday…..

  8. GMichaud says:

    That’s great Steve, although St. Louis is not ready for wholesale abandonment of the automobile. The fact is there are many cities around the world, New York being one, where doing without a car is much easier than in St. Louis. The question of the design of the transit system and of the physical planning to compliment transit (and walking) is an important component in the ability to abandon the auto.
    Not enough focus is made on the elements that comprise a transit system in St. Louis, as the (massive) failure of the auto centric design by St. Louis U. at the Chouteau, Grand Ave intersection indicates. The whole process is bankrupt to allow this to  happen to such an important site directly connected to light rail.
    JZ is correct of course, rural areas should participate in being free of autos if needed or desired. I have studied rural areas less than urban, but I do know that Finland has a national coverage of their transit system, so the JZs’ brother in law would have options. In other words it can be done, and I’m sure many other examples of rural success are available from around the world.
    The current leadership of St. Louis is not getting it done, that’s a fact. They can’t even get inside the city limits right, it indicates clearly the magnitude of the failure.
    The real question is how long will the citizens put up with this continual incompetence?  Really there is no excuse for it. Truthfully, your being able to do without a car on a daily basis should not even be a story. Nor would it be in Helsinki, Stockholm, Berlin, New York, Toronto and so on.
    But in St. Louis it is a big deal. I’m glad you brought it up.

  9. […] am transit dependent as is fellow TRU steering committee member Steve Patterson, a transit dependent rider is one whose primary mode of transportation is alternative transit. I […]


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