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I’m Car-Free…Again!

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


Scooter Sales Were Up In Big in 2011

ABOVE: My former 2004 Honda Metropolitan scooter, March 2006

Last year motorcycle sales were basically flat but according to the Motorcycle Industry Council models that sipped gas saw big increases:

Collectively, the dozen leading brands included in the MIC’s Retail Sales Report were up 0.3 percent in 2011, compared to the year before. Fuel-efficient models did especially well. Among these brands, scooter sales rose 11.8 percent and dual-purpose bike sales were up 14.2 percent. The MIC will announce first-quarter 2012 sales for these particular brands, which represent most of the market, on April 20. (Source)

This means other models saw decreases for the total market to remain flat. The scooter I had for nearly three years was great transportation, the miles per gallon was around 80-90!  The last year I owned it I didn’t have a car — it was my only motorized vehicle.

I’ve not kept up on scooters since I had to stop riding in 2008 but there are many models available. Interestingly Honda lists the 2009 Metropolitan as the most recent version of that model.

Laws vary from state to state (list) but I liked that Missouri didn’t require registration of low speed 50cc models like my Metropolitan. Like using transit riding a scooter required you to adjust shopping trips, namely more frequent smaller purchases. The scooter did give me 24/7 mobility on my schedule.

The scooter I had couldn’t exceed 30mph or so. As a result I didn’t venture out of the city often. When I did it was on weekends or I took back routes to reach my destinations. Depending upon where you drive and your storage options a scooter might be a good choice for you.

– Steve Patterson


Readers Resist Transit As Gas Prices Rise

I’m not sure if its a love of cars/driving or a dislike of transit but readers in the poll last week indicated it will take a lot to get them to give up driving and use transit.

ABOVE: A large crowd waits to board the #70 Grand MetroBus at Union Station

Q: How Expensive Must Gas Get Before You Take Transit Instead of Drive?

  1. I already take transit and/or bike: 39 [33.05%]
  2. I’ll never take transit: 17 [14.41%]
  3. Other: 16 [13.56%]
  4. $10+ 14 [11.86%]
  5. $6 – $6.99: 13 [11.02%]
  6. $5 – $5.99: 10 [8.47%]
  7. $7 – $9.99: 6 [5.08%]
  8. $4 – $4.99: 3 [2.54%]

Wow, really? This tells me we can jack up taxes on gasoline to fund dramatically better transit and most of you will keep driving. Missouri should raise fuel taxes to be on par with neighboring states like Illinois (41.2¢/gallon). The average for the 50 states is 30.5¢/gallon but Missouri is at 17.3¢/gallon, slightly above Oklahoma (Source).

The high number of “other” answers were mostly those feeling guilty and/or defensive about driving:

  1. I can’t take transit to work, not a choice
  2. When I can get from St. Louis County to St. Charles County
  3. I will just work from home
  4. It rarely goes where I need it to – despite proximity to multiple bus routes!
  5. I take transit and walk. 🙂
  6. I’ll be riding my scooter
  7. When it doesnt take 2 hrs to travel, the same distance I can drive in 20 minutes
  8. When it’s cleaner and safer, maybe I’ll consider transit.
  9. i live 3 miles from work, it’s still not an issue for me.
  10. Tranist is not an option in my current job.
  11. I’d take transit now if there was better coverage near my home.
  12. I don’t have convenient transit access
  13. My job requires me to have a car.
  14. transit is not an option for my commute
  15. i’ll take it when it runs 24/7b

Do people only go from home to work and back? No, we don’t. We go to events, shopping, dinner, etc. I’d imagine many of you have made changes to your routines:

Nationally, 84% of those responding to an AAA survey released earlier this month say they’ve changed their routines as a result of soaring fuel prices. Better planning — combining errands into a single trip — was the most common way cited. (USA Today)

It will be interesting to watch as prices continue to rise.

– Steve Patterson


Readers Supportive of Park Bond Debt

December 14, 2011 Economy, Parks, Politics/Policy 4 Comments
ABOVE: The Fox Park pavilion faces Shenandoah Ave

Last week more than half the readers that voted in the poll support the city taking on debt to fix our many parks:

Q: Do you support St. Louis selling bonds to fund park improvements?

  1. Yes, investing in our park infrastructure will help the city prosper! 52 [54.17%]
  2. No, the debt will be a burden on city revenues 21 [21.88%]
  3. Possibly 12 [12.5%]
  4. unsure/no opinion 6 [6.25%]
  5. Other: 5 [5.21%]

The other answers were:

  1. If we need bonds, then do a bond issue. Tax revenues are for ongoing revenue.
  2. like better parks. don’t like debt. hm?
  3. why not sell bonds to improve failed school district?
  4. No. there are at least a half dozen more pressing needs than park maintenance
  5. I support the bonds but agree with JZ71 – funding needs to be more distributed.

Time will tell if this was a good decision. Improved parks may make city neighborhoods more appealing, attracting residents, businesses and jobs. Increased revenues cover the debt. On the other hand service cuts might be needed in the future to deal with the debt payments. The original post had some spirited comments.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Do You Support St. Louis Selling Bonds To Fund Park Improvements?

St. Louis will be selling bonds to fund improvements to the city’s park system. From STLtoday.com on Friday:

St. Louis aldermen today overwhelmingly approved a plan to issue $64 million in bonds for city parks, with about $30 million to be spent on improvements at Forest Park.

What’s not to like about better parks?

ABOVE: Forest Park

Comptroller Darlene Green isn’t happy about the city taking on more debt:

On Thursday, Green was outvoted when two related bills authorizing the funding plan passed the city’s three-person Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which also includes Mayor Francis Slay and Aldermanic President Lewis Reed. Aldermen today approved the bills by wide margins. (article)

So St. Louis will take on more debt. In a November 30th letter to the Board of Aldermen, Comptroller Green explained her concerns about paying off the debt.

ABOVE: Gravois Park is one of 100+ parks in St. Louis

This seems like a perfect subject for a weekly poll question: Do you support St. Louis selling bonds to fund park improvements? The poll is in the right sidebar, results will be posted Wednesday December 14th.

– Steve Patterson