Friday, March 29, 2013

Transportation, 21st Century Style

Big Cuter lives a car-less life style.  He cabs, he walks, he takes the subway, he rides the streetcar. He'll ride the bus to visit one friend, but tries to avoid it otherwise.  I'm jealous of all of his options.

Zipcars live in the garaged under his building. He carries a card in his wallet, has the site bookmarked on his computer, and with two clicks and a few entries he can be behind the wheel of a Mazda 3 or an Audi A4 or a Honda Civic.  He could rent a van or a pick-up, too.  The vehicles live in named parking spaces: Mary Jane, Ocean Beach.... it's a San Francisco smile every time we discover a vehicle.

Today we drove a Ford Focus hybrid out to Marin and back.  There were too many buttons on the dashboard, and nobody could figure out how to unlock the passenger doors.  The turn signal had issues with turning off, and the hybrid recharging system made an interesting rumble under my seat as it gathered power.  But the gas and insurance were included in the price, and the FastTrak for the bridge made crossing a no-brainer. Hertz has never offered to pay for my gasoline or my tolls.

There's no one examining the car for dents and dings.  There's no paperwork to sign.  It's first-come-first-served, which is how we ended up in the Focus instead of the Mazda this morning, but that's the sum of my complaints about the system.

For $30 odd dollars we came and went at our own pace.  We were finished with our visits and our eating and our sightseeing an hour or so earlier than we'd planned, and the bill will reflect that, too.  All it took was a pass of the Zipcard over the sensor mounted on the front windshield.

When I'm asked how I'd get around Phoenix if I took the yet-to-be-constructed light rail, Zipcar is my answer.  I imagine driving to the station a mile or so from my house in Tucson, leaving The Schnozz in a covered parking space, and boarding a train to the big city up north.  It's 110 miles that could be traversed  while I slept, or blogged, or read.  I wouldn't have to worry about encountering dust storms or high winds or a hazmat collision which closes the only road for hours.  Once in Phoenix, I'd get into my Zipcar, see what had to be seen, do what had to be done, drop off the car, and ride home in comfort.

There's no national will for big projects in America today. This would be a massive undertaking, creating jobs in all sorts of arenas.  Engineers to design it, landscape architects to beautify it, surveyors and track layers and conductors and station agents and and and it will never happen.

How do I know this? Another study is being undertaken.  Don't get me wrong; I like studies as much as the next social scientist.  It's just that this one is so obvious I wonder what they are looking to find.  Would I ride it?  Would it make my life easier?  Would I travel to Phoenix more often?  Yes, yes and yes.

It seems that they are not asking the right questions.  How about wondering if the lack of rail service between the two cities has impaired my ability to live a full and complete life?  How do you quantify the fact that I skipped a hearing at the State Legislature last week because I didn't want to spend three hours driving a straight line between home and the capital?  As the interwebs bring us closer together, physical distance is still a stumbling block to effective communication with our legislators. Perhaps the discussion over creating a State Gun would have had a different resonance if Tucsonans had traveled there en masse, on the train, two weeks after we were shot in front of the Safeway?

We'll never know.  I can't imagine it being created in my lifetime.  I just know that I'd be very happy to use it to visit The Golden Gopher, Karina, Miss Popularity, the Heard Museum, the Cubbies in Spring Training.... all that a bigger city has to offer.

I'll continue to dream about it.  That, I know, I can do.  


  1. Big Cuter lives a life that I envy in many ways. Having lived in the East Bay in the '90s, I got a small taste of what the car-less lifestyle would be like, and I liked it. Like you, though, I don't envision a time during my lifetime when it will be possible. Enjoy my favorite city while you're there!

    1. I walked from Union Square to his apt yesterday.... even my bum leg couldn't detract from the joy!

  2. Hey AB, I'm back from Mexico. Will tell you all about it in a separate Email. My BIL and his family live in SF and they use Zipcar for everything. They used to have two cars, but sold one of them and have one family car for when they go to Carmel to visit my SIL's family. Otherwise, they walk everywhere in SF. His family is so fit and I'm envious because I wish that we didn't have to drive everywhere in the DC suburbs. We are supposed to get Metro out to Dulles Airport (five mins from my house); so I'm so excited about that. Not sure why the rich folks in the western part of our state are fighting rail. it opens so many opportunities for so many.

    Have fun in SF. Like Anon above, SF is one of my favs too.

    Megan xxx

    1. The Metro will make all the difference for you. My niece doesn't drive, lives outside DC, and gets everywhere she wants to go. A walkable city is such a blessing.

  3. I love the vision you are presenting here. Since I live in San Francisco, use BART and other public transit (trains to the South Bay), I believe we could live like this. Let's work to make it so!


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