Cell photo by CC
I was driving down I-80 Monday morning when I got a call from Charlotte, who was anxious to interest me in Flexcar‘s clever exercise in car sharing promotion. It was an iffy proposition from the get-go, seeing as how the idea was clearly aimed at getting Flexcar’s name out there before the reading public.
One of my issues, I told Charlotte, was that I might be doing a Census story, and wouldn’t have time to run across the Bay to attend flexcar’s press conference.
Here’s the scheme: Flexcar had gotten 15 Bay Area residents to give up their cars for a month, in exchange for free transit and 25 free hours of access to their fleet of hybrids, sedans, minivans and sports cars.
The stunt would illustrate that car sharing provides a safety valve for people who want to use alternate means of transportation, but are worried that when they need to haul large quantities of groceries or gardening supplies, they’ll be helpless.
With Flexcar, or its competitors City CarShare and Zipcar, one need only sign up for membership (which may include putting down a deposit) and when the moment of need arises, log onto the company’s website, reserve a car, and presto, it’s waiting for you at a parking space right where you need it.
Of course, not all of those company-leased parking spaces are convenient, especially if your point of need isn’t in San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley.
But for someone such as myself, it could come in very handy, and I have been thinking about signing up. That way, I can securely take the train to work and be able to pick up a car whenever I need to work up in the Oakland Hills or some other place that doesn’t have convenient mass transit.
In fact, yesterday was one of those rare days when I was compelled to drive 67 miles to work. I had neglected to bring my Commuter Checks home with me on Friday, and didn’t want to buy my monthly Capitol Corridor pass until I could use them to defray a third of that cost.
I spent the morning trying to make sense of the new Census figures, and then got a call from our building management guy that my car had its windshield smashed in. In downtown Oakland, it’s not unusual for this to happen in an unprotected parking lot such as ours. What’s unusual is that it was the second time it had happened to me in six months. What’s even more unusual is this was perhaps the second time I had taken my car to work in a month, and my car was one of two that got hit.
So I spent much of the rest of the day attempting to get Oakland Police to do a report on the damage, talking to my fellow vandalism victim, talking with my insurance company and arranging for on-the-spot glass repair. My comrade-in-victimhood, who works in our circulation department, also needed someone to stay with her until the tow truck arrived as the afternoon shadows got longer.
It was hard not to think, “Flexcar, take me away from all of this.”
And the final hours of the day, as I waited for the glass guy to work his magic, I managed to find out just what the significance of the new Census survey was for transportation.
In San Francisco, the number of households without cars had taken a significant jump from 2000 to 2005, from 28.6 percent to 31.3 percent. That’s bucking a Bay Area (and I daresay a national) trand toward fewer household going on a car-free “diet.”
Transit-starved Napa County, for instance, dropped from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent during that period. Alameda County dropped from 10.9 percent to 8.9 percent, similar to the Bay Area’s overall decline from 10 percent to 9.5 percent.
Chuck Purvis, statistics guru for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, pointed out that there are plenty of people who simply can’t afford a car, and it’s possible that San Francisco’s trend might be explained by the area’s economic decline. I tend to think that people who can’t afford cars more likely to move OUT of San Francisco during the last five years because of rising housing prices, however.
In places where public transit is convenient and cheap, like San Francisco, a large number of people can get by. New York City has about a third of the nation’s bus, subway and ferry commuters, partly for that reason.
And as I was reminded yesterday, another big reason for a low-car diet could also be liberating oneself from the angst of feeding and protecting one’s rolling hunk of metal and glass.
I’ll try not to think about that when I collapse into my seat on Amtrak this morning.