Sunday, October 12, 2008

One Year Without a Car in Charleston, South Carolina

Is living without a car for a year possible in Charleston, SC?

Yes, it is.

Last year, around mid-September (2007) our car lease was up. Instead of burning rubber to the local Auto-mile with a pre-arranged auto loan in hand, we elected to experiment with a different kind of lifestyle – one with no car at all.

Charleston may be famous for her long term standing in the upper rankings of most hospitable cities but she is not known for her public transit. Yet we endeavored to move forward in a challenge to ourselves that included reducing our carbon footprints while exploring alternative methods of transportation. We figured at best our delirium or tenacity, whichever you choose to call it, would last for a few weeks or so.

Despite not knowing the course this grand experiment would take, here we are,- one year later still riding the bus as our main source of daily transportation! Yes, it's true. And, no, it is not always chock full of convenience. For instance, Friday night one of us was semi-stranded and waited for almost a full hour because the bus got held up by traffic in the rain. So, how have we had the patience to pull this off?

Well, we live downtown and are lucky to be centrally located with the buses dropping us within close proximity to almost all of the places we regularly have to go, including home. We also have access to a family-member's car if needed, which allows us to work in a quarterly trip to Costco (several miles outside of downtown) or take the dog to the vet (he is unwelcomed on the CARTA bus as you have probably guessed).

Life without a car isn't bad, yet over the last year a lot of people have peppered the pair of us with all kinds of peculiar questions related to our personal carlessness. Someone once asked, Is it safe? Clearly. We're still alive to write about it. Someone else wondered allowed, How do you go shopping? Walk or bike to the farmers market or grocery store, buy lots of fresh food. Alternatively, carry goods on bus. Others have inquired, How long do you have to wait for the bus? Sometimes we wait, sometimes we don't. And, once by e-mail someone asked, Why don't you just buy a Prius? Prius ownership still involves oil dependency to a degree. Although we believe owning a semi-electric is a great step, our experiment here involves the giant leap away from car ownership. However, we solute you, Prius owners! We know a few of you out there.

Anyway, despite CARTA's increase in ridership over the last year as a result of gas prices, the daily workings of the transit system seem a mystery to many. The unintended positive consequences of ridership, like trimmer waistlines and reductions in episodic road rage, are obviously hidden beneath the folds of CARTA's sparsely funded packaging, out of obvious view.

Hopefully our mixed bag of justifications for car-free living - conjestion, over-consumption, questioning the belief systems commanding our conveniences, economic contraction and global warming among them, are clearly discernible through the stories we've shared here online. Curing The Oil Addiction - Converting to CARTA from last September was our first carless post and captured some of the things on our minds at the time. But basic things, like money, and an expectation that our economy might end up in turmoil, supported the continuation of this project.

Yep, we have saved a lot of money by living without a car for a year. We've eliminated car payments, car insurance, State taxes, maintenance, and gas & oil expenses from our total household budget. The savings have helped adjust our household balance sheet as the U.S. Financial system has slowly slipped into crisis mode. Free of being saddled with a car payment certainly makes watching White House economists on C-Span (fighting over the roles of Keynesian vs. Austrian economic theory in modern-day America) more laughable, at least.

For the moment, and possibly until the perfect electric vehicle is released, we are going to continue living car free. We will rely on CARTA as our main source of mobility and keep pushing for the betterment of our public transit system. This blog is mainly dedicated to the experiences collected through direct utilization of Charleston's public transit system. We've met some interesting people, had some odd conversations and found glimmers of enlightenment in strange scenes that would never have been observed in auto utero, behind the glass of the protective windshield. The whole order of society can be seen from a bus seat when peering out the corner of one's eye. So, without further adieu, here is a collection of the last year's postings which more specifically highlight our adventures on CARTA, a most under-appreciated public bus system. Enjoy.

Jaguar vs. CARTA - Week One
Week Two - Curing Oil Addiction Follow Up
CARTA Politics and Community Planning
Dashing About Town
Getaway CARTA
Biking to a Business Event
Charleston's Talking Public Transit
Tourist Season on CARTA
Shame on Charleston - Going to the Doctor

Check back as we continue pushing for better community planning, improvement & expansion of mass transit and the responsibility and possibility of Energy Independence.