Alternatives to Driving

Beloit trip 007(1)

For the person who has decided to give up owning a car, several transportation methods are available.

The first is attached to the end of your legs. When you get out from behind the wheel, you will walk more. It’s inevitable. It’s also good for you. Walking is great exercise. Two months into my new car-free life, people I hadn’t seen for a while started to say things like: “You look great. Have you lost weight?” I checked, and sure enough, I had dropped ten pounds. And I had done it with no modification of diet or daily habits, save one: I was now doing short trips on foot instead of by automobile.

Why do people drive to a gym where they pay to exercise, I thought, when they can get the same results for free? It seemed to me, and still does, a waste of both time and money.

Since I started this experiment in January, my bicycle was in the basement. But when warmer weather arrived, the bike came out of storage. This expanded my range, and also further illustrated that the “convenience” of car ownership is often anything but. I live within a mile of downtown Bangor. I can leave the house, bike downtown, lock up the bike, and be sitting in my favorite bar drinking a beer before someone leaving my house at the same time in a car can get in the door.

When I began teaching at the University of Maine, I discovered the convenience of the local bus system. It used to be called the BAT, for Bangor Area Transit, but some marketing genius came up with the utterly boring “Community Connector,” which is now its official name. One perk of my job as an adjunct professor is that I can ride the bus system free, as can any student, teacher or employee of the University. And since all the buses have bike racks, in warm weather I can sling the bike on the bus in the morning and ride it home – a trip of about ten miles – in the afternoon.

Anyway, one semester I had a student – let’s call him “Mike” – who was chronically late for a class that began at 1:10 in the afternoon. One day after class I finally asked him why he was always late.

“I try to get here on time,” he said, “and I get to campus in plenty of time for class, but most of the time I have to troll for a parking space, and then when I find one it’s way out on the edge of a parking lot, and I have to walk. Or else I park illegally and get a ticket.”

Further conversation revealed that he lived in Bangor, within a short walk of a bus route. The bus could deposit him at the center of campus, an easy walk to class. Why, I wondered, did he drive?

“Because it’s more convenient,” he said.

I almost laughed out loud. “You just got done telling me how inconvenient it is.”

As was the case in the previous example with my bicycle, Mike and I could have left Bangor at the same time, he in his car and me on the bus, and I would have been in the classroom first. Plus I could use the time on the bus to prepare for class, while he trolled for parking.

But he didn’t see it. And among his fellow students, he is not alone. I now make it a point to assign a field trip on the bus and a one-page report. Some are surprised at how easy it is. But others cling to their cars, in the belief that if the University could just build more parking, or if roads could be widened, or if traffic lights could be better timed, the congestion wrought by our addiction to the automobile would magically vanish.


Hank Garfield

About Hank Garfield

Hank's writing has appeared in San Diego Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Downeast, Bangor Metro, and elsewhere. He is the author of five published novels, and is now seeking a publisher for his recently-completed novel, A Sprauling Family Saga.