The Numbers are in, and they aren’t Pretty


Last year I kept a rough transportation log. I did it because somebody gave me one of those little blank books for Christmas, and I never know what to do with those things. I decided to keep track of how I got around, by jotting down where I went and how I got there.

The year is over, and the numbers are in.

First off, I didn’t go much of anywhere. I did not travel internationally. I left Maine only twice: three days in Connecticut in January and a week in California in March.

As regular readers know, I live in a one-car household. The car is not mine. It belongs to the lovely Lisa, who is kind about giving me rides in inclement weather. Last winter, when I had an early class, we developed a ritual in which she dropped me off in Pickering Square on her way to work in time for me to catch the 7:15 a.m. bus. On many days, this was my only contact with a car, but I am compelled to include them in the statistics.

These numbers would be different if I lived alone, traveled more often, or moved closer to a city with trains. I didn’t get on a train at all in 2016, though I love trains. I don’t get much opportunity to ride them. The last time I took a train was on a trip to a conference in Tennessee in 2015, and before that, to see Bob Dylan in Boston the previous autumn.

So although these statistics may not represent the typical life of an average American non-car owner (is there a such a thing?), I present them anyway, for whatever they’re worth.

Out of 366 days in 2016 – a leap year – I spent time in a car on 128 of them. Most of that time was as a passenger, but I got behind the wheel and drove on 45 days. That means I drove roughly every eighth day, an average of less than once a week.

I took my bicycle out of the basement on April 9, and I used it on 131 of the remaining 296 days of the year. I used a bike three more days than I used a car, nearly every other day after I brought it out of storage. I used it more frequently than that in the warmer months: 20 days in September and August, 19 in May, but only four in November and one single outing in December.

I used some form of public transportation on 189 days – more than half the days of the year. The bulk of this was on Bangor’s Community Connector bus system. I took 18 trips on the Concord Coach bus, mostly to Rockland and back. I spent parts of three days on airplanes, and two riding the San Diego Trolley. I don’t think I rode a subway anywhere. There were two cab rides but no Ubers.

Obviously, on many days, my modes of transportation overlapped. I took the bike on the bus, and accepted rides in cars when they were offered. I used the bus less when I used the bike more. I rode the bus just four days in July, and eight in August and June. These were also my months of most frequent bicycle use. When the bike is out and the weather is good, I tend to use it, because it’s the most convenient way to get around town.

I should also note that I spent all or parts of 28 days on a boat, sometimes going from one place to another. (This does not count the days spent working on it to get it ready to float.) Maine may not have much in the way of train service, but it’s a great place to see by boat.

Can any conclusions be sucked from this statistical soup? Perhaps. Despite the presence of a car in the driveway and the willingness of its owner to hand me the keys, I still only drove on 45 days. There was never a day when we needed or even wanted a second car. It’s easy for two people with two different work lives and two different schedules to live with one car. It’s probably easy for a household of three or more to do it, with a little planning.

Giving up car ownership need not be an all-or-nothing proposition. Cars aren’t going away anytime soon, but there’s no reason we can’t live with fewer of them.


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.