Two months ago in July 2022, I sold my car to rely on biking, public transit, and ridesharing. These are the reason why I made this decision.
Two months ago in July 2022, I sold my car to rely on biking, public transit, and ridesharing (Uber, Lyft).
My parents were shocked. My friends were shocked.
But I felt confident in making the decision because I had been trying out the car-less life for a month already, though there were some pain points. I wanted to write a post walking through my thinking process because I believe that East Palo Alto is livable (for some) without a car, and I think this is a good time to talk about going carless because there are a lot of initiatives in California and in the Bay Area that are incentivizing going carless. For instance, last week Governor Newsom signed AB-2097 where "cities in California can no longer impose minimum parking requirements on new developments within a half-mile of public transit" (Source).
Pain Points with Having a Car
These were my main points with having a car:
- I was not using the car resource "efficiently" because I was only using it once or twice per week (mainly on weekends).
- Expenses had gone up because of increased gas prices. I calculated my cost of car ownership at around $13,000 per year.
- Traffic has been increasing in the Bay Area (though we are the only city not at pre-pandemic traffic levels yet so there is more to go), and there have been numerous government disincentives to single-occupancy vehicle trips which I will touch on later.
- I only needed to drive myself around, and it felt wasteful to have a 7-seater car.
- The car was taking up valuable 110 sq ft of space in the garage, the size of a bedroom; there is an opportunity cost since the space could be used to park bikes, store items, serve as a small home gym, etc.
Incentives of Using Bike, Public Transit, and Rideshares
High Level Incentives
These were my incentives for relying instead on biking, public transit, and rideshares (e.g. Uber, Lyft):
- I live close to the office. It's a 3 - 3.5 mile commute each way by bike every day. I had actually already been biking every day to work since March, and I prefered biking over driving to the office.
- I wanted to get more exercise since driving does not generate much exercise.
- I like using physical exercise to destress after work, and biking helps serve this purpose to better my mental health.
- Within a 5 mile radius, it is actually faster for me to bike than to drive. More on this later. This is mainly due to the way that East Palo Alto has many lights near University Ave, and due to how Palo Alto has designed their streets to be slower and more conducive to cyclists.
- On a bike, I get to see a lot of the beauty of East Palo Alto and the surrounding areas: things that I would miss because I would normally be zipping past at a higher speed in a car.
- Driving a car requires my full attention, and that comes with an opportunity cost of not being able to do other things. If I take transit and it is slower, I might still net "gain" time because I can do productive tasks on my phone or laptop while riding the bus or train.
My employer (Meta) also gives me a lot of incentives to not drive. Admittedly, these are pretty huge perks and for most people who do not have access to company perks like this, that results in a significant reduction in incentives to go carless.
- Bike shop on campus with free tune-ups and repairs; we just pay for parts.
- $3,120 transit subsidy credit per year, which can also be used on Lyft Shared (I happen to be writing this article while riding a Lyft Shared).
- Company shuttles which can take me places on weekdays after work, and I just take transit or rideshare back home.
Commissioner / Doing-My-Job Incentives
As an East Palo Alto Public Works & Transportation Commissioner, I also have incentives:
- I want to understand the SamTrans bus lines in the city, and I had already been riding them to learn.
- I want to understand the bike lanes in the city, and biking in the city is the best way to learn.
- I want to understand the pedestrian infrastructure in the city, and walking on the sidewalks (and lack of sidewalks) helps me to empathize with areas for improvement in the city.
East Palo Alto Infrastructure Incentives
East Palo Alto also has had a number of pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure improvements in the past few years, and has many exciting upcoming improvements too:
- In 2019, the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority completed the SAFER Bay Phase 1 project which added a beautiful pedestrian / bicycle trail which is useful for biking south towards Mountain View.
- In 2020, the Ravenswood Bay Trail Connection opened which closes a critical gap in the San Francisco Bay Trail network.
- In 2020, the Annual Street Resurfacing Project added bike lanes on the southern parts of the city, e.g. on the southern parts of Pulgas Ave and Clarke Ave.
- This year alone Public Works is adding 8 miles of bike lanes, which doubles the miles of bike lanes in the city.
- The University Ave overcrossing, which I wrote about here, is fully funded and is expected to start construction later this year or sometime next year. This will close another critical gap in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure connecting both sides of East Palo Alto and making it a lot easier to bike to Palo Alto.
Neighboring Cities' Infrastructure Projects Incentives
- In 2021, Palo Alto completed the Highway 101 Pedestrian / Bike Bridge Project at Adobe Creek, which is a crucial connector to access South Palo Alto and Mountain View by bike from East Palo Alto.
- Palo Alto and Menlo Park are decades ahead of East Palo Alto in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, so for the most part once leaving East Palo Alto to neighboring communities the infrastructure is there. Palo Alto is regarded as one of the best bicycle infrastructure cities in the state (Source).
- For commutes to Palo Alto and Menlo Park, it is actually the same speed if not faster to bike to Palo Alto. This is mainly because of a lot of stop signs and lights, and there are some special bike lanes and paths that go where cars cannot go.
- Taking the shuttles is actually faster on the freeway, due to the conversion of lanes to express lanes which shuttles can go on for free since there are 3+ people.
- Owning a car is not cheap. I estimated around $13,000 a year of expenses.
- Around $7,000 per year of depreciation
- $2,000 for insurance
- Assuming 5,000 - 10,000 miles driven, around $2,000 for gas. Granted I had a nice European car that needed 91 fuel which is slightly more expensive
- $500 registration
- $1,500 maintenance and parts
- Prior to selling my car, I saw multiple neighbors in East Palo Alto not having a car and relying on a bike or Uber and transit to get around, and I felt inspired.
Of course, there are challenges of not having a car. I cannot go long distance on the whim, and when it rains in the wintertime it may be more difficult to bike. I have to adjust my lifestyle to take transit (e.g. bus or Caltrain).
I think that the main thing that allows me to live a car-less life is that I can bike to work since East Palo Alto is only 2 miles from Meta headquarters and 3 miles from my Meta office building. If the company I worked at were not within biking distance and not near a Caltrain, then I would probably have no choice but to drive.
For most East Palo Alto residents, this probably applies where a car makes more sense, especially for people with families or dependents who need a ride. However, I do also know a number of East Palo Alto residents who live close to work, and many of these are not in tech. I see a future where not having a car and relying on alternative forms of transportation could be feasible, and I wanted to share my thoughts in this blog post.
I plan to write a follow-up article at some point detailing my experiences (and some paint points / tradeoffs) of the decision I have made.