Ode to Carlessness

An organization such as the Sierra Club, which runs largely off the power generated by volunteers, desperately needs people with (1) excess energy, (2) free time, (3) surplus funds, (4) knowledge, and (5) a clear conscience. All of the above are supplied, abundantly, by not owning a car:

1. Never again will I ever have to clean, wash, polish, or gas up another car (except for the rare occasions when I rent one to get to some out-of-the-way wilderness location)! That saves a considerable amount of energy, much of it mental. Similarly, I never have to search for a parking space, nor try to remember where I left my car.

Driving requires a lot of physical and mental energy. It requires you to stay alert for long periods, and causes stress and tension. I would not be surprized to hear that it increases your blood pressure. It is always dangerous, and is most dangerous at times (at the start and end of a trip) when you are least alert. All of this requires energy. Riding public transit, on the other hand, I find very relaxing. For example, I am no longer the least bit concerned about traffic jams, since I always carry a book and can make profitable and enjoyable use of any delays. Because my entire commute time (2 hours/day) is available to me for reading and other productive activities, I have much more energy left over for other things that I want to do.

When I used to drive, I noticed that my body deteriorated. Now, since I walk a mile to and from BART each day and hike "aerobically" every weekend, I stay in better shape and have more stamina. Driving leads naturally to physical atrophy. Doctors say that we are designed and meant to be physically active until we die. I know that I could not accomplish half of what I do, without aerobic exercise, which I have been doing for the last 14 years. Health is more than the absence of sickness; I don't believe that you can be truly healthy without some form of aerobic exercise, and that requires the time and energy that we non-drivers have.

2. Since I have cut all automobile-related activities out of my life, I consequently have much more free time. In fact, I have read so many books in the last 8 years, that sometimes I can't think of anything else to read. These books have greatly helped me in my profession and in my leisure activities, including, most recently, stopping freeway expansion in the Bay Area. I use the time I spend riding BART and the bus for reading, socializing, thinking, relaxing, or even sleeping.

3. An honest economic analysis will easily demonstrate that owning a car and driving is much more expensive than using public transit. Hertz, a few years ago, determined that the true cost of owning and driving a mid-sized car is 62 cents/mile. At this rate, it would cost me $12.5 to get to work, as opposed to the $2 I pay to use public transit. AND THAT DOES NOT COUNT THE VALUE OF MY TIME! I value my time greatly, and prefer having a 1 hour commute that I can utilize as I wish, to driving for 1/2 hour and having that time be a total loss. Life is too short to waste it behind the wheel of a car. I calculated that I could rent a car frequently throughout the year, and still come out ahead financially over owning one (and, incidentally, always get one that runs!).

4. Riding public transit, and not owning a car, gives one a large amount of free time that can be spent reading and learning. Since I stopped driving, I have found the time and energy to read hundreds of books on subjects that interest me, including many (EIR's, etc.) that are essential for my Sierra Club work. Environmental threats are coming at a geometrically increasing rate; the only way to keep up with them all is to make the best use of one's finite time and energy. For example, Caltrans is working at a feverish pace to push through the widening of most of the freeways in the Bay Area. And you can bet that land developers aren't wasting any time applying their influence to make it happen.

5. To me, one of the best advantages of not owning or driving a car is the good feeling I get from knowing that I'm not contributing to air pollution and not supporting three of our major military contractors: General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.

Ultimately, the best reason for not owning a car is that life is simply fuller and more enjoyable without it.

Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.