Commingled Commuter

A little more than ten years ago I gave up owning a car.  Moving from a huge city – Houston, TX – to a city founded well before anyone thought roads need be more than a single track for you and your favourite oxen – Oxford – required a change of priorities.

I started on bike, which is still my primary mode of transport, and spent the first month regularly crashing out on roads as that whole ‘you always remember how to ride a bicycle’ is not 100% true.  I supplemented this with buses and walking, but to be honest it was more like ‘tripping’ as I also had to learn how to walk on cobblestones.  Not necessarily a thing in Houston, let alone America.

A few years in I made the move to learn to drive in the UK.  Not so I could own a car, but so I could rent one, as despite the well connected nature of the UK sometimes the faster way was by four wheels and a thirst to drive single track roads at 60 MPH.  (And the MAGIC ROUNDABOUT!  Yes, I’ve driven through it.) A few years after that car sharing came to Oxford, followed by electric car sharing.  Sign this hippie up.

And then the Oxford minibus arrived.  Not only can I bike, electric shuffle, and read a bus/train schedule I can also ride share.  Not Uber/Lyft, oh no, this is now the mid-range pricing for going somewhere and not feeling like biking, driving, or configuring through two or more bus transfers.

Now, you say, this is getting crazy complex.  As I can read your mind I know your questions:

What does it cost you? 

Well, normally, less than owning and maintaining a vehicle for a year.  I have low months and eye-wateringly obscene months (read: December), but nothing near some of the repair costs I had to pay out on past cars and definitely less than usual wear, tear and eventual replacement.

How much time to you spend planning all this mess?

Very little, because I’m a planner and generally have a think about a week ahead of what I need to achieve.  Last minute the minibus has been reliable outside of rush hour times and I can generally find one of the care share cars.  Buses work pretty well around here and they do try to warn people profusely about holiday times.

Would this work in my city?

Honestly, I don’t know.  You see, like the NHS and the socialist paradise of an island I live on (until March 29, 2019 when we all explode) I couldn’t instantly transfer my commingled commuting lifestyle back to Houston or to my hometown or to where I went to college.  I can say that because of Oxford being pretty darn compact and pretty reasonably connected to both major roads and train lines it works.

What has made you keep this up for so long?

Vanity mostly.  My key example is that after cycling around Oxford for a few months after moving here I ran a 10k with little additional training and removed 15 entire minutes off my time.  I ran the Oxford Half Marathon last year and completed it under times I had trained for in my late twenties.  All because I bike around and use alternative transport. (And do actually do exercise because if not I would die trying to care for my child who constantly remains in motion.)

How can I commingle commute?

Well, you can look at car shares.  This is the one I use in the UK, and here’s one I know that exists in both the US and the UK.  You can also look and see if good bike routes exist, even partial ones, and things like the minibus or carpooling likely exist in other places.  Then sit down and crunch some numbers.  Take what your car costs now (including the fact that you will eventually have to replace it) and compare.  If the logistics and the money work (because do think about time – I have had to add time to commute but I get the exercise benefit so that has a higher value) make a plan.  Can you bike a day a week? Carpool most weeks?  Can you ditch the car altogether or should you keep it but use alternatives certain days/weeks/times of year?

I’m not trying to sign the world up for their own allotment plots (I write this whilst soaking cashews so I can make a vegan stroganoff), but with ten years of this under my belt I can say it works for me.  So it might work for you, or not.  (Shout out to all those who live down dirt roads and think they might have a neighbour… somewhere.)  But for those compact, city-dwelling folk maybe I’ve given you a starter list.

And that’s good enough for me.

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