By Robert D. Thomas
Southern California News Group
“On the Road” is an occasional series on transportation — mostly public transit.
My wife, Nikki, and I are one month into our “great” experiment of whether it’s possible for two very busy people to survive on one car in Southern California. Now I realize that there are people who don’t own even one car — a few by choice and others by necessity — but we have been a two-car family for 34 years. In a metropolitan area that is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined we have traditionally put a lot of miles on our automobiles so, for us, this was a big step.
As is often the case, we were sort of forced into this decision, despite the fact that I’m a big proponent of public transportation and have ridden it often throughout my lifetime, not only here but in cities across this nation and around the world.
However, last month the lease on my wife’s Hyundai Sonata ran out (BTW: I’ve been totally put off on leasing and Hyundai — that’s another story). We decided to take a close look at the math and realized that a new (or even new/old) car + insurance + car registration meant we would be spending $350 per month or more without turning the key. Moreover, for senior citizens (age 62 and over), public transit fares are substantially lower than non-senior rates on virtually every transit system in our region. So, we did the math.
Consequently, we decided to experiment with what our life would be like with just one car. One month into the experiment, we have encountered few problems (and none that couldn’t be surmounted) and saved a lot of money. In addition to the Metro fares (which I estimate to have totaled $10), I took one Uber ride at $7.71 and rented a car for one day at $37 (plus gasoline). A plus: since I rented a compact the gas cost ($11) was less than if I had driven our Toyota Rav4, and if you use AAA’s figure of 56 cents per mile, the overall cost was less than using my own SUV.
What we have discovered:
Planning ahead is essential
Who needs the car on a regular basis and when has become a matter of calendaring, for us. At the moment, Nikki uses the car to go to her painting groups all day and evening on Tuesday and on Friday mornings. Beginning this month, I’ll be using the car on Wednesdays for two youth groups I am mentoring. Thus, keeping up with our calendars to minimize car conflicts is essential.
Learning how to manipulate transit systems is essential
Metro has a somewhat clunky transit app that lets you plan a trip ahead of time. I’ve learned to punch the “Regional Trip Planner” line at the bottom, which seems to be a more user-friendly option than the simple version and has the added advantage of recognizing systems other than Metro.
My iPhone also has a Metro app that tells me when the next bus or train is due at my stop. Most of the time it works well — the operative word is “most.” On the other hand, GPS in my car isn’t always totally reliable, either. I remember driving in Ireland when the GPS told me to turn right — if I had done so, I would have crashed through the median on the divided highway I was on!
Use “Stored Value” instead of passes on your TAP card
With Metro’s policy of allowing free transfers within a two-hour window, it’s rare that a single trip uses more than one fare or two fares for a round-trip. A non-senior would have to use more than four rides to equal the cost of a day pass. For a senior (or disabled person), the math is even more in favor of “Stored Value.”
BTW: I have no idea why Metro’s TAP system doesn’t use the same technology as London’s Oyster Card, which allows riders to use its version of Stored Value and recognizes when it reaches the day pass limit and then doesn’t charge for additional rides.
Walking to and from the Gold Line station becomes enforced exercise
My wife heartily approves, although she does give me a ride to the station whenever possible.
The biggest problem is our church
Although La Cañada Presbyterian Church is located on a major thoroughfare (Foothill Blvd.), Metro doesn’t run service in this area. The Glendale Bee bus does have a line but it quite inconvenient in terms of getting anywhere except Glendale. A few Sundays ago Nikki had an all-day art class at the La Cañada Community Center and I had an afternoon concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. So, she dropped me at church and went on to her class, while I took an Uber ride to the Memorial Park Gold Line station (the aforementioned $7.71 charge). I then rode the Gold Line to the Chinatown station and took the Metro 76 local line to Disney Hall.
Uber proved easy to use. I just dialed it up on my iPhone and a car and driver showed up at the church in about seven minutes and 10 minutes later I was at the Memorial Park station.
We don’t expect this to be a normal situation, since we usually go to church together. I surprised at Metro’s decision not to have a bus on Foothill in that area. I guess it figures if you’re rich enough to live in La Cañada, you don’t ride a bus!
Further reports later …