[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Don’t be alarmed: this is not a memorial to the iconic look Zoolander so graciously bestowed upon the world. No, April 13, 2017 is a special day in my heart because it was the day I gave up my car. I had affectionately come to refer to my 2005 Toyota Corolla as “Blue Steel” because, well, she was blue and I assumed that at least some parts of her were made from steel.
Blue Steel had been my constant companion for almost eight years. She sheltered me from the Arizona heat as I made my daily commute to Arizona State University. She braved the snow as I later made my commutes to BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. And she put up with my ridiculous Broadway/Disney sing-a-longs as I made the eleven hour drives to see my family.
However, the tens of thousands of miles proved to be too much. Bearings were going bad. The A/C was out and electric circuits were fried. In the end, I couldn’t afford to continue giving her the care she needed, and so I donated Blue Steel to one of those online car donation sites. And on April 13, 2017, the tow truck showed up and took her away.
I’m kidding you not: I shed a tear.
Ok – maybe two.
My plan was to start saving some money from each of my paychecks so that later that year I could afford a down payment on a new car. In the meantime, I signed up for the Hive Pass — a monthly UTA pass that allows for unlimited bus and TRAX rides, subsidized by Salt Lake City for its residents. I began regularly taking the bus to work, while also walking and using GREENbike when the weather was agreeable. I would take TRAX on occasion when I wanted to visit friends who lived further South.
It has been a year and three months and I still don’t have a car.
Later, while at Arizona State University, I used the bus and light rail to get to school before Blue Steel came into my life. While living in Philadelphia during a law school internship, I used SEPTA to commute to the federal courthouse in Camden, New Jersey across the river. The following summer, I was back in New York City and regularly used the R Line for my rather short commute from Ft. Greene to Lower Manhattan, in addition to criss-crossing the boroughs to get around every day. Rounding out the list were Amtrak rides while on the East Coast and Frontrunner rides for internships back here at home.
The built-in entertainment that comes along with those who frequent public transit is not the only reason I fell in love. I love not having to pay attention to the traffic we’re driving through, allowing me to — yes — people watch, but also to read a book, get caught up on work, or take a quick nap. I love not having to deal with daily sessions of road rage. I love not making car or insurance payments, or dealing with the DMV.
In my opinion, there is much to love about taking advantage of public transit systems. Especially when I only live a few blocks from where I work and play, there are two bus lines only half a block away that pick me up from home and drop me off at work, and an unlimited pass only costs me $42 per month. For further trips, I hop onto one of the three TRAX lines that pass relatively close to my house. For even further trips, I catch a ride with a friend or take advantage of advances in technology that allow me to hail a ride on command. And when necessary, I just rent a car.
For my life, I love public transit makes sense and my life situation made it easy to permanently use. There have only been a few times in the past year when I’ve missed having my own car. [/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]Last week, I attended a panel hosted by the Utah Foundation on “The Future of Transportation in Utah.” When the moderator asked the audience how they commuted to the venue in Sandy, I was one of only a handful who arrived there using public transit. Earlier this year during the legislative session, I was astounded to see how many cars were endlessly circling the Capitol Building waiting for a rare open parking spot while I was sitting on an empty bus that was free for everyone to use.
I understand that not everyone loves public transit like I do. Sometimes there are weird smells and even weirder people. At times the bus is too hot or the train is too cold. The reliability or even availability of wifi is spotty at best. Buses seem to never be on time and route maps are often indecipherable.
Even more so than these minor inconveniences, public transit in Utah is inconvenient. When I would commute from Provo to Salt Lake City for my internship with the ACLU of Utah, it would only take forty minutes in a car but almost an hour and fifteen minutes when I took Frontrunner. Commutes can double or even triple when you take into account waiting for the bus, transferring between routes, and the occasional delay or disruption. Service begins way too late for those who have to be at the office early and ends way too early for millenials who are used to being out late.
Additionally, for some public transit just doesn’t make sense. There may not be a bus or TRAX line near your home or workplace. Schedules may not allow the extra time it takes to use public transit. Having a car may be necessary for work. Taking children on public transit is often more trouble than it’s worth.
When the alternative is hopping into your car that gets you directly from point A to point B in a fraction of the time, it absolutely makes sense that the vast majority of people prefer using their cars. For the way our lives are currently structured — living in the suburb, working in the city, and investing heavily in car-centric infrastructure — public transit is slow, inconvenient, and expensive. In my case, the benefits outweighed the costs. But for most, the personal costs outweigh the personal benefits.
But what about the societal costs if we don’t?
Utah is growing extremely fast — in fifty years, we’ll have three million more people living in the state. That’s more than double the population we currently have and most of that new growth will be happening up and down the Wasatch Front. We already have bad congestion and hundreds of thousands of more cars making daily commutes will not make it any better. Our air quality during the summer and winter is already harmful and the emissions from these cars will only make it worse.
I am not insinuating that public transit is the answer to long commutes, highway congestion, or poor air quality. It’s just one piece of a highly complex puzzle that we’re trying to piece together to realize what our future will look like here in this state. However, it is part of the answer. [/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]City and state leaders, responsible for planning for the future of our communities, are realizing they can’t continue to build highways to solve congestion and air quality issues. They recently took steps to restructure the Utah Transit Authority and funnel more public funds toward its operations. While this won’t drastically improve service or the convenience of public transit, it’s a start.
However, we can’t just rely on a small shift in policy from government leaders. We’re not going to get enough money to improve service and build infrastructure if there isn’t demand. And if we wait for fifty years, or even twenty years, when things are already getting bad, it will be much more expensive than planning ahead.
We need a shift of public opinion and general practices starting now. We all need to realize that a little inconvenience might be necessary to solve the issues we are facing. We all need to realize that although everyone else might not be acting in socially responsible way, each individual contribution makes a difference. And we all need to realize that if we want something — better public transit, responsible development, cleaner air — we need to support it, demand it, and ultimately, vote for it.
I never thought I would be a public transit-er while living here in Utah. And while there were many benefits that led me to switch over after I lost Blue Steel — personal convenience, affordability, and road-rage avoidance, I will admit that it does feel pretty good knowing that my decision is in some small way helping the community around me. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]