Thursday, February 11, 2010

One year without a car in Santa Monica

We're coming up on one year without a car, but in reality, I stopped driving it almost 16 months ago. These are 10 things that I've learned about life without a car in Los Angeles:

1. The website has a service almost exactly like mapquest, and it'll give you multiple alternatives for how to get between any two points. It can take some work to get used to it, and you have to carefully check the results. It includes Santa Monica buses.

2. The following things were a significant source of grief in my life before, and they are now completely gone now: finding street parking, parking lot / valet fees, parking tickets, speeding tickets, registration, insurance, visiting the DMV, inflating tires, rotating tires, general maintenance visits, repairs for unexpected malfunctions, gasoline, fighting traffic, and car washes. It's a longer list than I thought, and I'm thrilled to be rid of it all.

3. I am very afraid of dying and killing while driving, because I know what kinetic energy is, and I know that it grows linearly with your vehicle mass (mine was 3600 lbs) and with the square of your vehicle's speed. I was also constantly appalled at the inefficiency of transporting a payload of under 200 lbs with a vehicle that weighed almost 20X as much. If you aren't already, you should be afraid and appalled as well.

4. I have an Enterprise rent-a-car over the hill. When I have an important business meeting in a part of town which is hard to access, I will rent a car, and I will try to schedule other meetings and errands that day which are not easy to get to via bus. I priced zip cars, which I thought would be more effective, but it turned out that renting a car for the day was cheaper overall. It's about $50 for an economy car with liability insurance. I can go for weeks without needing to rent a car, and savings, even at $50/day is huge.

5. The Santa Monica Big Blue Bus system is great. For $0.75, it'll take me to Malibu, the LAX airport, UCLA, and anywhere in between. The Rapid 3 route is particularly yummy for airport flights. For $0.50 more, I can get a transfer to a metro bus, which would otherwise cost another $1.25.

6. I love living locally, but some of my friends are still pressuring me to get a car. I don't expect that to let up, but I'm so much happier without one that I am happy to bear a little peer pressure.

7. The best parties are often in inaccessible places, and this is a big weakness of not owning a car in Los Angeles. If you go by bus, then if the party runs late, you run the risk of the buses stopping. Even if they don't stop, they're running very seldomly late at night, and you can easily spend 30min or more in the cold waiting for the next bus. My solution so far has been to crash at a friend's place either at the party or nearby, and then buy breakfast. It's working out so far.

8. Dating is more challenging. I need my date to come here or for her to quickly become comfy with me staying over. I'm so selective, however, that I have flown women in from other countries, so whereas this is a pain in the butt, the bigger issue of finding the right girl dwarfs it.

9. I work primarily out of my home. If I didn't, I would have to work somewhere that was on a convenient bus route. I am definitely noticing a tendency to want to close deals with accessible locals, now, and I think this is a healthy pressure.

10. I moved to a neighborhood near Main St. where almost everything I need is within walking distance, and I have developed relationships with local businessmen because of it.

Overall, I heartily recommend selling your car. When I pitch others to do this, I invariably get push-back saying that they won't be able to get to hard-to-get-to places. Indeed, they won't except when they occasionally rent/borrow a car, but by analogy, I like to point out that Cortez burned his ships, so that they would be forced to press ahead and would be unable to retreat. It is a very similar sort of thing. It sounds scary, but it helps you commit to living locally. I now know what that is viscerally, not just in concept, and I find it's definitely a better way to go.

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