My girlfriend was a born transit-arian–no car, father works for the local transit authority, loves schedules. She used to take the bus or the subway everywhere. Then she got a job in the suburbs and after a few months of unpredictable carpools and long train rides, she gave in and bought a car.
Dating a car-nivore is different. On the one hand, when you want to go hiking, you can just drive there and you don’t have to book a Zipcar. On the other hand, it’s now tempting to drive places in the city, and then you get stuck circling for parking and you wish you’d never bothered to get your license.
Cars + Cities = Problems. Traffic, parking, air pollution, tickets, accidents, street cleaning, and climate change to name a few. No wonder so many urbanites are transit-arians.
Transit-arian (made-up noun): A person whose primary mode of transportation is mass transit, biking, or walking with occasional use of taxis and car-sharing services. Transit-arians usually live in cities and don’t own cars.
Like vegetarians, some transit-arians are transit-arian by choice (on principle or because they like the lifestyle), but many are transit-arian by necessity. Cars are expensive, costing between $5,000 and $15,000 per year to own and operate if you live in a city. Using one to commute downtown can cost $40/day in parking alone. So it’s no wonder that over 40% of all travel in San Francisco (where I live) is taken on mass transit.
What is surprising is how many car-nivores live in San Francisco.
Car-nivore (another made-up noun): A person whose primary or sole mode of transportation is their own car.
Almost 40% of travel within San Francisco is taken by personal car. This does not include cars coming into or going out of the city. What are these people thinking? Probably that cars are really versatile, really convenient (if they are parked in your driveway), and even though you are paying hundreds of dollars per month in depreciation, insurance, parking, maintenance, and fuel costs, no one charges you to get in your own car and go, so they feel really cheap even though they’re not.
Cities all over the world are struggling with the problems caused by cars, and city planners are doing whatever they can to convince people to become transit-arians. (Their friends over in the department of public health are also trying to get people to eat more vegetables). Bus rapid transit systems, bike-sharing schemes, congestion pricing, banning cars with even license plate numbers on odd days… These efforts are making a dent, making transit a little better, or making driving a little worse, but none of them alone actually make mass transit or biking better than driving.
That’s where the Internet comes in. A combination of specialized apps for car sharing, taxis, transit, bike sharing, and even electric scooter sharing (full disclosure: I run that electric scooter business) are working together to make the car as marginal in the city as the newspaper is on the Internet. The people who are combining these services into a transportation lifestyle that is actually better than driving are the mobi-vores:
Mobi-vore (last made-up noun): A person who uses their phone to choose between a wide variety of transportation modes depending on what best meets their needs at that moment.
The mobi-vore lifestyle is pretty sweet. Need to go somewhere? Open up your phone. In there you will find apps that tell you how to get where you need to go, when the bus is actually going to arrive, how far away the nearest taxi is, whether there is a scooter available, the cost to reserve a car in a nearby lot, or the spaces available in the public bike rack near your destination, and so on. You can choose the mode of transportation that best meets your schedule and your budget. You aren’t stuck with the vehicle you just used to get where you are, and you can choose a different, better-suited mode when it’s time to come back.
Not surprisingly, it is young people who are ‘driving’ this trend. Millennials in particular would much rather look at their phones than the bumpers of the cars in front of them, and they would much rather live in cool neighborhoods than drive cool cars home to boring suburbs. But smartphones are now so ubiquitous (the exceptions are only the very old and the very young), this lifestyle is available to, affordable to, and most importantly attractive to almost everyone.
People like choice. Sometimes you grab a donut and go, sometimes you have a salad, sometimes you sit down to a bowl of pasta, and sometimes you treat yourself to sushi. It all depends on what kind of experience you want, how much time you have, how much money you can spend, and what’s available wherever you are. The car-nivore transportation diet is eating a burger three meals a day, and it is similarly unhealthy.
It would be great for the city and the planet if we would all become transit-arians, busing and biking everywhere at a leisurely pace and eating lots of vegetables. But that’s a tough sell, so if you are a car-nivore, take out your phone now and download a few of the apps below.
- Routesy (for Muni, Caltrain, BART, AC Transit, etc.)
- Lyft, Sidecar,Uber (I have all three in my phone, in case I need someone to drive me somewhere)
- Zipcar (because, as they say, sometimes you just need a car)
- Bay Area Bike Share (limited coverage so far but worth trying)
- Scoot (electric, vespa-style scooters for $3 one-way trips around the city — self-promotion alert: this is my company)
Then, tomorrow, leave your car at home and try the mobi-vore lifestyle. Your only dilemma is what mode will I try next?
Michael Keating is the CEO of Scoot.