As a car-free city dweller and planner, I get a lot of questions about how I get from point A to B and what to do about traffic congestion in Austin. When I respond, my goals are to inform and to educate, as many people are unaware of: (A) the various transportation options available to them in the city and throughout the region, and (B) how human behaviors (among other factors) contribute to traffic congestion, and thereby, create less efficient transportation systems. I won’t go into a lecture here, but I will share how I’ve maintained a car-free lifestyle over the years. Hopefully, this post will inspire you to get out of your car for a bit and try something new.
My Car-Free History
For more than a decade, I’ve used public transit to get around town. As a teenager, I wasn’t interested in driving or owning a car, so throughout high school, taking the bus was the next best thing. The same applied in college, where I lived on campus for three years and two blocks west of campus for my final year. Fortunately, most places were accessible on foot or by shuttle; and for trips along the outskirts (or completely out) of town, I didn’t go alone. Within my circle of friends, there was always at least one person with a car, so no problems there.
After graduation, I accepted a job offer in Houston and chose where I would live based on the city’s bus lines — particularly those that would get me to work with the least number of transfers. From there, I researched neighborhoods and amenities along those lines and lucked out with a decent and affordable housing option in Oak Forest/Garden Oaks. I should mention that I worked as a full-time volunteer and lived on a monthly stipend that was well below minimum wage; so before I relocated, I was highly encouraged to cut costs wherever possible. For me, that meant choosing not to own a car, despite negative reviews of the local transit system.
When I moved back to Austin for grad school, I was eager to find housing near campus, my workplace, and several bus lines, in one of my favorite Austin neighborhoods. I knew that day-to-day life in grad school would be limited to these places (and my favorite coffee shops!), so I didn’t worry about much else. Fortunately, I found a great spot in my choice neighborhood and within walking distance of grocery stores, parks, restaurants, and more. (I’m happy to report that I’ve lived here for almost five years now!)
Travel + Transit
Throughout these stages of my life, I’ve had opportunities to travel to various places with great transit systems, including the Bay Area, Chicago, New York City, and more.
Before I arrive in a new city, my first order of business is to locate transit maps and apps; then I use Airbnb to decide where I want to stay. For me, this is the best way to experience a new city and to absorb as much of it as possible. Navigating a city on foot and by bus (and/or train, bike) provides more opportunities to engage with the locals, stumble upon hidden treasures, take in the sights and sounds, and get a little lost! Through these experiences, I’ve learned a lot about myself and the world around me, and my travels have been more enjoyable.
These days, transportation apps make my car-free lifestyle more simple than ever before — especially with maps and real-time arrival features. Below, I’ve listed the apps I utilize most at home, in Austin:
- CapMetro – With the CapMetro App, your smartphone becomes your ticket. Use the app for schedules, maps, and real-time arrival information.
- Car2go – No matter what city you are in, the car2go apps will help you find the next free car2go and let you rent it on the spot. (Depending on your location, the nearest car is less than a ten-minute walk away.)
- Uber – Get a reliable ride in minutes with the Uber app. (It’s better than waiting for a taxi, but ladies – be smart about it!)
- Google Maps – Find great places nearby and the info you need to get there.
In closing, I realize that this lifestyle is not for everyone. Being single (i.e., responsible for getting myself around alone) and having the privilege of living and working in great neighborhoods certainly helps, but it’s really about cost savings and simple living. I would rather pay more to live in a centrally-located neighborhood without a car than move further out to save a few bucks on rent and adapt to a car-dependent lifestyle, which can get pretty expensive. I like being able to hang out and shop (on foot) in my neighborhood. Additionally, I like being able to read, write, and listen to my favorite tunes on transit. I encourage you to give alternative transportation modes a try once or twice a week, on the weekends, or when you travel. In my opinion, these are truly worthwhile experiences.