I decided to get rid of my car when I was in college at the University of Vermont, learning about the impacts of the automobile on our environment, development patterns and our daily lives. I believed what I read about car usage, which basically said that as long as you have a car, you’re going to keep driving it. No matter how committed I was to reducing my dependence on a personal vehicle, it was impossible to ignore when I had one sitting in my driveway.
Going car-free was certainly an adjustment. It took a little while to remove the car as one of my options when thinking about how I was going to get somewhere. Once I got used to it, however, I began to love how cars were the option I needed to plan for most, and often pay for. Because of the added hassle, I became a more conscious traveler and consumer. Driving became a means for only specific trips and something for special occasions, which is how I think it should be. Cars shouldn’t be the primary way we get around.
Living in Burlington, I’ve felt it relatively easy to get by without having to own a car. Burlington’s size is manageable enough to walk or bike most places, and we have access to other services that help too. The service I’ve found most helpful has been CarShare Vermont, and the biggest improvement in our transportation scene over the past few months has been GMTA’s real-time tracking.
It took me a while to join CarShare Vermont, because I simply didn’t think I needed it. Once I adjusted to my car-free lifestyle, I was proud to rely mostly on walking, biking and the occasional bus ride to get around town. As soon as I joined the organization, however, I immediately realized the benefits. It gave me a little more freedom to go where I wanted, without being restrained by a bus schedule or walking distance. Having to pay for my usage also kept me from over-doing it and driving when I didn’t need to. I now feel strongly that I would never want to live in a place where I couldn’t have access to a carsharing service!
Real-Time Tracking — Bus Service
For me, GMTA’s investment in real-time tracking was one of the most noticeable improvements in my transportation options this past year. Buses are often most reliable when they are outbound, the closer they are to the starting point of their route. As someone who was often trying to hop on a bus outside of the immediate downtown, the timing was unpredictable and I was never sure when the bus would actually arrive. Real-time tracking has been a game changer for me, and I’ve been much easier to hop on a bus.
When it comes to biking, I generally feel comfortable biking in Burlington because I know the culture exists to support it. Compared to where I grew up (in a suburb of NYC), biking is much more popular here than it ever will be in such car-dependent areas. That being said, the infrastructure to support biking in Burlington isn’t great, and while some people respect bikers there are still many who don’t. It’s not uncommon for me to get honked at while waiting to make a legal turn because cars don’t feel like waiting behind a bike. Because biking is more stressful and unpredictable than walking, I do often choose biking only when walking is too slow or I need to haul things. I would like to see the city and our advocacy organizations focus more heavily on the infrastructure supporting what everyday bikers would appreciate most, instead of focusing on things that mostly tourists enjoy, like the bike path. I do love and appreciate the bike path, but would enjoy biking in Burlington more if our downtown was safer and more accommodating to me as a cyclist.
I feel lucky to have been able to live comfortably in Burlington without a car for 6+ years. Individual car ownership is destructive to the environment, our health and the vivacity of our small city. I’m hopeful that the city continues to promote organizations and policies that allow people to ditch their cars and still have options to get them where they need to go.