When I was in law school, I lived in a furnished apartment two blocks from school. Basically all I owned was my clothes, a desktop computer, some CDs and my textbooks. I definitely owned zero tools. Then I graduated and moved to a fancier apartment (the deck of a swimming pool is a great place to study for the bar exam). I went to Target for cookware and the like and slowly accumulated some furniture. I even picked up a hammer and some basic screwdrivers so I could do things like hang pictures and do minor assembly. Eventually I bought a condo and with it came other tools, like a ladder, paint rollers and brushes and a snow shovel. Now I’ve got a house, a lawn mower, leaf blower and hedge trimmer (all electric, for what it’s worth) and my father-in-law keeps buying me power tools.
The point of this boring story is that as life changes you wind up needing different tools. An exacto knife doesn’t help you much when you need to drive a nail and a level isn’t much good for clearing snow from your sidewalk. You want and need different tools to accomplish what you want to do around the house.
So why is transportation so different? Growing up in the suburbs, there was essentially one way to get around after your sixteenth birthday: drive a car.
Think of it in reverse. What did you do before you had a car? Rode a bike. Rode the school bus. In the suburbs, on a very rare occasion road the city bus. Walked to your friend’s house or home from an after school event (or, if you’re like me from all of those detentions you got in second grade). When a car wasn’t an option, you had multiple ways to get around depending on the circumstances. Now that you’re an adult, why do you only have one transportation tool?
There are all kinds of good reasons to want to use a car less frequently. If you’re like me, maybe you really dislike driving in rush hour traffic that’s slow, discourteous and unpleasant. Maybe you’re concerned about climate change and would like to rely less on fossil fuels. Maybe you’d like to save some cash by buying less gas or not paying for parking. Or maybe you’d like to save even more cash by owning fewer cars. Maybe it’s hard to park where you’re going or difficult to get where you want to go in a car. Maybe you’d like to get a little exercise with your transport. Maybe you’re a stickler for efficiency and it bugs you to move a few thousand pounds of metal around when you’re by yourself inside it. Maybe it’s all of the above.
If you stop to think about it, you might find that there are other transportation tools that work better for you for some or all of your trips.
Even the most-car centric travelers spend some time thinking about whether the bus is a better way to get to the State Fair, or the train to get to Twins, Vikings or Gopher game. Driving and parking are difficult, expensive and not necessarily any faster or more convenient.
What about other trips? If you live close to stuff, it might be just as easy to walk four blocks to pick up a half gallon of milk as it is to drive. If you shop more often (fresh foods are great) and closer to home, maybe a cargo rack on your bike is enough carrying capacity. Even if your commute is too far to walk, bike or take transit, there are likely some trips you could take without your car.
I try to use the right transportation tool for the task in front of me. If I’m only going a few blocks, I walk. If I’m by myself, the weather is good and the destination is within a few miles (or more miles if I have time to be leisurely), I ride my bike. If it’s too cold or snowing, I take the bus or train. If I have to cover longer distances or need to haul more people or stuff or it’s raining, I drive a car. I use different tools for different jobs, which helps me stay active and maybe even do some good.
Okay, I will admit that this takes a bit more thinking than just reflexively hopping in the car every time you leave the house. Maybe it’s worth it.
Many years ago, I was participating in an HOURCAR focus group. As the people in the group were waiting before the group started, we used this same metaphor to name the tools in our toolbox. We talked about how peopel with cars forget there are other tools, and then we came up with about a dozen tools we each used.
6. Hitch a ride/carpool
7. Don’t make the trip/do without
8. Standard car rental
9. Choose a different destination (the grocery store 2 blocks away, rather than CostCo)
10. Order delivery
11. Borrow a car
12. Rent the truck at HomeDepot
This was before NiceRide was even imagined, before Car2Go existed let alone had left, and before Uber and Lyft.
I really should have mentioned NiceRide, which I use for unplanned trips or trips that I’ll otherwise complete with a different tool.
Another great tool is a small utility trailer. It can turn even the smallest car into a full size pickup truck, with a more convenient bed. Why buy an extra engine and cab, with horrific gas mileage, annual depreciation, and another insurance bill to drag a pickup bed around behind you that’s empty 99 percent of the time, when you can buy a better solution that needs no annual registration or extra insurance, for $500 on Craig’s List? It also doesn’t depreciate…you can sell it for the same $500 if you decide you don’t want it anymore.
I just think about how crazy it is to have nearly every single adult in the United States purchase a large piece of machinery, that costs thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars, and then on top of that, insure, maintain, repair, and find parking for the damn thing, to the tune of several thousand dollars a year, simply to get to work every day and the store every other day. And of top of it, almost all of the damn things have 4-5 seats that go mostly unused. You wouldn’t do this with any other major purchase or piece of machinery unless you were a hobbyist or very wealthy. Families used to have one shared car, and now most of them have 2-4, depending on how many people in the house are of driving age at any given time. Huge waste of money and a major burden on the middle and working classes.
thanks for creating this useful metaphor:
walking = hammer
bike = [screwdriver or power drill???]
car = calling an expensive handyman
actually a bike is totally a power drill onto which you can put many different attachments