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I loved cars. Here's what drove me away



"Do you like to drive?"

The question came a few months ago. I opened my mouth to respond reflexively, but before I could say a word, my brain began to evaluate the evidence.

I accompany my children to school. I cycle to work almost every day. I have a small car that serves a family of four. When we travel as a family, my wife drives a lot.

How did things come about? The facts suggest that I would rather not drive, but I couldn't bring myself to say it. I thought back further.

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ABOUT

Dr. Stephen Zoepf ( @StephenZoepf ) is the director of policy development at Ellis & Associates, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lacuna Technologies. He helps develop open source software products for cities to manage modern transportation systems. He has a Ph.D., M.Sc. and B.Sc. from MIT and has two decades of experience in transport and mobility. Stephen previously served as Executive Director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford, helped the Department of Transportation integrate sensitive data into national vehicle energy policy modeling, and worked as an engineer and product manager at BMW and Ford.

I & # 39; I have spent most of my career in or around the automotive industry. I wrote two theses about cars. I am a decent go-kart racer and love racing simulations. For months, I counted with a hand-numbered page calendar until my 1

6th birthday, the day I could apply for a license.

How did I develop from a person who was looking for any excuse to stay behind? the bike to a person who mostly avoids driving? What happened? Over two decades, I have six experiences that have corroded my love affair with cars.

When I was 25 I took a job at BMW in New Jersey, but I really wanted to live in Manhattan, 25 miles away. I was a young, aggressive driver with a record traffic ticket, but BMW somehow decided it was a good idea to let me drive company vehicles that were fully insured and full. I was overjoyed until I gloved from Midtown Manhattan to Montvale on the first day.

Even in a beautiful new Ultimate Driving Machine, it was miserable to commute alone in stop-and-go traffic for three hours a day, and I started looking for alternatives. I tried to take the bus, but the timetable was impractical and to get there I had to walk two miles on an unpaved shoulder. I tried to leave the car in New Jersey and go to Manhattan by train or ferry, but the car was destroyed. I indulged in the car slog and every month turned a practically free BMW into almost a thousand dollars and 60 hours of wasted resources. I felt like an idiot. Lesson 1: Enough overload will break the most pious car nut.

After five years I returned the keys to BMW and started a graduate school where I could go to campus. However, I rented Zipcars for errands, which are charged hourly with high late fees. They tempt you to use every minute you paid for, but make balls sweat to return the car immediately. Every time I locked up a Zipcar and left without a late fee, I felt overwhelmingly relieved. But there was more: I could blissfully ignore snow emergencies and wet days that rushed through the cold winters in Boston in the middle of the night.

I finally rented a car again when my second child was born. But on the days when I took my kids to preschool on the subway or train, our interactions were much better and we became different people than grumpy car people. Instead of silencing or ignoring my passengers in the back seat so I could concentrate on driving, I could play with my children and engage them in a conversation. Children find public transportation much more stimulating than the back seat of a car, and as parents on public transportation, you can take part in their explorations instead of turning them off.

When our car was idle for weeks over the summer, a colleague convinced me to try peer-to-peer car sharing. Giving a stranger the keys to my new car was stressful for the first few times, but I developed a confident attitude towards bumpers and braked wheels when I realized that they were only part of the car use in a city and not a personal failure, to take care of an asset. Lesson 2: It is liberating to forget a car.

Shared mobility was the first really new thing I've learned about cars in at least a decade. The way people used cars was different – instead of buying a large car for occasional use (the "Swiss Army Knife" model), people chose certain cars for specific purposes (the model "the right tool for the job "). Cars were more efficient and used more often. Electric vehicles were feasible and made financial sense. I spent the rest of my academic career studying joint mobility and wrote several articles about it. Lesson 3: Old interests are replaced by new interests.

After graduating from high school, I moved to California. There were so many different neighborhoods and lifestyles in the Bay Area that the decision about where to live felt more like a cultural than a pragmatic decision. We could live in Palo Alto without a car, but an academic salary would limit us to a tiny apartment. We could afford a house in San Jose, Fremont, or beyond, but I would still have brutal commuting.


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