No Car, No Problem:
Getting Around in the
By Katie Kapro
In Boise, Idaho, it all began with a fleet of yellow
bikes in the 1990s. A mystery organization with big dreams refurbished a
handful of used bicycles, painted them yellow, and left them scattered
around downtown for anyone to use. It was the closest we ever got to
two-wheeled socialism. Sadly, within a year the bikes were no more: stolen,
stripped, or vandalized. People went back to driving their cars downtown.
That was the ‘90s though. The dot-com bubble still
hadn’t burst. GMOs were the cool new thing. Aerosol hairspray was popular.
People obviously didn’t understand just how amazing a bike-share project
could be. They didn’t need to understand.
Today is different. The economy is different. We understand the need for
environmental awareness, action, and lifestyle choices. Every day we
experience the value of supporting local business, buying local food, and
community-building events. We’ve found that by taking the time to invest in our communities, we walk
away from what would otherwise be “a transaction” with something much
richer: a personal experience.
the sharing economy. The sharing economy is a trend boosted by online companies like Uber,
Airbnb, Craigslist, and eBay. It’s the idea that there needn’t be a
prominent middleman in every transaction. Skip the corporation and go
straight for human-to-human interaction.
One of my favorite aspects of the sharing economy is
that alternative transportation is back with a vengeance. For whatever
reason, people are getting more and more comfortable with the idea of
leaving their cars at home, or just not buying cars in the first place.
I’m proud to say that Boise has a new bike-share
project that’s been running smoothly for over two years. The bikes are blue
and green now, not yellow, and are housed in pay-to-ride bike rack stations
throughout the city. This time, as extra incentive to abide by the rules of
sharing, a charge of $1,200 will appear on your credit card if the bicycle
is not returned.
The shift to a sharing economy affects more than just
cyclists. It’s become commonplace to see a variety of car share programs in
regular use in urban areas. For instance, I have friends in a housing co-op
in Boston where eight to ten people chip in and share one car. They split
insurance, payments, and gas. That takes their carbon footprint from really
quite sizeable to a reasonable amount for their household.
Zipcars - cars rented by the hour - can also be found
in most neighborhoods in big cities where car ownership is only practical
when you have to make a big grocery run. They’re a convenient way to justify
not owning a vehicle, because if you ever need one it’s just a few blocks
Last but not least, most cities in the US and Canada are familiar with Uber.
It started its life as a rideshare company, but it’s quite clearly developed
into a taxi service. Since Uber is essentially a taxi company staffed by
everyday drivers - which carries along with it a whole slew of legal
complications - even small town lawyers have had to become
well-versed in the uberfication of the world. Just another way the sharing economy changes our local
communities. One of the real benefits of car sharing programs like these is
that they make use of the cars already out there instead of manufacturing
more. Fewer cars on the road and fewer newly manufactured vehicles cuts
emissions and industrial pollution.
The next logical step from car sharing is ridesharing. Ridesharing, aka
carpooling, hasn’t really caught on in North America, but Europe is seeing a
huge rise in the practice. According to
a simple app does all the work by “connecting drivers headed from, say,
Munich to Berlin, with riders who chip in for gas.” It’s an elegant solution
to the financial and environmental issues posed by long-distance road trips.
Why haven’t North Americans embraced the trend?
Perhaps it’s the geographical distance, safety
concerns, or a combination of the two. Either way, sharing a ride from
Vancouver to Miami would be a whole lot better for the planet than jumping
into a jet. We don’t have to rely on an app to make the change here in North
America; next time you’re planning a road trip, put out your feelers in the
community and see if there’s anyone else heading in your same direction.
How has all of this sharing changed us,
fundamentally? I like to think it has awoken our collective sense of
adventure. Somewhere along the line, in the decades following WWII, North
American culture developed this over-reliance on security. We insulated
ourselves from all risk. It’s a natural step politically, sure, but the
cultural implications have played out in such an unusual way. In many ways,
we have become a culture of shut-ins, terrified of encountering one another
on the street, and reliant on technology to cope with everyday social
stresses. Instead of initiating small-talk at a market and asking someone to
coffee, we let an online dating app tell us who’s a safe bet. It’s funny
then that technology is proving to be the mechanism that extricates us from
the bubble of our computers, homes, and cars. The best applications for
technology serve to connect people.
The environmental benefits of the sharing economy are vast. Fewer drivers on the
road, less pollution, less waste … the list goes on. But the nature of the
beast makes it
difficult to quantify just how good it is for the planet. Finding statistics that aren’t
swayed in one direction or the other is no easy task, and even when those
statistics exist, there’s always another set to dispute it. One thing is for
sure though: Reducing waste and pollution in your local environment benefits
the planet as a whole. Doing what we can to 1) reduce our own carbon
emissions and 2) influencing big business to do the same are the first steps
to keeping the planet healthy. Who knows, the way things are going, you
might even make a new ally or two doing it.
Katie Kapro is a writer and green-for-lifer in the
US Intermountain West. She doesn't own a car and rides a pink bicycle plastered
in goat stickers everywhere she goes.