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I’m Out of the Car-Commuter GamePrint

Thriving Communities | January 22, 2010 | By Jim Lively

This is my BATA bus stop in beautiful “downtown” Burdickville!

It’s official: I parked my dilapidated Honda Civic for the last time last May. But I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, so I haven’t been very public about this massive lifestyle change. After all, I grew up in Michigan—home of the auto industry. I have no frame of reference for commuting to work any way other than in a car. And frankly, most people think it’s weird.

I’m probably not the likeliest candidate for becoming an “alternative commuter.” I live 22 miles from my office in Traverse City, where I need to be most every day. I have two girls still at home—both several years from driving age—who are very involved in a variety of after-school activities. And my wife works a couple of part-time jobs in Traverse City. That’s pretty much the profile of a two-car family.

But it’s working just fine. In fact, now that I’ve been successfully commuting for nine months without a car, I’m starting to brag about it.

How do it do it? My primary new mode of transport is BATA. I am a regular rider on the Empire Village Connector, a fixed-route service that connects five rural communities and a school with the downtown Traverse City transfer station four times each day. But I also coordinate carpool rides carefully with my wife and have a network of other commuting neighbors whom I can call on when necessary. And for evening or out-of town work travel my employer (MLUI) pays for a rental vehicle.

I’m helped by the fact that I live within one and a half miles from a BATA bus stop and work about four blocks from the bus transfer station. Plus, I have an understanding employer and wife and supportive neighbors and family. On balance, my radical departure from tradition is much more rewarding than frustrating.

I’ll confess it takes a little more planning than just jumping in my car every morning and following all the other single-occupancy autos into town. But consider these benefits:

  • I don’t worry about where to park, or need to pay for downtown parking.
  • I’m saving money by not filling my tank, maintaining my car, or paying for insurance.
  • I have a fixed departure time home from the office.
  • I really enjoy the social aspect of getting to know my neighbors on the bus—although some days I enjoy reading, working or even napping.
  • I now have no guilt about adding to our community’s auto congestion, or to the atmosphere’s CO2 content.
  • And I get guaranteed exercise walking or biking around town.

So, like anyone who has made a radical life change and found new happiness (read: vegetarians, yoga-lovers, runners, etc.), I’ll be talking and blogging a lot about my experience as a bus commuter. But I’ll also write about how an improved public transit system is a vital part of how our community will achieve the Grand Vision of guiding growth into existing villages and cities that are connected with transit. And hopefully I can convince a few other courageous souls to give it a try, too!