3.01.2009

Who Needs a Car


Ever since Amy took on most of the car-oriented errands like grocery shopping and pediatrician appointments, my own driving trips have dried up to almost zero. In fact, in the entire month of February, which is admittedly a short month, I only used the car five times: 1) on February 5, to drive our babysitter home after our small group meeting, 2) on February 7, to visit my friend in Montgomery County; 3) on February 19, when the small group Amy and I are part of met in the Narberth house of the only couple in our group that doesn't live in our neighborhood, 4) on February 21, to take my family to the zoo and then a nearby restaurant; and 5) on February 28, to take my kids to the aquarium. Per the rules I established for my June 2008 car tracking, that sums to 11 trips and less than 100 miles, or less trips but more miles than that month.

Clearly, our lives here in University City do not need to revolve around the car. Even in cold and inclement weather, it's not that hard to get myself to work and my kids to school just by walking; I must have had 20 different meetings downtown, and transit was easily the easiest way to get to them; and apart from the three Saturday trips described above, plentiful weekend fun could be had within walking distance or was an easy subway or trolley ride away.

If we didn't have small children, we'd probably jettison our car altogether and completely rely on Philly Car Share. As it is, having one car between the two of us adults, and putting less than 25,000 miles on it in our three years of owning it, is saving us something on the order of $7500 a year (8,000 miles x 1 car vs. 12,000 miles x 2 cars, @ 50 cents a mile, minus the cost of tokens, and, what the heck, an extra pair of shoes). As a colleague of mine pointed out in his testimony to City Council last month, at today's interest rates, you could get well over $100,000 more house with the money you're saving.

And you wonder why I think, long-term, dense and transit-served places like Philadelphia are going to be a better real estate investment than sprawled out neighborhoods in Phoenix, Atlanta, and Houston. People aren't dummies when it comes to what they'll pay for a house; and once gas prices soar again, transit systems demonstrate their stability and convenience, and more and more highways crumble and clog, less and less potential buyers will look at a location that can save them $7500 a year in out-of-pocket costs with little to no adverse effect on their quality of life and say, "I'd pay a premium for that."
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