Minneapolis man survives – and thrives – without a car

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 23, 2014 - 4:42 PM

Selling my car has shown me it’s possible to live without one — and to enjoy a city I’d previously experienced at 30 miles an hour.

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Use a smartphone to get a Car2Go short-term rental in Minneapolis.

Photo: FRANK JORDANS • Associated Press,

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I sold my car.

And I have no plans to buy another one.

It was a hard decision — and something of a radical one in Minnesota, where cars are a staple. In fact, it took me many months to ease out of my Subaru Impreza and to prove to myself that I really didn’t need it.

Now, two months after selling my car and nearly a year since I stopped driving it, I no longer worry about traffic or parking, my wallet is thankful, I’m in better shape and I feel much more connected to my adopted city.

So, how do I get around?

My primary modes of transportation are buses (in the winter) and bicycling (in the summer), interspersed with a lot of walking. But I credit two tools for getting me to take the plunge: car sharing and my smartphone.

For a long time, I held onto my car because I wondered “What if?” What if I have to make a large purchase at Target or pick up a lot of groceries? What if I need to get somewhere quickly?

With expanding options from Hourcar, Zipcar, Car2Go and taxi-like services such as Lyft and UberX, I’ve discovered I can find a ride whenever I need one — as long as I have my phone with me.

The other night as I left work, for example, I checked Metro Transit’s mobile site for the arrival time of the next bus traveling down Nicollet Avenue. Within minutes, I hopped the bus from downtown to a friend’s improv show on 37th Street. Later that evening, after dinner at a nearby restaurant, I checked the same site and learned that there wasn’t another bus for an hour.

Instead of waiting, I opened another app and found that a Car2Go ride-share vehicle was just around the corner. I drove home, locked the car and left it on the street for the next Car2Go user to find. The ride cost me less than $6 — a marginal cost after subtracting the expense of maintaining a vehicle.

I had never owned a car — nor driven one for very long — before arriving in Minneapolis four years ago. In both Washington, D.C., where I had been working, and New York City, where I grew up, owning a car isn’t the norm, in part because both cities have expansive transit systems.

Knowing I’d need to have a car in Minnesota, I hired a driving instructor in Washington to help me brush up on my technique. I drove at night for the very first time when I peeled out of the dealership lot in White Bear Lake in my used car.

For a while, I was hooked on the novelty of driving. After about two years, though, I started to question my car logic.

The winter only seemed longer as I scraped off my windshield, lonelier when I was sitting alone in traffic. It was worse during our precious warm months: I yearned to be outside. Owning a car seemed limiting, and not worth the money.

“I think we’re tied to our cars so that people refuse to go to certain parts of the city because they don’t want to park, they don’t want to pay for parking or they have to leave somewhere early because their car is parked in a certain spot,” said Bill Lindeke, the carless host of the transportation-focused streets.mn podcast. “And in a way, the car sort of owns the person, instead of the other way around.”

I have no children, I live along a bus line in Uptown and work downtown, about 4 miles away. My company has a few vehicles for work-related trips during the day. Yet I was still one of 61 percent of Minneapolis residents driving to work solo.

Last spring, I bought a bike and started riding to work. Come fall, I got serious about understanding the bus system. Late this past winter, I took the Subaru to a carwash, took some photos of my car, then sold it on Craigslist.

Ride sharing

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  • MY TRANSPORTATION TOOLBOX

    Metro Transit

    Find real-time bus arrivals and bookmark most-frequent stops to your smartphone’s home page using NexTrip at MetroTransit.org. OMGTransit.com provides a similar service with a better Web interface. Google Maps is the smoothest method for routing trips (click the bus icon to seek directions).

    GoTo card

    Local city buses cost $1.75 or $2.25, depending on whether or not it is rush hour. Riders whose employers don’t participate in the Metropass program should get a GoTo card, which can be purchased at most Cub and Rainbow stores. Use the website to refill them or to arrange an automatic refill.

    Biking

    Check out tinyurl.com/TCBikeMaps for a summary of local bike routes by area. Google Maps bike directions are a helpful tool for routing on the fly. The city of Minneapolis has several instructional videos about riding in an urban area at tinyurl.com/TCBikeRules.

    Car2Go

    Use the app to locate more than 350 Smart cars scattered around Minneapolis, which can be left at any legal on-street parking spot. (No need to pay the meter.) The cost is about 46 cents a minute including tax. (Car2Go is not yet available in St. Paul.)

    Zipcar and Hourcar

    Hub-based car-sharing models for longer trips or those that involve hauling. Zipcar costs $25 to sign up, $60 a year and about $8.75 to $11 an hour to drive, depending on the vehicle. Hourcar is $5 a month for individuals and cars are $8 an hour, plus 25 cents a mile. Vehicles can also be rented by the day.

    Taxi Magic

    The high-tech way to hail a cab, Taxi Magic is a GPS-based app that connects to Blue and White Taxi and Suburban Taxi in the Twin Cities. It’s faster than phone-based dispatch, and a map displays the taxi en route to pick you up. The Minneapolis rate for Blue and White is $2.75 a mile after an initial $2.50.

    Lyft and UberX

    These new services allow people to essentially act as chauffeurs of their own, private vehicles. Lyft’s cost per ride in the Twin Cities is $1.90 a mile, 24 cents a minute, 75 cents at pickup and a $1 “trust and safety fee.”

    Eric Roper

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