There are blogs I follow that celebrate the carfree lifestyle, and those that advocate improvements in public transportation as well as walkability and bicycle access for towns and neighborhoods. One of many things I have learned in more than three years of bus-hopping, walking, and bicycling around the Charleston area is how far behind we are when it comes to our public transportation and providing safety for people who walk or ride bikes. Charleston, North Charleston, Moncks Corner, West Ashley, Mount Pleasant - I have traveled all by bus and/or on foot. What I have seen and experienced is a lack of customer service, poor scheduling, and inefficiency. As the economy worsens and ridership increases, CARTA cuts routes and services while increasing fares.
While I now have a car and quite happily commute to work, I am so much more aware of how many people I see out walking along Rivers Avenue, particularly late at night. I noticed that the stop at Dial America has finally gotten a new trashcan. On my way home at ten-thirty one night I see a family with young kids and lots of shopping bags waiting at the stop in front of Northwoods Mall. Poorly lit and nowhere near a building but at least it has a bench and shelter. However, I'm not sure bus 10 runs past the mall that late.
Cab fares have become prohibitive over the last three years as well, with a fuel surcharge added to the cost, as well as minimum fares that range anywhere from $4-$15 or higher depending on the cab company, the driver (some don't charge the minimum), where you start from and what your destination is. Out of habit I note where bus stops are and what buses travel through the areas I'm in. I know there is always the possibility that I could end up relying on public transportation again, in an emergency, on a temporary basis or long term. Truthfully, at this point if I had to I would rather give up my home and live in my car in order to avoid the long term option.
My mother continually pointed out that "normal" people don't live carfree. In her world that may be true, but in reality there is a huge carfree population. I gave it up and pushed to get back on the road because, quite honestly, I got tired. In the beginning I accepted it as a necessity, and took it as a challenge. I was determined to maintain as much of my "independence" as possible, in that I didn't want to have to rely on friends and family to get to work, go shopping etc. A friend pointed out once that despite my lack of a car, I got around more that most people. But after six months of struggling to either find rides to all my doctor appointments, or spending most of the day bus-hopping for a visit that lasted all of ten minutes, I wasn't feeling so independent. In fact, I was totally dependent on the limitations of the bus scheduling and whether or not they would actually run on time.
My schedule when I returned to work put me in the car-lite status. Unless I wanted to wait two hours for a bus home I had to either find a ride with a coworker or catch a cab. And when I became ill with salmonella poisoning at the beginning of the year I was too weak to walk to the bus stop and made numerous trips to Nason Medical Center via cab.
Eventually I realized that I was no longer thriving as a carfree person, but just struggling to get through each day. I was back in survival mode and not liking it much. The thought of going anywhere other than work drained me. It was just too much effort. And I began feeling like I was imposing too much on friends and coworkers. So it was time for a change. Though I still have to remind myself I can just jump in the car and run to the store if I need something, or want to go out for lunch, I'm sure it will eventually sink in.
Meanwhile, I am still pro public transportation and still want to see changes made so that people in my community can walk and bicycle safely on our streets. Kudos go to William J. Hamilton of East Cooper Straphangers for the strides he's made in improving bus services on his side of town. There are also strong local organizations like Charleston Moves working to make sure things like bike lanes are included in road construction and improvements. I have hope that things will change for the better, but while I'm still living in Charleston, I hope even more strongly that I won't be forced back into a carfree lifestyle!