Paige Miller: The Transit Activist's Dilemma

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When my parents generously offered to give me their 20-year- old Acura sedan, my first thought was: Me, a car-free, transit-riding, e-bike loving San Francisco resident, take possession of a fossil-fuel-burning, climate-change machine?

But in an impulsive act of quarantine indulgence, I accepted their offer. I named the white car Casper, after the friendly ghost. And while I still prefer to travel by Muni, I must admit owning a car has its perks. I take Casper to visit my grandparents in Vacaville every month. My four-wheeled phantom was there to rush my sick dog to the emergency vet one night at 3 A.M. The car even served as a satellite office when my neighbors ran a jackhammer all day while I was trying to work from home.

But the downsides soon became clear. Casper costs thousands of dollars to own and operate – so much more than my monthly transit pass. Meanwhile, sitting in traffic is stressful. I’d much rather be gliding down the street on my e-bike, groceries in tow, instead of cooped up in a metal box, inching my way home. And then, of course, there’s the guilt I feel knowing that driving is our city’s number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. I’ve realized that owning a car hardly symbolizes freedom. In fact, it’s the opposite.

This made me wonder. What would it take to make car-free, or even car-light, lifestyles the norm? It would take frequent, reliable transit service that’s accessible for all. It would require making sure residents have protected bike lanes and safe streets to walk, bike, and scoot in. It would mean guaranteeing that a shared car is available when people do need to drive. And maybe it even means nudging people out of cars by making driving just a little less convenient.

For now, Casper spends most of her time parked on the streets of the Sunset District. But when her time comes, I hope to shed this car for good, knowing that options will be there to match Casper’s convenience – without the fossil fuels.

With a Perspective, this is Paige Miller

Paige Miller is a clean transportation advocate. She lives in San Francisco.