For the past 3.5 years we have chosen to live a single car life. In a perfect world we could be car-less, but the transit system in Cedar Rapids can’t support our lifestyle and social involvement without at least one car. A few months after we were married we realized that we rarely used my car and after a few weeks of no use due to a pile of mulch blocking it, we gave my old car to my brother who needed it more than us at the time. Since then we have settled into a very good routine to get both of us to and from work and even to our many meetings, appointments, and volunteer commitments with just one car. This has survived a few job changes by my husband and both of us becoming more involved in the community. Some things required creative solutions, but the “pain” was quite low most of the time.
Flash forward to this July and we now have an infant!
For nine months I told my husband that I really wanted to continue our single car life as long as possible, and, although very skeptical, he agreed to give it a try. Well, from the beginning of this post, you can guess that it hasn’t worked out so well and the looming winter weather doesn’t make my husband comfortable at all. He held up his end of the bargain to let us try it, so now it’s my turn to hold up my end and agree that he’s (very unfortunately) right.
Let’s run down the list of things we were preparing for and planning on to prevent buying another vehicle:
- Day care center near a bus stop. We looked at options near bus routes that would still get me to work and found one that we were comfortable with that is also very close to my current route. This was also key for me being able to get to our daughter during the day if she became sick and needed to be picked up or go to the doctor since my husband works out of town. The center has a 1 hour pick up policy if a child is sick, which could just barely accommodate the bus if I got the call during the 30 minute frequency portions of the day and was able to promptly leave work. Tricky, but something that could be worked (in my mind).
- Day care center with a (comparatively) late pick up time. Another “perk” of the center we chose was the 6pm pick up time. Other places we looked at were 5 or 5:30pm which would not work very well with my bus schedule or my husband’s driving schedule.
- My husband’s carpooling. This isn’t new, but it was a huge bonus in my eyes. My husband carpools with 3 other guys so he only really needs the car during the day every 4 weeks. This frees up the car for me in case of a sick child, emergency, or general use. The downside is that he requires the car every 4 weeks, and while we can schedule check-up appointments around this, we can’t schedule when our baby may get sick. Bummer. This also doesn’t include times that he would need to drive himself separately from work for meetings after work or appointments.
- Me being the primary driver. With the car in use for the carpool only every 4 weeks, I would have likely become the primary morning driver. This has frequently happened during my leave. We would pack up our daughter and I would drive my husband to the carpool meeting place and then drive back home. This would have continued most days only with me then going to the day care center and parking the car in their lot during the day. I would then have walked to the bus stop and bused downtown as usual. See the first open hurdle below for why we wouldn’t just be dropped off at the center. This may still happen to limit wear and tear on the newer car and to leave one car covered in the garage when possible.
And here is a list of our open hurdles that made my husband give me “the talk” about realizing what was practical and when to admit that our area’s transit can’t continue to support our single car life at this time.
- No guarantee on my husband’s return time. He works in Anamosa, carpools with 3 other guys, and doesn’t leave at a set time every day. This means that sometimes he doesn’t get to my bus stop right when I arrive, especially in the winter when the weather can throw in an additional wrench. This has been one of the situations that we have been flexible with and it mostly lands on me, which I am perfectly fine working around. In pleasant weather I would usually get off at my normal stop and either walk to a nearby store or wait for him outside. Many times I would just walk the 1.5 miles home and enjoy the outdoors. In unpleasant weather I would continue a few stops farther and wander the aisles at Target until he was able to get to me. (This almost didn’t work when I was in my early pregnancy and constantly eating, but then I realized that Target has food and would buy an enormous tub of pretzels if I would be “stranded” for a while.) The problem now is that we have a little one that doesn’t yet realize the benefit of being flexible when delays occur. And the even bigger problem that I didn’t want to admit is that it’s probably not the best idea to be trudging through freezing temperatures to get somewhere warm when the day care center closes and our ride can’t make it to the center before 6pm. This is the biggest problem for my husband. He’s not comfortable with this situation at all and I can’t blame him for that. He’s a concerned father in this case.
- Babies have needs. They need to eat when they’re hungry. They need to be changed when they’re dirty. They usually need some sort of schedule to be comfortable and to help keep the parents sane. Our flexibility would often times require a bit too much flexibility from our daughter at such a young age. I see many families that are transit dependent and they have to make it work, but this is something that we personally don’t have a close example of and it is overwhelming.
- Emergencies and illness. Above I talked about some of our plans to handle our daughter needing picked up due to illness, but our solution and additional options we looked into had my husband really putting his foot down. I will be going back to work part-time, so there will really only be three days that I will be away from our daughter, but let’s think about those three days. The worst case scenario would be for me to get a call at work right after an off-peak bus has just passed. I would then have to wait an hour to catch the next bus which would exhaust the hour policy that the day care has. Likelihood of this happening is low, but still needs to be considered. The next worse scenario is the most likely to happen. I wait a few minutes (1 – 30) to catch the bus to the day care center. I then walk to the center, pick up my daughter, and walk back to the bus stop. Hopefully I have been able to make a doctor’s appointment during this time if she needs one, and hopefully it could be scheduled close to the time we would arrive at the office that day. Also, hopefully we would make it back to the bus within 30 minutes to catch the next bus back downtown to the doctor’s office. If not, it could be a VERY long day. We might need to take a taxi to the doctor or to home, and hanging out with a sick child for hours at a doctor’s office doesn’t sound like a good idea even to me. If it happens to be one of my days off and I don’t have the car (only 2 days in the span of 4 weeks), I would either have to walk to the closest bus stop (which only arrives every 90-ish minutes) or the second closest route which is 1.5 miles away (not going to happen in freezing weather). Or I could call a taxi. The fact that this is the longest section may have some indication into its level of importance in our decision.
Now let’s take a look at some alternatives that we researched.
- Taxis. This one has me shaking in my boots after hearing tales of how expensive it is in Cedar Rapids. It would most certainly only happen in emergencies.
- Neighborhood Transportation Service (NTS). One of the first options I looked into, but unfortunately it only serves riders during the evenings and weekends when CR Transit routes are no longer running. You also need to schedule your ride 24 hours in advance, which doesn’t happen with a sick child, and you have to be traveling “to and from work, school [or] life-skills classes”. Day care is currently not a destination option, although I talked about this with the executive director and they have talked about it, but only talked so far.
- Rental car. This was one of our contingency plans when we first went to a solo car. If we ever really needed a second car we could rent one and it would still be cheaper than second car insurance, maintenance, gas, and the other extra costs that come along with a car. This would still be a valid option with a baby except in the case of an emergency. Those situations don’t accommodate the time it takes to fill out paperwork, and there isn’t a guarantee that they’ll have a car (although unlikely a problem). Plus, while it’s economical if it will be used for at least a day, a need for just a few hours isn’t such a good deal.
- Good friends. We’re currently doing this and are wearing out our welcome. This may also be the biggest driving force in getting a second car. With adjusting to the new baby and all of the physical, emotional, and social changes that come along with her, friends and coworkers have been more than generous about being flexible, but we really don’t want to have to lean on this as often as we have had to so far.
I am still very torn about getting a second car, mostly due to it being an “in case of” car. Most of the time it will be sitting somewhere unused because it’s purpose would be for emergencies and the one week that my husband drives for the carpool. Yes, it will make life easier, but that’s not what I’m looking for. I like more garage space and fewer bills and things to maintain. There is also the sad punctuation on the holes in our transit system. I have fought so hard to carve out an alternative transportation lifestyle, and here this typical milestone in a person’s life (having a baby) has proven that the system cannot support the needs that many people have. It also shows that we really haven’t advanced in the past 3.5 years and that is the most depressing concept for me.
And where does that leave us? We are car shopping for our immediate, short-term solution while I continue to support improving local transit or at least starting a Zipcar location (pretty please!!). I will continue to ride the bus to and from work, but plan on leaving a car in the day care parking lot for use between the center and home, and emergencies if necessary.
Although my husband and I have been discussing this issue for almost a year, I would love to hear any other ideas you have on potential solutions we didn’t think about. Has anyone made this transition? Are there things that work in other, more transit friendly areas that we could modify and use here? I am still determined to keep transit a part of our lives and make sure our daughter (and future kiddos) respect and appreciate the role public transportation can play.