The Weekly Challenge is a column that tackles self-improvement seven days at a time. For next week's challenge, click here.
A few weeks ago I interviewed member of Parliament Olivia Chow while on a bus in Toronto. She was en route to a speaking engagement at York University. I was there because this transportation break was the only window in her schedule. During our conversation she mentioned that she hasn't owned a car for 23 years and gets around the city on bike, foot or public transit. I was impressed and also a little bit sheepish about my own four-wheel dependence. A challenge – to stage a week-long, one-woman war on the car – was born.
If you are an Olivia Chow-type, this week's self-improvement initiative probably doesn't strike you as a challenge so much as reality, in which case you can put your feet up (they must be tired) and judge from on high – just know that you are in the minority. The most recent data from Statistics Canada shows that auto dependence in large metropolitan areas has risen to 74 per cent (up from 68 per cent in 1992), meaning that three-quarters of adult, city-dwelling Canadians report going everywhere by car, either as a driver or a passenger.
My own transport profile is a bit messy, the short version being that I don't have a licence, but I do have a car, which I share with my boyfriend and de facto DD (a frequent point of contention). We probably use our six-year-old Mazda about four times a week during the non-snowy months, every day in the winter.
More significant (in terms of this challenge) is my out-of-control taxi addiction, which has crept up to about eight cabs a week. Yes, it's wasteful and embarrassingly indulgent, but it's also a little bit practical (by taking cabs I can spend more time working) and my chief extravagance. Some people buy organic groceries, some splurge on high-end handbags or flashy smartphones or designer socks. I take cabs. I do also use public transit (about three times a week) and recently became a reluctant biker, so I figured that going four-wheel-free would be a bit of a pain, but mostly easy, maybe even fun.
Less driving, more problems
Day one: I started out strong, biking to the grocery store and taking the bus to a friend's house for dinner. The evening wrapped up around 11:30 p.m. Under normal circumstances I would have called a cab, but instead I hopped back on the bus, saving $10 and feeling a somewhat inflated sense of accomplishment.
The next day went down with a similar lack of drama, until I had to pick up my new printer from Grand & Toy by bike. The fact that both woman and machine made it home in one piece is slightly miraculous. The car-as-carrier theme came up again the next day. It was the weekend, and my boyfriend and I had planned to head out to Home Depot to buy some discounted patio furniture. I love Home Depot the way Holly Golightly loved Tiffany's, but as per the rules of engagement, I stayed home and helped to select an outdoor dining set via text message. How does Olivia Chow go furniture shopping?
Exiting a bar 12 hours later, my resolve had weakened. Exhausted and a little bit drunk, I hailed a cab convincing myself that this was a matter of safety. Truthfully, it was a matter of laziness and habit and the first of several failures. I hopped in a cab again when I got stuck in a downpour, and failed to resist a lift from my mom when we were both headed in the same direction. When I stuck to the rules and took transit, I was late for appointments. I also endured a few cases of embarrassing helmet head from biking.
I am cabber, hear me roar
Many Canadians report that they would drive less if we had a more accessible and reliable transit system. I wish we did, though I imagine my issues would still exist even if they planted a bus stop on my front porch. Travelling by car and cab has many advantages – convenience, time efficiency, storage space and air conditioning – and I can only imagine this is doubly true if part of your day-to-day involves carting around rug rats. (One friend with two young kids called this week's challenge "unthinkable.")
The simple truth is that we all prioritize and make choices in the context of our own realities. For me, attempting a car-free existence was darned near impossible, and while I tip my bike helmet to Olivia Chow, the experiment made me realize how much I value the ease of hopping into a cab. I don't plan to give it up (or feel bad about it) any time soon.
About a year ago, I decided that I needed to make a change in my life. I enjoy long walks, but outside of the weekends, I could never find the time. I chose to change my morning routine and try walking the 6 km to work. I walk in nearly every day, regardless of the weather. Plugged into my iPod, I have the time and mental space to think, plan, daydream or brood. I save money on gas – filling the tank only every two months – and I feel happy, relaxed and energized when I arrive. The only downside is that the best part of my day is over by 9 a.m.
– Glenn Gustafson
Someone stole my bike. Transit isn't workable for a day that includes office, gym, airport, restaurant, friend's home and my home.
– Janet Lousie Wilson
I asked myself that question 21 years ago, took up the challenge with three kids aged 4, 6, 8 in tow.... so successful in fact we sold the car, and never turned back. No car, no sweat in Montreal; hassle-free especially in extreme temperatures. Recently relocated to Toronto; no car, not so easy. Solution: folding bike, the best innovation in personal transportation. Key to success of this lifestyle choice: live close(r) to work.
– Janet Lin
It's time to tell the truth. The whole truth, and nothing but. This week, Courtney Shea is going to attempt to be completely honest. No lies. Not even white ones.
Do you find yourself bending the truth a little, especially if it will save someone's feelings? Let us know your policy of truth at fb.com/globelifestream.