A primarily non-scientific experiment was conducted recently in Seattle. A group of friends decided to determine if it would be inexpensive and relatively easy to be without a car in the Emerald City. They chose to stage a race through the streets to perhaps shed some light on the question. As it turned out, when without a car in Seattle, there are several viable options for getting around.
Near sundown on a cold, rain-free day, seven racers gathered in a neighborhood in Ballard, a part of Seattle that is north of downtown. Each competitor was assigned a form of transportation by the lead “researcher.” Racing to the as yet unrevealed finish line was a car driver, bus rider, bicyclist and taxi passenger. The other racers were to utilize three new, ultra urban ways of getting around: car2go, Lyft and uberX. Car2go is a car share program. Lyft and uberX are both ride service alternatives to hailing a cab.
The plan was for the racers to navigate the rush hour-heavy streets on a route through town that would resemble something of an obstacle course. With hills to climb, bridges to cross and notoriously long lights, not to mention the lack of east-west arterial roads, the various modes of transport would be put to the test. The only rules were to not cheat and to not be reckless.
The destination was revealed: a bar in Capitol Hill on 15th Avenue. Capitol Hill is a neighborhood that lies east of downtown. The distance for the race was, as the crow flies, approximately five miles from the starting point and the promise of pizza and beer fueled the racers as they set off on their individual journeys.
The bicyclist, already chilly, got going right away. The racer using Lyft, was doing so for the first time and was a little nervous about the prospect of getting into a stranger’s car. While they had been standing there organizing themselves, the racer taking a cab spotted two empty ones go by, so there was a measurable level of cockiness about him. The racer, (although considering that person’s mode of transportation, the term “racer” was a bit of an overstatement) taking the bus was not even going to try to fool himself that he had any chance of winning. The lead “researcher” was pretty sure he had this one locked down. He was driving his Subaru. With all of the various modes of transportation assigned, the racers were off!
There were multiple winners that night. One winner was the one who got to the bar first. Another one was the racer who spent the least amount of money. A truly precise measure of the variables would factor in and calculate all possible considerations: cost, time and stress.
The uberX ride service racer was the first to arrive, beating second place by 10 whole minutes. The bicyclist spent the least amount of money, had a beautiful ride and walked into the bar third. The car2go user, who was lucky enough to find an available vehicle close to the starting line, came in second. There is some question as to whether cheating occurred, as that particular racer ran inside while the bicyclist was locking up her bike.
The Lyft ride service racer came in fourth, having survived the harrowing experience. In fifth was the Subaru driver. He had to walk to a parking garage some blocks from the starting line and then had to find parking on the busy streets of Capitol Hill. The taxi passenger, after calling three taxi companies, had to wait almost half an hour before he could get a ride. On top of that, he paid the same fare as the other racers who used the new ride services. As predicted, the bus rider came in last. Yes, the ride took an hour, but there was no stress, it was cheap and he got to read a book during his journey.
In the end, the “researchers” found complex answers to a complex question. There is no one best, least expensive, easiest way to traverse a city because there are so many variables. If time is not an issue, the bus is easier simply due to the fact that someone else deals with the traffic and it has the additional benefit of being cheaper than all the other options except the bicycle. If physicality and weather are not a problem, riding a bike is cheaper and more successful in terms of avoiding traffic issues. If the desire is to help ease traffic problems, those two are the only options. While car2go, Lyft and uberX are progressive ideas, they are not helping to take cars off of the streets. Having so many options, however, is what makes living in an urban area so appealing. An individual can customize their travel options for any given day and situation even without a car in Seattle.
Opinion By Stacy Lamy