Two People, One Car: a Brief Retrospective

Today for your transportation related reading enjoyment, I offer you something a little less quantitative and a little more qualitative and anecdotal.

My husband and I bought a car this weekend, and it was officially the end of an era. It was the end of us being a one-car household. My husband’s workplace is trading in an old building in Plano for a new one in Frisco, meaning he’s trading in the DART Red Line for the Dallas North Tollway. So now I’m left reflecting over the past three years: the good, the bad, and if I managed to learn anything about myself or Dallas in the process. Because I know most people don’t make it to the end of a blog post, I will give you my biggest takeaway now: sharing one car wasn’t just tolerable, it was genuinely enjoyable.

Will sharing a car work for everyone? Obviously not. It depends on your work commute and travel requirements during work hours. It depends on how many kids you have and their school and extracurricular transportation needs. It also depends on what part of the city you live in. But I want to emphasize that even here in Dallas, the positives vastly outweighed the negatives. I have conveniently summed up my car sharing experience in five takeaways, because that is how an internet listsicle works.

We saved a lot of money. I could give you stats on the literal thousands and thousands of dollars saved annually by not owning a car. But I promised you no data so I will trust that you can instinctively understand that we saved money by not having a to spend it on a car payment, fuel, oil changes, insurance, or repairs (expected and unexpected). Instead of spending all that money on the aforementioned boringness, we traveled, ate out, and even managed to save some of it.

Of all the things that are going to change, this one brings me the most sadness. In addition to buying a car and paying for its continual upkeep, we are about to spend thousands of dollars in toll fees annually for my husband’s commute from Oak Cliff to Frisco. Thousands. Plural. As an adjunct community college instructor it will be like an entire 3-hour class I teach this year never happened financially. In case you were wondering what multi-layered futility feels like, there you go.

I did a lot of walking. I rode my bike some too, but when the weather was nice I always preferred to walk. It’s 2.2 miles from work to my doorstep and most of the walk is over the Trinity River via the Houston Street Viaduct or Jefferson Bridge. It was perfect opportunity to listen to a podcast or music or be silent, all while getting to look at one of the best skyline views in the city. And I had the opportunity to integrate exercise into my daily routine, a privilege I do not take lightly.

I also learned repeatedly that street harassment is not dead. I’ve had friends tell me they honked and waved when they saw me only to receive the icy stare of death in return. And I am very sorry to all those people. But I quickly adopted a scorched earth policy for all honkers, whistlers, and slow rollers because most of the time they aren’t friends, and it is important to demonstratively show strangers like that you are closed for business. Part of me would have loved to tell them that women walking and riding their bikes are not on display for their entertainment, that our bodies are not for commenting on, and that actually, no, I do not need to “smile” like I am a lady puppet that just needs my strings adjusted. But instead I just ignored them totally and completely because no attention was the best attention in my experience.

The D-Link hates me. When it was too hot or cold I took the D-Link home. Theoretically it is the ideal option. It picks up in front of El Centro College and takes me within a 5-minute walk of my house. And it is free. But everything has a price, and that price was an inability to arrive on a schedule that made even the slightest amount of sense. I can’t tell you how many times I stood there for 30+ minutes, enough time for three D-Links to pass in the opposite direction. Or the time I saw three D-Links at once moving in three different directions, but none of them moving in a direction that resulted in me getting picked up. I am also convinced several of the drivers were in a contest to see who could get the most air on the Jefferson bridge during the streetcar construction reroute. So whatever I did to upset you so much D-Link, I’m horribly sorry and let’s please be friends because I still plan on riding you home from school every day. Side note: did you know that El Centro College students who take 6+ credit hours a semester get a free DART pass yet teachers get no such option? We get a $25 monthly parking stipend, a benefit I would put in the monetary category of “amusing” if I weren’t already crying from spending a significant portion of my teaching income to appease the Tollway Gods.

It strengthened friendships. I swore to my parents that I would not become a burden to my friends, mooching rides constantly and turning them into my personal valet service. In my retelling of events I would say that I kept my promise, and I hope my friends feel the same. What did often happen though was that when it made sense, say a neighborhood friend and I were going to the same event, I would ask if they would mind picking me up on the way. And when they could they always said yes. It sounds weird, but it made us better friends. They helped me share my transportation load, and I will be forever grateful. Plus we had time in the car to talk that may not have happened otherwise. I always had a backup plan though, because like any good American I try not to get stuck depending on others too much.

Sharing a car requires communication, planning, and flexibility. Conveniently, these are also pillars of a healthy relationship. Car sharing required that my husband and I discuss our week so we could figure out who would be driving the car and who would be taking mass transit. Very rarely we both really needed the car on a given day and had to figure out a solution. Often one of us could move a meeting location or time or shift our schedule to accommodate the other, which is where flexibility came in. My husband and I both wanted to make one car work so we made every effort to help the other get to where they needed to be when they needed to be there. I won’t bore you by telling you that it was fun to be a team and to work together to get to where we needed to go in the very literal sense. All I will say is after the money saving part; this is what I will miss most.

The biggest downside was the inability to do things last minute. Uber has mostly solved that problem as of late, but there were times in the past where I had to decline a last minute meeting or event because it wasn’t in the plan and I didn’t have a transportation option that fit my immediate needs. But those instances were incredibly rare. I can count on one hand the number of times I was truly frustrated with my transportation situation, and since that is probably close to the number of times most people get frustrated in their car on a weekly basis I will call that a quality of life win.

There is a difference between something being “not that bad” and “good” and I would put sharing one car in the decidedly “good” category. If you are even remotely considering sharing a car with your partner, spouse, or family member, I highly recommend you quit overthinking and just do it already. The instant my car was gone I felt free from something I hadn’t realized had been weighing me down, and I look forward to the day when that feeling returns.

Comments

  • Eric Nicholson

    We’ve been doing the one-car thing for three years as well, ever since my car was totaled by the crew of Storage Wars Texas on the Mixmaster. I hated driving anyways, so we took the insurance check and decided to make it work. For me, the dual benefits of $$$ and not being stuck in traffic for hours a week is enough to offset the drawbacks, which do exist. We have our daily commute down pretty well but if I have to go somewhere during the day, or if I have to DART it from our house in Richardson to work, you can spend hours catching a bus that is just late enough to miss the train that would have gotten you to the next bus which means you’re waiting 30-40 minutes for the infrequent suburban route and all of a sudden your manageable hour-long commute is double that.

    • Liz Goulding

      There were plenty of nights my husband would miss his Parker Road Station train by 2 minute and then have to wait 20-30 more minutes. I’m pretty sure he would say was the worst part of commuting that way and it lead to many a late dinner. But like you said, still worth it because of the $$$ and stress saved.

  • kduble

    It’s terrible El Centro has no annual pass program for its employees. This is something other downtown business provide.