Promoting the CarFreeLife

The nonprofit CarFreeLife, founded by Kenwood resident Gene Tierney, aims to help people see the hidden costs of relying on cars.

The annual cost to own and operate a vehicle is $8,698, according to a 2015 study by the American Automobile Association. If a couple dropped to a single car for 40 years and invested the savings in an index fund, it would amount to more than $5 million, Tierney said.

“It shows the magnitude of what cars are in our life,” Tierney said. “A lot of it is hidden.”

Drivers aren’t aware of the steep depreciation of a car until it’s time to sell it, he said. And without a local auto industry, he said two-thirds of the cost of owning and operating a car leaves Minnesota in the form of depreciation and fuel costs. Giving up one car adds more than $5,000 annually to the local economy, he said.

Tierney, a former Plymouth resident, is now living in the city along a bus line. He said it’s challenging to go completely car-free, but it’s easier in the city, easier in the summer and easier for a family with two cars to drop to one. He finds that he spends a little extra time planning his daily travel, and he recommends bringing a bike on mass transit for more flexibility.

“Not everybody is in a position to do it at all times,” he said. “It’s available to people at different times in their life.”

In one of Tierney’s studies, he ranked the number of car registrations in local zip codes from lowest to highest. Placed on a map, he said there is a clear relationship between lower numbers of cars and proximity to high-frequency transit. A few areas appear to have more cars than perhaps needed, and Tierney is planning a research project to focus on those areas. Targeted neighborhoods may include Highland Park in St. Paul and neighborhoods along the Hiawatha light rail line.

“We’ll see if we can move the needle by educating about the cost and benefits,” he said.

As part of the education, Tierney points to studies on the relationship between auto-centric lifestyles and health care costs. People who drive tend to have more sedentary lifestyles than people who use transit, he said, and naturally face greater risk of auto accidents. And pollution caused by cars is greater than pollution caused by transit, he said.

In addition, cars occupy space that can’t be used for other productive purposes, he said.

“We devote an incredible amount of space to parked cars,” he said. “We don’t think about what that costs us.”

Another CarFreeLife initiative would help employers offer bus passes and Uber to staff. Tierney noted that Car2Go recently reduced its footprint in Minneapolis and St. Paul due to a lack of demand.

Transit is shown to be consistently important to young educated people, he said.

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