Archive for January, 2008

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I Won!

I made it!  All necessary driving for January has been accomplished for $30 and there’s still a bit of gas left in the tank.  I’ve got a day left of bus travel and I’ll be adding things up shortly, breaking down some statistics in various methods, and posting those within the next few days.

For February, I’ll fill the gas tank (the only was to see how much is currently left from the  $30 put in during January), and continue using COTA for every trip I can.  The best part of the COTA Challenge is that I’m now so accustomed to a relaxing ride to and from work, that I really dread the days that I do have to drive.

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Old Man Winter

Saska Snellman of the Helsinki Sanomat readily discusses something that has escaped Columbus’ media. In light of the recent weather conditions, allow me to point you in the direction of her article.

Nelonen’s 4D documentaries have never been much of a watchword in quality viewing, so I’ll admit that my expectations were pretty shrivelled when I sat down on Tuesday to look at a programme described in Finnish as Maailman pienimmät penikset (“The World’s Smallest Penises”).
I was taken completely by surprise.
The programme did not present us with a string of American freak-show candidates, but a small, genial, chubby-faced Englishman by the name of Lawrence Barraclough, who wanted to discuss penis issues with other men.
It was not an easy sell for him.

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19 Days

Nineteen days into the month and I’ve only used the car three times, and those times were for trips to and from work. Late hours and Sundays, when limited COTA schedules are the culprit. I’ve put a total of $30 in gas in the tank this month, and I’ve still got just over a half-tank left.

Not much of my daily routine has changed. Going to the grocery or out for dinner and drinks, when choosing establishments in the area offers a chance to walk or take the bus. A jaunt to Nordstrom was squeezed in during lunch, rather than making a special trip. Dinner at a friend’s house was accomplished, though I let my host know that I’d have to leave at an exact time in order to catch the last bus home. I’ve entertained an out of town guest, and had a few friends over for martinis. I did have to pass on a Sunday invitation in Upper Arlington because the #3 does not operate on Sundays.

I have more time for reading now. Almost two hours per day on the bus are now reserved as “me time”. A quick nap, podcasts or a few chapters make the time fly by. I’ve run into a couple neighbors that I only ever see on the bus.

Much of the week’s news has centered around the looming recession and the average $1,460 in annual costs that each American is assuming as rising oil costs cause virtually everything to rise in price. Another report about how bottled water’s packaging uses enough petroleum to power 100,000 cars for an entire year. (Chicago imposed a tax on bottled water this month to fund it’s water infrastructure and landfills).

Inextricably, these, and other reports about dollars being snatched from American wallets are tied to our thirst for oil. Ultimately, its really not about oil consumption. The challenge lies in our attitudes. I witness friends and colleagues making decisions to move to far-flung suburbs to get a better deal on housing costs, only to be unable to escape using their car for all of life’s necessities.

There’s those with children who blindly put their house up for sale in order move to the suburbs, claiming those school districts are better. And perhaps they are. The time and energy (literally) put into their new automobile driving culture could easily be spent working with their city school to improve it. Discussions about “getting involved” in their school often leads to the “there’s no time” answer. And perhaps that’s true too. They’re too busy driving to the grocery or stuck in traffic to do so.

There’s yet another group who wouldn’t dream of being “inconvenienced” by having to use public transit, even for a day or two a week, despite the fact that it could easily be accomplished with just a slight bit of planning.

The fact is that the challenges facing every one of us also have the potential to be curbed by every one of us. Food prices are rising because farmers compete for fuel to produce them. Heating our homes costs more because refineries are busy making gasoline for our cars. Construction costs rise because it takes fuel to create the products. The dollar is losing value because the Federal Reserve printing presses continue to print to fund military procurement of oil.

My choice to make a change in fuel consumption has been relatively easy and painless because of where I live. That too, however, was a choice. Reducing the miles driven by over 75% isn’t something that everyone can easily accomplish. And certainly not overnight or for a fun monthly challenge. However, a vast majority of folks I know could reduce their driving by 10-20% a month. Their thought process inhibits their choices and thus, helps perpetuate these challenges.

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The ability to change the way things work can take place in as little as two weeks.
My colleagues at work, seemingly intrigued with my COTA challenge started asking questions.
“How long does it take?”
“Where does the bus stop?”
“Where would I catch it if I live….?”

There’s also been plenty of jokes about my ridership too, but today, the jokes stopped.

I poked around our HR intranet site and found out that my employer offers a wide array of transit options, particularly in larger cities. A little note on the bottom of one of the site stated to contact my HR representative should there be any questions. So I did.

Today, I received links to sign up for a transit subsidy, compliments of my employer. Within a few minutes my enrollment was complete, and I’ll be receiving my monthly COTA pass delivered to my home each month, every month, beginning in March. They only ask that we use public transit a minimum of twice a week to continue receiving the subsidy.

For years I’ve been hoping to offer this benefit to my employees, but previous employers had no interest, shunning the idea, or simply shrugging their shoulders over the idea. Now, twenty-four hours after the inquiry, we have it. Ecstatic, I told one of my bus-riding colleagues, and word spread fast. Within thirty minutes of my enrollment, four other’s had signed up.

I followed up with information about COTA’s Guaranteed Ride Home program, and
the room got quiet very quickly as ears perked.
“So, if I have to stay late for any reason, I’ll get reimbursed for taking a taxi home?”
“You got it! It’s a maximum of four reimbursements per year, at 90%, including tip”.
“Are you serious?”
“Indeed, I am”.

What has happened today started seven years ago when I was planning for my move to Columbus. It meant looking for a house near the bus lines. It meant making sure I would be living in a neighborhood that was walkable, offering easy access to amenities such as the grocery, restaurants and bars, the hardware store and library. It meant knowing how to get around without having to depend on my car. I was ecstatic today knowing that my planning was, indeed, correct.

Tonight, my colleague Trenton and I rode the same bus home. I asked him why he prefers taking the bus to work.
“It’s just easier. I put the bike on the rack, get on and just chill out”.
He lives about a half mile from the line to work, so rather than make a connection, he just bikes to the stop.
“By the time I get home, I’m completely relaxed. I love it”.

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