Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Car Free for the day, week and perhaps the entire year

Last Thursday, September 22, I pledged along with more than 10,000 people in the Washington area to be Car Free/Car Lite for the day. Participants walked, biked, used public transit and/or carpooled as way to reduce carbon emissions, be more environmentally conscious and help out dear Mother Nature. 

 On any given work day, my commute from Fairfax, Virginia involves driving to the metro (or getting a ride there), parking there and taking the train into D.C. Keeping true to the pledge, on Thursday, I decided to be completely Car Free. That morning, with my bus schedule in hand, I proceeded to walk the six minutes to the closest bus stop and eagerly and happily waited for the Green 2 bus to take me to the Metro. Five minutes past the scheduled time, still no bus and my enthusiasm of being completely “car free” started to wane. Eventually, the bus did arrive and I reached the metro 15 minutes later than the anticipated time.

Panicked that I would arrive to work late, I rushed down the steps to catch the metro rail into D.C. To my dismay, a passenger on another train had to be rushed to the hospital and as a result, all the trains were backed up for the next seven stops. I eventually made it to work, thirty minutes late and felt completely miserable that I pledged to be “Uncar” for the day.

Perusing through my email mid-afternoon, I noticed a coupon from Commuter Connections stating that I would receive not one, but two free slices of pizza and a free beverage for taking part in Car Free/Car Lite day. I felt a sudden jolt of excitement. 

This incident took me back to my Psychology 101 class in college when I was learning about operant conditioning. Positive reinforcement occurs when a behavior (i.e. taking a bus in my case, and not enjoying it very much) is followed by a stimulus that is rewarding (i.e. free slices of pizza). Over time, this results in the frequency of that particular behavior, i.e.  me riding the bus more frequently and perhaps enjoying it over time. 

Does it really only take receiving two free slices of pizza to make one realize the worth in using environmentally friendly transport? For me it did and yes, it is quite sad. But truth be told, in a place like Washington D.C., where people are constantly on the move, sometimes an incentive such as the free pizza is a catalyst that can spur great environmental morals. It’s either the free reward or the “how much will I save” approach that gets people’s attention. So here are my numbers - 

On average, I spend about $4.50/day parking at the metro and in a week, it amounts to $22.50 and in a month, this amounts to $90 and lastly, in a year, I have spent about $1080 (not including the gas money it takes me to drive to the metro). After this mental math, I felt even more proud to have taken part in the Car Free Day as I not only saved money (which is always great for someone just entering the job sector) but also reduced my carbon footprint

Staring at this large number of $1080, I realize that if I stick to taking the bus for the entire year, then my dreams of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro can come to fruition even earlier than anticipated as I will have the financial means to prep for my trek. 

All those out there reading this, just think what you can do with this money – splurge on a vacation, rent a great apartment, or better yet, think about how you are keeping the air cleaner for the current and future generations to enjoy. (While it is true that cars today are much cleaner than 30 years ago, there are more cars however enabling us to drive more miles. I'm sure you can put two and two together - more cars + more miles = more pollutants emitted into the air.)

 Please join me in taking the pledge to be Car Free/ Car Lit because even though our experience on mass transit or alternative transport may be chaotic, there’s always a reward at the end, whether its two free slices of pizza or better yet, the personal satisfaction of knowing you made a difference and helped out dear Mother Nature.