Transportation Tracking

October 15th, 2019
cars, kids, transit
Several times lately I've seen people say it's not practical to continue with walking and public transit in the US once you have kids unless you live in Manhattan. I've also had people think that us not having a car means that we never use cars. Both of these aren't the case, and I thought it might be helpful to talk some about how we do transportation.

First, here are some numbers for the most recent thirty days. They're not completely representative, but it's as typical as any thirty-day period is likely to get. The data comes from going through my location history, collected automatically by my phone, supplemented by memory when I noticed it had missed something:

  • Number of (one-way) trips: 101

  • Trips by purpose:

    • Commute: 40 (40%; subway to and from work)
    • Errand: 25 (25%; groceries, school drop-off)
    • Social: 23 (23%; visiting my dad)
    • Leisure: 13 (13%; going for a walk or to the park)
  • Trips by mode:

    • Transit: 49 (49%; bus and subway)
    • Foot: 39 (39%; walking, with some scooter and trike)
    • Car: 13 (10%; rides, renting, taxis)
  • Days with any:

    • Foot: 24 (80%)
    • Transit: 21 (70%)
    • Car: 9 (30%)

Our family is two adults and two children, 3y and 5y. We live in Somerville, one of the most dense cities in the country (#16, though less so if you look at population-weighted density), and about a ten minute walk from a subway station. Julia works from home, I work downtown. We don't have a car, but we do have housemates and two of them have cars.

On a typical day it's just walking and public transit. I'll walk (run) to the subway, ride to work, and reverse in the evening. When the kids go out, generally to the park, it will be stroller, wagon, or on foot. Most places we want to go are pretty practical traveling this way. If it's cold or rainy we'll make sure the kids are dressed appropriately, and the stroller has a rain cover.

For grocery shopping we do a mix of things. For perishables I'll generally stop at the supermarket on my way home from work. For non-perishables I'll do a big shop at Market Basket or Wegmans about once a quarter when I happen to have access to a car. (We have a large chest freezer, and plenty of basement space.) We also occasionally order groceries delivered when that seems like a better use of time. And occasionally we'll walk over with the wagon as a fun trip:

For home improvement I generally get materials delivered. It's not that expensive, and it's a lot less work. Other times I've taken the bus to Home Depot, and rented one of their vans or trucks to move things. I often need things that would be too big for a car, anyway.

On Tuesdays we take the bus to my dad's house in the next town over to have dinner with the extended family. This is usually fine, though traveling at rush hour there's a lot of traffic. While we could take the bus back, my dad usually gives us a ride: this is nice of him and lets us stay a bit later in the evening.

For most of my contra dance gigs I need to rent or borrow a car. For some evening gigs it works for me to use a housemate's car (I put gas in it and reimburse them for depreciation), but most of the time I rent. For tours renting makes a lot of sense even if you do own a car: on the most recent one we put ~2,650 miles on the rental car for $231, which is 8.7¢/mile.

We've used taxis/ridesharing some, but in addition to being pricy it's annoying to deal with carseats. Once both kids are onto boosters (they make inflatable ones) it will be more reasonable. When traveling for work we'll generally take one to/from the airport.

Every so often we do have access to a car: someone is flying out of Logan and finds it convenient to leave their car in our driveway while they travel, I'm renting a car for a Saturday night gig but the car rental place is closed on Sunday so we have it until Monday, etc. We'll often take advantage of those situations to do things that are a good fit for a car, like big grocery shops (see above) or driving to an interesting place that isn't very accessible by public transit.

Growing up my family had two cars, and since both parents needed a car to commute there wasn't anything else that would have made sense. With us it's more of a choice: I think most families in our situation would decide to get a car, but each time I've priced one out it would be substantially more expensive. I do miss the freedom that comes from the low marginal cost of already having decided to have a car, and have felt the same feeling at times when I haven't had an unlimited public transit pass. But overall I'm pretty happy with what we're doing and like that we end up walking a lot.

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