Going Car-less in New Haven

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Two weeks ago, I learned a lesson many teenagers across this wonderful nation learn every week: Your car definitely needs oil.

I actually already knew that. But time has a funny way of getting away from you and the next thing you know that’s kind of a weird smell, is there even any oil in this car? Oh, dear.

Goodbye, Sweet 2003 Mazda 6. You were too beautiful for this world.

Obama saluting soldiers

By English: U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I need someone to sing Hallelujah for me.

In the meantime, I spent the last several weeks living without a car. I have since acquired a lovely 2012 Kia Soul because I don’t care what people think of me. But in those two weeks, I learned a little about how to survive in New Haven without any car at all.

(Just to be clear about how often I drive: I went camping in New Hampshire with friends and they just assumed I rented a car cause they didn’t even know I owned one.)

Just Bike Everywhere!

I love riding my bike around New Haven. In many ways, getting a job at Yale was really just about riding my bike to work. (And also that sweet sweet health care.)

I’m at the point where I know where very pothole on Elm Street is. And there are a lot of potholes.

If you have a basket on your bike (and you should!), you can even do some light grocery shopping. Though there are definitely limits. I’ve personally wobbled down Whalley Ave with wayyyy too many groceries and I do not recommend it.

Bike with large basket panniers
Think of all the fresh fish you could fit in these babies!

As much as I’m an advocate for riding everywhere, let’s face it: Sometimes you need to go somewhere outside New Haven. I know, I know. I hate it, too. But it does happen.

The New Haven Bike Share is another great option if you just happen to need to go to exactly the same places as the Yale Shuttle. Someday we’ll get it in Edgewood. Somedayyyyyyy.

You can just ride the bus, right?

Yes, yes you can.

Or the Yale Shuttle, because you’re probably too fancy to ride the city bus with the dregs like me. That’s fine. Go on then. Unless you actually need to leave downtown/East Rock.

This is you on the Yale Shuttle.

Bus service is decent, but it really depends. I’m lucky because the 243 Whalley Avenue bus runs with pretty high frequency. Worst case I have to wait 30 minutes, generally, except later at night.

I’m hosting this in a couple weeks. You should come.

But there are times when the bus just sucks. Like for grocery shopping. Or when it’s Noah’s Ark flooding out there.

However, it’s gotten a lot easier to deal with buses. For instance, the TransitApp and Google Maps both maintain live schedules of the bus. So, for instance, I open up the TransitApp, and it tells me exactly when the next bus is coming. If I click on the route, it can show me where the bus actually is, where the route goes, etc.

The TransitApp makes it easy to see how disappointingly far away the bus is!

Once you learn 1-2 routes, it becomes way less intimidating to ride the bus.

Plus, it’s a great way to meet people who start drinking 99 Bananas before noon.

ZipCar to the rescue!

If you don’t know what ZipCar is, it’s like a mini-car rental service. You buy a membership for the year (Yale actually provides a pretty steep discount for employees/students). Then, you reserve a ZipCar for an hour or two.

The interface is pretty intuitive. Gray blocks are unavailable, otherwise your good buddy “Fisk” is all yours.

You show up, you swipe your card, bam, you have the car for an hour or two.

Plus, gas is free! (There’s a gas card which you can use to pay for gas in the car.)

The downside is that if you need it for longer, there’s no guarantee it’ll be available, and the longer you have it, the less sense it makes, economically.

The upside is that you don’t have to deal with Hertz or Enterprise employees. Oof.

Renting a Car from Hertz/Enterprise

As far as I can tell, the only two rental agencies in town are Hertz and Enterprise, and boy are they a mixed bag.

On a plus note, they’re pretty cheap. Especially if you have a Yale discount.

I had to deal with both of them recently, since I’ve been trying to rent a car to buy a car. And let me tell you again: Oooooof.

First, Enterprise, which was slightly cheaper. I rented a car. Showed up. “Oh, we don’t have a car for you. There should be one in… maybe an hour or two?”

So I rent a car from Hertz, who does have cars, but no humans to take reservations. The lone employee during lunch hour spends 15 minutes on the phone, taking a reservation in painstaking detail like it’s 1994 over here.

Half an hour later, I am the proud driver of a Kia Forte.

So do I need a car… ?

Probably. You can get by without them. But it’s not easy.

Between your bike, buses, and trains, you can get most places. Most of the time. But sooner or later, you’ll probably need a car. Especially to live that glamorous life of an open-mic comic.

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