Adventures in a Car-Free Dallas: I Want My Damn Car Back
This isn't actually Vanessa, but this is probably what she would do once her dream car was acquired.
The revelation last year that Dallas City Hall, in an effort to help its benefactors at Yellow Cab, was quietly working to put Uber out of business sparked a massive public outcry. Transportation hearings have turned into a referendum on the taxi industry. Uber has been called racist. And it's all worked to underscore a simple truth about Dallas: Getting anywhere without a car is a huge pain in the ass.
Much of the city is unsafe for pedestrians. Bike lanes are few, far between and ignored by many drivers. And while most cities saw an increase in public transportation use last year, Dallas saw a 2 percent decrease. We may have food trucks, craft beer and even a park atop a freeway, but we're still driving to them all.
Yes, this remains a city that adores its cars. If you don't have one, or just don't feel like driving it one day, life will be difficult. To find out why, we asked staffers Amy Silverstein and Vanessa Quilantan to put the various options for car-free living -- Uber, Yellow Taxi, DART and others -- to the test. The results are here on Unfair Park, starting with this, Vanessa's story of why she really wants another car. Follow the links to see the whole package. --The Editors
When I turned 19, I walked into a South Dallas car lot and overpaid for my first car. It was a Champagne gold 2001 Alero, the last model Oldsmobile ever made. It had burn marks in the dingy beige interior, required a tape deck adapter/Discman situation to play any of the music I wanted to hear and it smelled slightly of moth balls. But it was all mine, and I loved it for that.
See also: Adventures in a Car-Free Dallas: You Can Take DART to the Airport, but Beware the Coyotes Adventures in a Car-Free Dallas: Cabbies Find Ways to Survive in a Tough Business Adventures in a Car-Free Dallas: Which Transportation Alternative Is Right for You? Adventures in a Car-Free Dallas: Catching a Ride Where Cabbies Fear to Tread
From then on I practically lived behind the wheel. Despite lacking any directional sense, I was always the first in a group to offer to drive. Late at night, when insomnia would strike, I'd cruise around my neighborhood and blast music to clear my mind. I took jobs that required me to commute across North Texas just to explore. I could go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted. The driver's seat was my happy place.
That all changed a year ago, when I decided to forego my lucrative career in corporate relocation to pursue not-lucrative ones in writing and nail art. I had to make certain sacrifices, including my Honda CR-V. (I'd since sent the Alero to join the other Olds in that used lot in the sky.) For the last nine months, I have been living in Dallas with no car, relying solely on rides from friends, car services, DART and taxis. I'm making it work. Barely. Somehow.
My lifestyle and commute are tricky to coordinate. I spend three or four days a week at the Observer's Oak Lawn offices, and about as many nights per week covering live music and nightlife throughout the city. This would be easier and more affordable if I lived more centrally, but I of course went and fell in love with Oak Cliff. I'm lucky to have a roommate who drives, and she's gracious about offering rides and letting me borrow her truck. But she is also a working single mother, so our schedules don't always allow for that. I also have a dog, Yoncé, who needs to be let out every five to six hours. I am not a practical human.
Mornings are relatively easy. I usually ride to work with my roommate or a friend who lives down the street. If I were to get a car, I think I would miss that. There's a comforting ritual to the morning carpool. I always buy coffee in exchange for the lift, and I start my day with audible, hashtag-free conversation.
It's once her car door slams that things get tricky. Around 5 p.m., I get paranoid visions of Yoncé peeing in her dog crate and start checking traffic reports. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a gridlocked rush hour while the meter is running. I probably should take advantage of DART more during evening rush hour, but I usually lack the punctuality or the patience to handle public transit. I've found that keeping a budget for car services is worth the decreased stress level of a point A to point B journey. Maybe I'm just bourgeois that way.
Depending on which has a shorter wait time, I'll take an UberX or Lyft across the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge back home. Another perk of the Ms. Daisy lifestyle is that having someone else drive gives you a few minutes to take care of other tasks. I usually return some emails or make a phone call if I'm confident that my driver knows where he's going. Knowing shortcuts and alternate routes can save money, so I try to keep an eye on the road, too.
After puppy time and dinner time, I usually head back out to a bar, club or concert. For these kind of rides, the only feasible option is UberX. Lyft redlines most of my neighborhood, give or take the occasional Bishop Arts pickup. Cab fares from Oak Cliff to nightlife hubs like Deep Ellum or Lower Greenville are more expensive and less pleasant. UberX is comparable in price to Lyft, and usually comes out about 20 percent cheaper than a cab. On weekends, when surge pricing takes effect, Lyft often wins the night.
If I am in a part of Oak Cliff deemed NSFY (Not Safe for Yuppies) by Lyft, I sometimes use a tip I once got from a friendly driver: Drop your location pin on the north side of Commerce Street, he said. Once your ride request is accepted, the Lyft app gives you the option to call your driver and give the address of your actual pickup location. This process is time-consuming and can be met with accommodation, annoyance or outright refusal from your driver. Three taps of a screen on the Uber app are usually more effective. But it's an option.
So is it doable? Sure. Especially if the city fails to regulate these car services into oblivion, I'll survive without a car.
But is it worth it? No. The perks of not worrying about drinking and driving or upkeep costs are enticing. But I spend about $60 to $75 a week on transportation, which is practically a monthly car payment anyway. Drivers are too chatty, they won't let you smoke a cigarette out the window, and they never laugh when you drunkenly ask them to put the partition up at 2 a.m., despite that being an objectively hilarious joke. One day, when I'm dipping corners in my custom candy-painted Cadillac, I'll flick cigarette butts at every pink moustache I see and chuckle to myself when I think back on my time without a vehicle. For now, I just want my damn happy place back.
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