Participants Offer Lessons Learned from the Ditch Your Car Challenge
Columbus was one of 35 cities chosen to participate in Lyft’s Ditch Your Car initiative. The program, which kicked off on Oct. 8 and wrapped up yesterday, offers a package of transportation incentives to individuals willing to commit to leaving their personal cars parked in their garage for a month.
The ride-hailing company put out a call in September for local residents interested in taking part, picking 50 at random from over 1,000 applicants.
“I think the response shows that with the right tools or encouragement, more and more people are willing to change their mobility patterns in our city,” said Jennifer Fening of Smart Columbus, which is working to reduce the number of single-occupant vehicle commutes in the region by 10 percent (over 80 percent of Columbus commuters drive to work alone).
Participants received $300 in Lyft ride credits, one-month passes for CoGo and ZipCar, and a $100 Zip Car credit.
CU checked in with two of the participants to see how the month went, and both said they learned a lot about the challenges involved in getting around Columbus without a personal vehicle. Not surprisingly, given that Lyft sponsored the challenge, both said they ended up using the service quite a lot.
“I took a lot of Lyft rides,” said Catherine Ballali, who recently moved to Columbus from Boston. She lives and works in the Easton area — where CoGo has yet to install four planned stations — so that option was not especially useful for her, and the closest ZipCars are located at the airport.
For longer, multi-stop errands, Ballali would take a Lyft to the airport and then check out a ZipCar.
“I think with this challenge I became very deliberate with the type of activities I tend to do…with a car I’d just go and come back,” she said. “But having to think through the day and clump things together, to think through the logistics…hopefully I’ll be able to do the same now that I’m going to go back to the car.”
Darcy Hartman, a professor at Ohio State University who was already a regular bike commuter, said that the challenge “allowed me to dive deep into why I make the choices I make regarding how to get from one place to another.”
“I have been using Lyft a lot,” she said, “and thinking about the benefit of being dropped off at the entrance to places in cold weather, and not having to deal with searching for and paying for parking.”
CoGo provided a fun way to get Downtown for a happy hour while allowing her to Lyft home to avoid riding in the dark, and renting a ZipCar made a day trip to Johnstown possible.
Hartman also found solutions to some problems that didn’t involve transportation at all.
“For example, I knew I was running out of dog food, and it occurred to me that I could be having it delivered for free,” she said. “By focusing on this one aspect of my lifestyle, I realize that there are multiple ways to achieve the same goal…and it doesn’t always need to involve me jumping into my car.”
Ballali and Hartman both made an effort to learn about the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) bus network and to use it get around, with mixed results.
“We need to expand our bus routes, we really do…there are places where its 10 minutes away by car but there are no bus routes,” said Ballali, who took COTA when she was Downtown or in the Short North but found that getting to work by bus was not very convenient.
“If you don’t have a car in Columbus it’s really, really hard,” she said. “Lyft is expensive, just think of a middle or low-income resident who doesn’t have a car, they have to rely on the bus…and that’s a very challenging issue for them.”
Apart from more bus routes, Ballali said that the availability of options like Lyft Line or Lyft Shuttle in Columbus (in which a ride is shared, or riders are picked up at stops) would help lower the price of the service.
Hartman posted about her experiences during the last month on social media, and received “a lot of great advice from people that are far savvier about transportation options than I am,” she said. “We actually have plenty of people already doing this by choice.”
“But we should also keep in mind that there are a lot of households out there that are figuring out solutions out of economic necessity,” Hartman added. “It is a critical issue, in my opinion.”