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Car-less and City-Centric

by Dennis Marsoun

March 4,2005

It seems fitting to talk about the state of public transportation in Charlotte, especially since the South Corridor of the CATS light rail system officially broke ground last week.

Essentially, two things are critical for a successful transit system. First, the means must exist. No matter how bad someone wants to use transit, if it is not there, it is not there. Second, there has to be a reason, and a desire, to use transit.

I should mention that I am a car-less person, car-less, not careless. I should also tell you that my full time job is that of a Realtor! I know it sounds crazy, but stick with me on this.

A friend asked me to meet him for lunch at Sullivan’s on South Boulevard a few weeks ago. Knowing that Sullivan’s was on the trolley line, I thought that I could ride the trolley to the luncheon. I thought that I had timed it correctly, and planned on picking up the trolley by the Convention Center.

This was one of those cold early February days. It was freezing outside! A seemingly long time went by, probably two or three minutes, and I decided to start walking. “I’ll catch the trolley at the next stop,” I thought. I ended up walking to Sullivan’s, and by the time I got there, the trolley arrived. So had I waited, I would have lost no time. I most certainly would have been warmer had I waited.

This is not meant as a slam against our transit system, but there is a difference between scheduling public transportation, and the freedom of personal travel with a private car. Transit requires a degree of planning.

Transit in Charlotte is currently designed to bring workers into the city, and to get them home again after work. Little thought seems to be given to provide suburban destinations for city dwellers looking for ways to conduct their business. As the light rail system develops, that is, as the system comes into existence, I expect that to change. It is not a question of whether or not it should change. It will change. Transit will evolve. I won’t repeat the statistics about how the short two mile long trolley line has revitalized the South End. I won’t even go into a discussion about the re-construction of the South Corridor. Transit will serve more than just work-force transportation. It is inevitable and cannot be stopped. Commerce will find its own path.

As traffic congestion, gasoline and parking rates continue to rise, the reason and desire for transit will also become apparent. This brings me back to my career as a car-less Realtor.

When I moved into the city, it was with the hope of becoming car-less. It is not that I am anti-car, it is just that I am anti-owning a car. When all car-related expenses are added up, my car was costing me $37.50 per day, every day, whether I drove it or not! Many times I drove it only because I had it, not because I needed it.

Our lifestyle is city centric. My wife works for a large bank in the city, and walks to work. My office is only three blocks away. We shop at an independently operated grocer in the Center City almost on a daily basis. Our food is always fresh, and we throw away little. The bulk of our entertainment is within walking distance.

As a Realtor, I emphasize this lifestyle to my clients. Many times we will walk to a listing, or perhaps take the trolley or the Gold Rush line. These are important parts of city life. And, for the few times that I need a car to take a client around, I rent one. It is always clean, it is always full of gas, and it is 100% deductible!

So, the next time you have the option to take a bus or trolley (and soon lightrail), try it. The more people who do will make the system stronger. Once, long ago, Charlotte was car-less and city-centric. It is now car-intensive and suburban. Once day soon it will be both as transit becomes an integral part of the future of Charlotte.

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