Gas prices are only one of the costs associated with car ownership. It comprises a large part of yearly expenses for one’s automobile, but it only accounts for 20% of the “true cost of ownership.” has figured that with a new 2007 Toyota Camry LE with automatic transmission, fuel will cost an average of $1676 per year in Chicago for the next five years. That’s 21.5% of the total amount of money the car’s owner will spend and lose for the next five years.

So why do people continue to let their cars ruin their personal financial stability, regardless of how well they can argue its necessity?

One reason is that people haven’t considered the alternatives or, if considered, believe taking the train or bus, walking, biking, carsharing, or vanpooling won’t work for them. But it obviously works for millions of people everyday. Do they know something we don’t? Do they live a block from the commuter train station at home and work one block away from the end station? Are their legs in better shape than others’?

I think that governmental and non-profit agencies that have the mandate and authority to reduce vehicular traffic, congestion, and ownership, can use better marketing tools that will assist car owners to find ways that make their vehicles less relied upon and less used, period. By having car owners drive less, they will become more financially secure, probably experience reduced emotional and physical stress, and reduce their impact on the earth and the atmosphere.

In return, infrastructure would improve because money for highways and roads would be spent on projects and systems that have a better return on investment; transit agencies are able to serve more people (riders) than can highways serve singular drivers and their vehicles. Simply put, driving is a very selfish act which, combined with millions of other selfish drivers, creates a dysfunctional and inequitable transportation arrangement.

I have one tool in mind that can sway people out of their cars. My idea goes beyond slinging simple to understand quotes and statistics that all fail to motivate (for example, and this is not totally accurate, “80% of all car trips are less than 2 miles from the point of origin.”). What we need are individuals who are passionate about the alternatives to car ownership, those who, themselves have chosen a car-free or reduced-car lifestyle. These people would be used to listen to drivers who express some interest in jettisoning their driving habits or reducing their dependence on cars and determine some personalized options to accomplish this.

It would all start with a website. This website would have two purposes: to inform and to connect. The information on car ownership costs and how to reduce one’s car dependence is already out there – that would just be copied. The connect section of the website would invite visitors to submit their name, and either an email address, IM name, or phone number. One of the passionate individuals I asked for above would contact this person and become familiar with their car routines and suggest small ways to meet the driver’s goals.

Obviously, connections would need to be made on a local scale so helpers can be more effective and knowledgeable about the advice they give.

Getting people out of cars and using alternative modes of transportation almost always starts with one-on-one dialogue. It’s a goal that requires a lot of knowledge and some planning. I’m sure there are many readers who have been able to design a plan for at least a few people they know; sometimes it’s just a personal example that is needed to show how easy the change can be and how beneficial it is for more than themselves.

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