While driving up to Sonoma the other day in my lovely Zipcar (this time I picked a Mazda 3 for the iPod jack, but next time, I'm taking the Mini Cooper), I wondered to myself why anyone in close proximity to Zipcars, public transit and other great transportation alternatives would even WANT to own a car. I remember owning a car and all of the freedom it ostensibly gave me. I could come and go as I please...except when the car was having troubles or I couldn't find a good parking space...I felt I had something that was mine...except it sucked when someone broke into it, mistaking it for theirs...I owned something outright...except that insurance premiums, repairs and parking tickets were killing me. Of course, at the time, none of that stuff seemed obvious. I could only really imagine that life sans car would be hell. I would lose all my freedom. What I didn't realize is that I gave up another kind of freedom by holding onto that car.
When I moved to San Francisco, I sold my car and planned fully to buy a brand, spanking new one, but somehow I never got around to it. Between the public transit (which is nothing near to as good as my former home, Toronto, but pretty decent), SF being a walking city and Zipcar, I've managed to totally lose my car dependency.
But I still find myself relying on Zipcar (and cabs) more than I should because that same public transportation lets me down quite frequently. Sure, I have 511.org (and it even comes in a mobile flavor), but more often than not, I dial up 511.org to find the bus itself hasn't read the schedule. Google Transit is a really cool addition to their maps, but for some reason, it doesn't quite sync either. Why? Well, because that darned data is just not semantic...and the API's ....um...where are the API's?
Now, this sort of thing is a challenge. We want to believe that we can wave our magic BarCamp wand over public services like these and make them all better, but it's a wee bit more tricky than that. Currently, we have the awesome help of great peeps like Heyward Robinson, Menlo Park city council, Adina Levinson, Co Founder of Social Text and avid Menlo Park community activist, Margaret Okuzumi, from the Bay Rail Alliance and MTC, and many others.
We will be putting on day one as a non-camp style symposium, with pre-selected speakers from all angles....to answer the following question:
How do we improve the system in order to encourage more riders?
Chris and I will be looking to work with more people actually working on the actual transit system to see what we can do as Citizen Superheroes...as we actually rely heavily on it working well. We hope to see many of you out there.