It’s Sunday morning and the sun is warming up the West Side of Grand Rapids. Chrys Killebrew is waiting in front of his house for an Uber on the steps, but there is none available. He refreshes the app several times and ends up finding a driver. A white sedan pulls up and we slip into the backseat and exit.
Killebrew, 29 from Grand Rapids, who at one point had a suspended license, has not had a vehicle since early 2020 – despite a reinstated license. To get to and from work and run errands, he mainly uses Uber, takes walks with friends, or drives one of the many electric scooters placed around town.
“Taking care of all of Uber’s pricing and availability, you know, is sometimes difficult. Even outside of Uber, just trying to get around on a scooter or hitchhiking with friends it’s just hard because you have to worry about people’s schedules and doing all that isn’t as easy as driving ”Says Killebrew.
We drive through downtown along Fulton Street, past the arena and up the hill. We eventually meet up at Madcap Coffee where Killebrew shares some of the positives of not driving.
“Let’s see. I don’t pay for gasoline; it’s huge, especially on vacation,” he says. “Meeting new people is also cool. I met some interesting Uber drivers. always asking them about what else they’re doing, and I’ve heard crazy stories about their other jobs, and crazy things happen to them while they drive.
Despite America’s love affair with cars, many people use alternative means of transportation for a variety of reasons. Some don’t have a license, others don’t like to drive. For a number of reasons, there is a large part of the population who prefers not to drive or is unable to do so.
Killebrew is originally from Brooklyn, New York and knows how to get around without a vehicle. But the transition to western Michigan presented more challenges than that of a large city, especially when it came to making doctor appointments, being on time for work, or to have a first date.
In addition to recently standardized ridesharing programs like Uber and Lyft, public transportation has long provided affordable mass transportation in cities across the country and around the world. The appeal of inexpensive and consistent transportation is aimed at people of all walks of life. In Western Michigan, it is common for GVSU students to take the Laker Line to campus or for those in the workforce to commute to their places of work on a daily basis. It is not uncommon for mothers to go to the grocery store with their children.
Ken Miguel-Cipriano sits at the northbound bus station on Monroe Avenue Northwest in a magenta sweatshirt. He knows the bus lines and their many stops. The area is particularly busy on this day and provides a vibrant picture of transportation in Grand Rapids. Several buses stop at the station, including the Silver Line, Laker Line, Line 11, Line 15, and the DASH Bus. Scooters and electric bikes meander along the shoulder. Autonomous shuttles crisscross the urban terrain.
Miguel-Cipriano, 33, a resident of Grand Rapids, does not own a vehicle and hasn’t had one since right after high school, preferring the cost efficiency and flexibility of not owning one. He travels largely by bicycle and bus all year round. He also works for the City of Grand Rapids as a transport analyst, but mostly observed generational changes in alternative transport firsthand through his own travels.
“I think there has been something in the air for a while. People really have their own identities and people, I think, are more intentional about their transportation, ”said Miguel-Cipriano. “[In] previous generations, like my father’s generation, are very proud of the ownership of things. So there is also the stigma that riding a bicycle or taking public transport is for poor people. “
“I grew up poor. And I still live on the south side. But I didn’t see it as a bad thing to take the bus. I think people are reclaiming this, ”says Miguel-Cipriano. In addition to using public transport, he also sees people taking advantage of other alternatives to the car.
“There are a lot of people who ride a bike. Now a lot of people in my neighborhood are skateboarding, biking, scootering, walking, because people open their eyes to the fact that they spend a lot. money for a car that stays there and depreciates when they could use that money for something else, ”he says.
Looking at national data, it was reported that driving is not the primary mode of transportation for millennials. According to the National Association of Realtors Community and Transportation Preferences Survey 2015, Millennials prefer walking as a form of transportation by 12 percentage points over driving. Historical data provided by The fast over the past 10 years shows that their largest user group tends to be between the ages of 35 and 49.
“It’s hard to somehow speculate [why]”said Bill Kirk, spokesperson and business expert for The Rapid.” I think one thing COVID has shown us is that there are people who depend on public transit for their lives. transport – whether it is a job, a transport or a simple daily life. daytime activities like school, medical appointments, access to groceries, etc.
There are some downsides to not owning a vehicle that Killebrew and Miguel-Cipriano experienced. There is the expectation of a ride or having to go through a Michigan winter in the snow. Often it’s just a matter of being flexible with the schedule.
“It is especially more difficult during the periods when [I’m going] on a date or at work or like going on a first date or something. I really have to be on time and it really depends on someone else’s driving and so on, ”says Killebrew.
“Other difficulties would be times when the pandemic was really hot. There were times when I came home from a friend’s house and I didn’t have my mask on. So now I’m running around trying to find a mask, ”he says.
However, the positives far outweigh the negatives, says Miguel-Cipriano. With the money he was able to recover by not owning a vehicle, he bought his own home, invested in his passion for creating flower arrangements, and engaged in hobbies, such as cooking.
“I don’t like to invest money in a car. And it allowed me to buy my own house, ”he says. “So now I can fill my house with all kinds of things that I love, works of art. I also really enjoy making flower arrangements. So I have the income available to buy flowers and make flower arrangements. I have started to cook and can buy new kitchen utensils. I can have this disposable income because of the sacrifices my parents made and continue to make.
Photos by Kristina Bird, Bird + Bird Studio
Voices for Transit is a nine-part series highlighting transit in Grand Grand Rapids by exploring issues facing diverse communities, bringing the voices of residents, employers and stakeholders to the fore.
This series is underwritten by The Rapid and is editorially independent in our exploration of these themes.