Article in – Madrid

From – Madrid published 5/6/09 (Spanish original).

English translation provided by Karen Cowgill

Get out your license … but the one for ‘un-driving’
-by Almudena Martin

•    The requirement to obtain this peculiar card is to reduce the use of the car
•    The organization has already provided more than 2,700 licenses to people between 2 and 82 years
•    A large part of them change their transportation habits permanently

Karen Cowgill, Ann Rodgers, and Brian Daigle live in Seattle (USA) and all of them already have their ‘Undriver License’, which the US organization Sustainable Ballard grants to those who commit to reducing the use of the car in the city.

As Julia Field, one of the founders of the Undriving program, explains, “What we’re looking for with this unusual initiative is for people to change their transportation habits by means of a personal commitment to reduce the use of the private vehicle: it’s important that people change the perception they have of the car, and begin to formulate other more sustainable alternatives like public transport, bicycles, or walking; the card is a stimulus that reminds each of its owners of his commitment.”

The Undriving program emerged in 2007. Its creators spent months turning it over in their heads to come up with an attractive formula that would make the citizens of Seattle leave their cars parked. In fact, it was Julia who proposed the concept of ‘undriving’ to call attention to the aims of the organization. At the outset, this United Statesman [;-)] and her team had the help of the county police, who were working on a program to make identity cards for children. With a Polaroid camera in hand, the first test was at the Sustainable Ballard Festival held in September. It was a hit: they managed to give 436 licenses to people of all ages committed at least during the following 30 days to get around in a more sustainable way.

The fact is that to get this card, it’s not necessary to completely give up one’s private vehicle, but to reduce its use. While some propose to take the bike more often, others begin to walk their kids to school, others prefer to limit their mileage or the distances en the car and there are even those who are motivated to share the vehicle with more people to go to work. All with the aim of little by little leaving aside this polluting vehicle.

“The organization doesn’t impose what each person must do, rather each one designs his or her own commitments to reduce CO2 emissions. Of course, the basic requirement is to burn less and less gasoline,” says Julia. Once you have your aims clear, you only have to pose behind a mural in the form of a card and smile for the camera. In a few minutes, the card comes out the printer. Along with the cards, they also pass out free bus tickets and various helpers advise on the alternatives forms of sustainable transport.

For Julia, this program is giving very good results. “Once we’ve given out the cards, in the following days we do an online follow-up, and the results reflect that more than 90% of the participants who respond to the survey fulfill their commitments, and 70% have permanently adopted the changes in lifestyle.” The next step the organization is working on is to raise this initiative to a national and international level by Internet.

As of today, this Seattle group has distributed more than 2,700 licenses to people between 2 and 82 years. There are many stories behind each of these cards, which, with a small gesture, have contributed to reducing the use of a highly polluting vehicle like the car. Julia was one of the first to put herself in front of the camera to get her Undriving License. Four and a half years ago, this United Statesian had a traffic accident. Her Honda Civic was totaled, and it was then that Julia decided not to replace it with a new one, nor to repair it. “Since I’ve been getting around Seattle by bus, I’ve discovered marvelous advantages: now I don’t spend money on gas, insurance, or repairs; but not only that, now I interact more with people (for example, at the bus stop) and I’m no longer limited to that bubble I found myself in when I was driving.”

Sometimes it’s not necessary to make such a radical change as Julia made: for example, Kimberly and her family decided to look for a new dental clinic that would be easier to reach on the bus line that passed in front of their house, instead of taking the car. Scott also stopped driving in favor of the bus, and now realizes that his feet and this mode of transport are his best friends. For her part, Margaret enjoys traveling by bus in the evenings, taking advantage of the time to catch up on work, and she completely forgets about grabbing the steering wheel.

One of the last citizens to get the card was Ann Rodgers. At 70 years, this woman used to get around the city with her 2000 Subaru, but with the increase in the price of gasoline, this United Statesian challenged herself to see how long she could go without filling the tank. She succeeded in going two months without filling up and reduced her errands by car. Now, with her new Undriver License, she plans to surpass her previous record.

And you, are you motivated to park the car and switch licenses?

Comments (as of 9 May 2:45 PM)
#1 (blank)

#2  “Hey, good idea. One of these cards would be perfect for me, I think I filled my last tank four months ago.” [translated as written – but should be ‘last filled my tank 4 months ago’]

#3  “The initiative is good … unfortunately for those of us who have the misfortune to live in third-world countries, where the public transportation system is disgusting for its inefficiency and discomfort, we find ourselves forced to use the private car.”

#4  “Here we use the bicycle, the mass transit known locally as TRANSMILLENNIUM and it works well in Bogota [or across Bogota – note that traffic in Bogota is incredibly congested, can take hours and hours to get across town – KC].  Less CO2 in the air, better health and equality in the city. – NELSON, BOGOTA, COLOMBIA”

#5  “’REDUCE CAR USE’, bah … the best would be TO HAVE NEITHER CAR NOR CARD, no?”

#6  “Listen, what an interesting article. And living here I hadn’t even heard of this initiative! Touché!

It’s true that except in the big cities of the US, it’s practically impossible to forget about the car. The lifestyle obliges you, not necessarily for comfort, but rather because of the way in which school transport, the way of shopping, how the residential and commercial zones are distributed, all work.

All, all, all is focused on access by car. There is a general awareness that this must change, but it will take some time yet to adapt the cities and, above all, the habits.

I’d add to Almudena’s article that exactly in Seattle the need to register and tax bicycles is being debated. The social debate is tough because those who advocate for the ‘green’ life of ecologism feel disappointed and cheated. Let’s see if we have time and publish something about this interesting debate. We already know that what starts cooking in this city spreads rapidly throughout the world.”

#7  “Third-worlders are we all, in Spain, despite Madrid’s Olympic candidacy, we have a “public” transport system that’s embarrassing, the cars and fumes saturate everything (although later they say that the bits of contamination and microparticles in the air are the fault of ‘sub-Saharan dust’).
This seems like an initiative that the politicians of the whole world should take into consideration: economical, healthful and conscientious … that, and try once and for all to leave aside the dictatorship of the car and get on the always-efficient bicycle. Greetings to Pedallers!”