On the move without a car

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By Mary Kay O'Grady


Early this summer, I said goodbye to my beloved 1999 Olds Intrigue, dark green, beige leather interior. It even had Cadillac padding in the front seat — one of my bargaining chips when I bought it at the late Foley-Rice dealership.

The mileage was very low, but recent repairs had exceeded $4,000 for one year. I decided not to buy another car because the cheapest cars at Car Max start at $12,000, and I could not spend down my dwindling retirement savings. Good pal and master mechanic Jim at Oak Park Citgo on Lake even helped me sell my car.

First of all, it helps to live near the el. I live a few hundred feet from the Green Line's Ridgeland stop, so I can take it in two directions — to the Loop or to downtown Oak Park. Having the el free for several years was great, but a $1.70 round trip is still very reasonable ... and more fiscally responsible in the real post-Blagojevich world.

Secondly, I signed up for Zipcar, which has two cars parked at my Green Line stop and two at the Harlem stop. I'm pleased so far. It's $60 to join, $25 a year (or vice-versa) and $7.50 an hour ($10.75 on weekends), but that includes gas, mileage and insurance.

I decided to rent a car for a 10-day vacation this past summer. Though my kids and several friends advised me to use Enterprise on Chicago Avenue, the online reviews weren't good, so I would up at Hertz on Madison. It was a nightmare. I confirmed my reservation three times, but they had no car for me the morning I needed it. I had to get a friend to drive me to their Bensenville office, where there was a line of Oak Park customers. Later that day, I noticed the oil light on and had to run all over late on a Saturday afternoon to get an oil change. The good news is with my AAA discount and my complaint, I wound up paying about half what I expected to pay. But still not worth the irritation in 90-degree-plus weather.

Last week I had a small triumph with going car-less. I had a 7:30 a.m. appointment at Loyola but set my alarm for 7 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. I woke up at 6:45, threw on my clothes, brushed my hair and rushed downstairs where I thought my Blue Cab would be waiting to take me to Harlem and South Boulevard, the site of that day's Zipcar reservation. The cab didn't come (Blue cab has about a 50 percent no-show rate with me when I order ahead of time), so I ordered another one, which arrived at 7:05. We got to Harlem about 7:12; I used my key card to get into my Zipcar, and made it to Loyola on time.

I've also started using the Oak Park Township bus for trips within Oak Park and River Forest, which is wonderful and reasonable at $1 each way. I particularly like the fellow who makes the bookings, Jeremiah Mabon. He is most friendly and accommodating.

Well, my children both have cars, but like most older people I hate to be a pest, and, of course, the main thing when you're car-less is you walk more. Every single aging guru wants me to exercise more, so that's good, but when the cold weather comes, it'll probably be all about Blue Cab and the township bus.

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Marlene from oak Park  

Posted: November 24th, 2011 5:31 PM

Getting rid of a car is a great idea. Sorry that you had problems with Hertz and Blue Cab. My experiences with both have been good. Of course, the CTA is always your best bet, although I wish the riders would take their trash with them.

Ed McDevitt from River Forest  

Posted: November 24th, 2011 2:09 PM

We had two cars for a while when I was a limo driver. We've been a 1-car family now for over 2 years It's the rare daytime when I can get the car, since my spouse still works. I'm constantly in the city and have become quite expert at using not only the L but also the bus system. I travel all over the city seeking public art and actually enjoy CTA-ing it. So I empathize with your becoming carless - this from someone who has driven (I'm guessing) well over a million miles in his lifetime.

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