Today is Car Free Day, an international event celebrated every September 22nd that encourages people to leave their car at home. Our region signed on last year and is participating again this year.
Car Free Day is intended to highlight transit, bicycling, walking and all alternative modes of transportation and take cars off the road so people can think about what their region, city or neighborhood might be like with fewer cars.
I want to propose a different type of car day: Cars for People Who Need Them but Can’t Afford to Buy, Insure or Maintain Them Day.
I know, I know – it’s not as catchy.
It’s not that I’m opposed to Car Free Day.
I celebrate it nearly every day because I don’t own a car. I am a big fan of public transportation (I commute by bus) and walking. But I live and work in parts of town with rich public transportation options.
The frustrating truth is that many low-income residents in our region – especially low-income, women-headed families East of the River and in Prince George’s County – actually need more access to private transportation to be able to work and take care of their families.
According to Census data, nearly half (48%) of all non-elderly poor in the District lived in households without a car. They participate in Car Free Day every day but not all willingly.
Car ownership programs for low-income families and individuals have demonstrated their effectiveness by producing significant income and asset gains for participants. Programs in our region, like Vehicles for Change, and national programs like Ways to Work and its local partners Northern Virginia Family Service (a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation) and Family Matters of Greater Washington need and deserve support.
I hope we can all agree that our region’s transportation challenges call for multifaceted solutions beyond just “more people should take public transportation.”
Gwen Rubinstein is a Program Officer at The Women’s Foundation.