Washington Area Women's Foundation

How about Cars for People Who Need Them But Can't Afford Them Day?

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.

  • Thank you for including Vehicles for Change in your commentary. For 10 years and 3,000 cars we have been celebrating Cars for People Who Need Them but Can’t Afford to Buy, Insure or Maintain Them Day. You are absolutely correct…being a single mom is tough enough with a car, without a car it is nearly impossible. This economy is making it even tougher. With fewer jobs available low income individuals are having to travel further to find better jobs. A task that is practically insurmountable on public transit particularly when multiplied by having to drop the children at daycare first.

  • You have done a great job, in a brief statement, of helping your readers understand that providing access to private transportation for low income families is not inherently anti-transit. Transit in this country has not been designed or funded as a solution for everyone’s transportation needs all the time. Nothing presents so much of a barrier to economic upward mobility for low income families, particularly single parent families, as the lack of personal transportation. The good news is that the problem is not that hard nor expensive to solve, especially for the working poor that Ways to Work assists. They can pay much of their own way, given the appropriate supports. However, we need to get past the unfortunate sentiment you highlight at the end of your blog and stop assuming that public transportation is a viable solution for all low income workers.

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  • Hi ! I’m writing in regards to learn more about how I can get a car free & have come accross this website ! I have a situation were I cannot afford a vehicle,because I am a vey low income individual & am in extreme need of a car ! I recieve SSI , but am only able to rent & utilities in which exausts my money that I have monthly ! I rely on a friend in order to borrow their car when I need to go to Medical appts. & other necessary errands. I am very limited daily as to not being able to go anywhere ! I am not near public transportation,& this makes life even harder,along with my becoming depressed because of my situatin ! I’m not sure if this is the right organization to write to,but decided to give this a chance ! I have missed out on so many needed things,especially Phhysical Therapy, Mental Health Counseling,etc. I recently was living in a homeless shelter & also was involved with an Agency of Victims of Domestic Abuse ! I would love to follow through on aftercare meetings & groups, I cannot because of not owning a vehicle of my own !! I do have all the best intentions to do what I need to in order to survive a normal life,but am experiencing so many restrictions because of not having a car ! I pray that there is a solution through your program,& hope for me to achieve getting a vehicle through an organization that helps people !

    Sincerely, Laurie Bickford

  • Jessica Zetzman

    Laurie, thanks for reading and commenting. We’ve met so many resourceful women who face similar challenges — transportation is critical to their lives, but far too often it is unaffordable or unreliable. One of the most effective organizations that helps combat this issue is Vehicles for Change: http://www.vehiclesforchange.org/. You can reach them at info@vehiclesforchange.org or at 855-820-7990. If you live in an area that is serviced by WMATA, you might also look into applying for their MetroAccess program, which provides transportation to people with certain disabilities. We’re wishing you all the best!

  • laurie kuhn

    I’m a single mom in defiance ohio no car. Have jobs that would hire me if I had a car life sure is very hard. My child has to walk with me to the doctors appts. I love my daughter more than anything is there a place that helps