Carpooling to the Country

Earth Island News

In May, two San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit organizations – Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT) and City CarShare – launched a partnership that will get hundreds of youth outdoors, many for the first time.

Transportation to wilderness areas is difficult for anyone without access to a vehicle. But it is especially hard when transporting dozens of students. For starters, it’s expensive – renting a bus for the weekend typically costs more than $1,000. Add in bureaucratic hurdles, and it can be nearly impossible.

Since 1999, BAWT, a project of Earth Island, has trained and equipped youth agencies to organize outdoor excursions. Early in its history, BAWT learned that transportation costs were one of the biggest obstacles keeping youth city-bound. Purchasing vehicles that would be used only a few times a year clearly was not a sustainable solution. Renting vehicles was too expensive. So what about a way to share vehicles among different organizations?

That’s where City CarShare comes in. Two passenger vans purchased by BAWT will be incorporated into the pool of vehicles managed by City CarShare. BAWT, more than 20 other youth organizations, and thousands of City CarShare members will have access to these vans. Instead of being used occasionally, these vehicles will see an average of 30 to 40 trips per month.

This system of splitting the burden of owning a car makes good environmental sense. Car sharing reduces the total number of cars on the roads. City CarShare members walk, bike, and take public transit more than those who don’t car share. Plus, members drive less overall, resulting in fewer miles driven. That means less traffic, less pollution, and less dependence on oil. It also means fewer parking lots and more potential green space.

By sharing vehicles that will connect youth to nature and serve thousands of City CarShare members, this partnership is developing synergy between two important trends in the environmental movement. The first of these is the effort to get youth reconnected to nature. Richard Louv’s 2005 book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder is largely credited with raising public awareness about how young people today are spending less time outdoors than ever before.

The issue is receiving increased media and subsequent political attention. The Washington Post reported in 2007 that, “Concerns about long-term consequences – affecting emotional well-being, physical health, learning abilities, environmental consciousness – have spawned a national movement to ‘leave no child inside.’” The World Future Society ranked nature-deficit disorder as the fifth-most-important trend that would shape the years to come.

photo of young people in camping gear showing off a vanAaron GilbertThrough a partnership with City CarShare, Bay Area Wilderness Training will be able to get more kids to the outdoors.

The second trend is the growth of car sharing. During the last 10 years, car sharing has spread across the US and Canada. Today there are more than 30 independent car share organizations in North America. This transportation trend is spreading quickly as urban dwellers shed cars or skip purchasing one. City CarShare is just one example of how quickly the idea has caught on. The organization has served more than 17,000 members since it was launched in 2001, and now offers more than 270 cars in over 150 locations.

Until better public transportation options become available to move large groups of people and outdoor gear, this new program will provide a model for efficient transportation that connects the next generation to the transformative power of the wilderness.

– Kyle Macdonald

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