Why Do I Take My Car to the Dry Cleaner?

I get my collared shirts laundered.  About once a week, I take about five shirts, put them in my car, drive over to the dry-cleaner’s, and drop off those shirts, pick up last week’s, and take them home.

Why do I drive?

The dry cleaner I use is one short block from a BART station.  I live 0.4 miles from the neighboring BART station.  I take BART to work all the time, and basically like that experience.

  1. It would take a long time.  It’s about five minutes to walk to BART, maybe a touch more.  If I’m lucky, let’s say that I only wait two minutes to get a train.  Then it’s about two minutes to the next station.  Then maybe a minute to walk to the dry cleaner’s.  Call it all told 10 minutes.  And then the reverse.  It could easily be 12 or 15 if I have to wait all of 5 or 7 minutes for the train.  In contrast, it takes about 5 minutes to drive there, so I save say 10 to 20 minutes round-trip.
  2. I don’t mind a 0.4 mile walk to BART unencumbered.  It turns out it’s a little inconvenient to do that while holding my shirts.  Like, I could do it if I had to.  But I won’t just say, “Hey, I think I’ll walk for the enjoyment of walking” the way I sometimes do when unencumbered.
  3. It’s kind of expensive.  BART is very reasonably priced in the city, only $1.85 per trip.  So $3.70 both ways.  The actual laundering costs like $12.  Adding 25-30% to the cost of getting my shirts cleaned seems a little egregious.

So.  I’m in a pretty ideal case for short-distance urban transportation.  Less than half a mile from the station on one end, and maybe 80 yards on the other.  Trains coming frequently and inexpensively.  But honestly it’s a no-brainer to use my car (given that I have a car for other reasons).

This is fundamentally why America has remained very, very car-oriented despite the best efforts of a broad coalition of environmentalists, urban planners, advocates for the poor, rail enthusiasts, anti-industrialists, and Europe-enviers trying to get us to go more walking/transit-oriented.  It’s extremely tough to get even very good transit infrastructure to compete with the convenience of cars.

If we do have a driverless car future coming, that will be a huge blow to transit infrastructure, as cars acquire many or all of the advantages of transit without giving up any of their present advantages.


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