Life Without Wheels – An Interview with Kevin Pile

Surely you’ve had one of those days when you thought about just giving up owning a car altogether. You know, one of those days when you just found out that the new timing belt’s going to cost you $1800 and while they are in there working on that they might as well do…(you fill in the blank)… for another $….(again, you fill in the blank)…. Or maybe it was the day the monthly payment, the gas bill, the new plates and the insurance premium all had to be paid in the same week. Or even better, maybe you are one of those that is tired of spewing exhaust gases into our air and exporting money to OPEC for the privilege of doing that.

Either way, you need to meet Kevin Pile, Co-founder and CEO of Ecotrain Media Group, Portland, who no longer owns an automobile. The Green Living Journal thought his story might stimulate others to, if not follow suit, at least plant the seed of the idea for later consideration.

GLJ: When did you decide to give up your car?

KP: I decided to give up my VW TDI Biofuel Jetta in December 2008

GLJ: What led you to make this decision?

KP: (chuckling): This was a decision that was a long time coming. For years, I had wondered how far my belief in sustainability could go. We acknowledge congestion, pollution, noise, and oil consumption as being major problems facing our society and we continue to push for progress and legislation to curb these problems. We continue to look and wait for our leaders to combat these issues on national, state, and local levels. Now at the age of 32, I have been involved in four political elections and somewhere in that timeframe, I realized I was tired of looking to others for answers. So, I began to look within for solutions that I had control over. The consciousness of what I wanted to do was just the beginning. Reality followed. I loved my car, I needed my car, and I, as many, had a car debt that needed to be paid every month. From realization to actualization took several years.
I was forced to confront my conveniences on Christmas Eve, 2008. That’s when my VW’s transmission decided to give out. I was, as every American has been at some point in time, faced with owing more money on the car than the car was worth. So I asked myself the typical questions that begged to be asked. Do I pay $5000 to replace the transmission, and continue to make monthly payments? Do I trade in and get a new car? Or, what are my other options? It was during this decision process that I chose to follow my heart, and beliefs; although inconvenient, and financially burdensome.

As with all decisions to implement sustainability, the financial value of my decision needed to be with the long term in mind. This was my opportunity to start a new chapter in my life without an automobile. I decided to confront the fear and financial consequences looming in the short term. On paper, I was able to quickly calculate the long-term savings of not owning a vehicle: insurance, gas, maintenance, speeding tickets, and all those other unexpected expenses. These savings would quickly pay for the financial burden that came as part of my immediate decision to live without a car. So, in early January of 2009, I proceeded with a “voluntary repossession” of my vehicle. I moved to a community that was walking and biking friendly.

Now two years later, I am forever grateful of my decision. Now located in Portland, my walking commute is even easier. On my commute to work, and before I begin my day at the office, I have already had my exercise, community connection, and mediation to start the day off right.

GLJ: What modes of transportation do you use?

KP: This is evolving every day, as specific needs come up that you don’t even think about during the process of giving up your vehicle. This is where your lifestyle changes, and you begin to get creative. There are not many places in Portland that I am hesitant to walk. I walk roughly 10-15 miles per day for commuting purposes. The Ecotrain Media Group office located at SOUK, an entrepreneurial co-operative workspace, was decided on because of its close proximity to the Post Office, TriMet, Amtrak, Greyhound and rental cars, and other shared offices we spend time at such as Ned Space and the Portland Ten office. For long distance business trips, we have used various combinations of each of these services.

GLJ: What are some of the problems and benefits of these?

KP: Of course, time and convenience are the major downsides to public transportation, walking, or having to purchase a rental car. Time and Convenience. This is part of my decision that I have had to just accept. Some things just take longer to achieve, sometimes all day, depending on the errand. There are some components to sustainability that this forces me to live with, such as routine walks to and from work and random community connections that I would not experience in my car. There are other inconveniences that are lessened with advances in technology, such as my iPhone which gives me instant connection to email, phone, text, browsing capabilities, and one new app that allows me to make instant sales with a credit card reader adapter.

Certain benefits are not having to deal with parking, not having to deal with traffic, not having to deal with unexpected car problems, saving money associated with vehicle responsibilities, not having to deal with always giving rides, and of course the greatest benefit is feeling as if I am playing a small part in the solution.

GLJ: How do you handle the chores that we all use our cars or pickups for, or go to the beach, or MT. Hood or rafting on the Deschutes?

KP: However, with all this comes sacrifice. I enjoy hiking, the coast, the mountain, and just getting out to explore. Sometimes I need to carry large or heavy items. I am not able to make these journeys without planning, and definitely not as spontaneous as I would like. (Chuckles) Transporting heavier materials or doing chores has been interesting. For instance, imagine this, when I first moved to The Dalles after giving up my vehicle, I successfully carried an 1/8 inch flimsy 8ft X 5ft melamine white board on top of my head. It was comical to watch the oncoming traffic drive in fear of me letting go of this huge piece of flailing material in the Columbia Gorge wind. That is an example of those mile treks that I am accustomed to.

I repeated that process when I moved to Portland carrying 3 pieces on separate commutes 25 blocks through NW Portland Districts. When my parents were in town, I asked for a ride to the other side of the river to visit the ReStore to look for a desk. Friends have delivered bookshelves and dressers. Transporting necessary networking event provisions such as beer is always done from a local brewery and hauled over my shoulders, sometimes up to a mile or more. Grocery store trips are made more frequent with less to carry home. This is beneficial for more fresh produce opportunities, buying what I immediately need.

For random spontaneous adventures to the mountain or wherever, I need to rely on invites from friends and these trips often don’t mesh well with a start-up ecopreneur’s schedule, so then maybe a rental car. This is also the predicament I face when I want to visit many of my friends in the outer parts of Portland, yet, my enthusiasm to trek across town often seems to be curbed at the end of the day with tired legs.

GLJ: Any thoughts of switching back to a life with wheels?

KP: Of course. I think it about it often. (chuckles) I am 32 years old with a long healthy life ahead; who knows what the future holds? I am not married, I do not have any kids, and at some point I will purchase a homestead. These are some of life’s intricacies that would change my immediate needs for a vehicle. My next step is a bike. I sold mine a year ago during the initial stages of Ecotrain for some extra cash. In the future, I support alternative and appropriate technology within the transportation sector. At this point, I have no immediate desire to return to being a vehicle owner. Right now, I am focused on Ecotrain’s mission to connect key workforce stakeholders; industry, education, and individuals. I look forward to unveiling Ecotrain Underground in January, a vast online social network of innovative decision makers fostering solutions and facilitating partnerships for currently underway green workforce initiatives

Kevin Pyle, CEO Ecotrain Media Group


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