This post is going to be a little out of the ordinary, but I think it should be filed under "homesteading" or in the very least, "homestead-ish" Homesteading, to me, is radical self-sufficiency, but one cannot be self-sufficient without some assistance of others. Real homesteaders share with each other, maybe trade some extra eggs for potatoes, etc. In my urban habitat, the essence of sharing and bartering is often lost. But there are remarkable instances where we not only share for the benefit of eachother, but we do it in the most frustrating part of our day -- the morning commute!
The San Francisco Bay Area has always been known for it's hippie-esque mentality, and while this may not be the summer of love anymore, the ideology of sharing has stayed in the Bay Area. There are two excellent examples of a sharing economy that I think parallel the idea of homesteading in an urban setting, the "casual carpool" and the growth of private car share and ride share systems, such as Lyft and Sidecar. Casual Carpool is how I get to work every morning, and when I explain it to my friends and family outside of the Bay Area, they flip! Back when i was living in the City, I was taking the bus to work every morning. It was often late, crowded, everyone was disgruntled, and overall a negative experience. Some days, I would have to leave an hour early, just to get to my office downtown, and this was on the express bus. For a city that is only 49 square miles, we have a huge transportation problem.
Earlier this year, I moved to the East Bay. I'm close enough to BART to walk or bike there, and the train drops me off right by my work, but the cost is much higher than the Muni bus pass I was buying monthly while living in the City. A coworker told me about the casual carpool, which uses the idea of "slugging" that became famous in DC during the 70's. Slugging uses a quid pro quo approach to getting to work. Drivers need to get across the bridge but there is traffic, and commuters need to get to work quickly and cheaply. Every morning, commuters line up at designated spots and cars that are going to San Francisco pick them up, ferry them over the bridge, and drop them off near downtown. Riders offer a $1, and are expected to be quiet in the car, so long angry Muni riders! Gone are the days we have to cram on to a train to get to work before our morning coffee. The worst that has happened to me in the months I have been taking the casual carpool is I sometimes get stuck listening to terrible music.
Casual Carpool has been active in the Bay Area for years with little incident. The website offers drivers and passengers the chance to discuss any issues that may come up (crowded stops, bad drivers, etc). You can choose to skip a car for any reason, and myself and the other coworkers and friends I have who use the system have never had any safety issues or concerns. It's a great way to share the road, get to work, use less cars, spare the air, and overall live as we were supposed to live -- as a community.
The second example I mentioned above was Lyft and Sidecar. Unlike casual carpool, which has existed for years, these are relatively new to the sharing economy. These are more or less private taxi or car services. Lyft is specific to San Francisco and uses regular drivers who pass their requirements. As a passenger, you download and sign up for the app, request a pick up and drop off location, and a Lyft certified driver will take you there. Costs are negotiated and paid through Lyft, and you don't have to deal with hailing a cab. These programs came out of San Francisco's severe taxi deficit. The City has a limit on medallions, so there are many many times when you really need a ride, but can't find a cab. Remember that Muni bus I took to work everyday? Well pretty much every line runs like that -- late, crowded, and sometimes downright frightening. Certain parts of town are nearly impossible to get to by bus, you'd have to transfer at least once, and transfers are not synced. While San Francisco has some of the better transit in the country, it cannot be compared to DC's Metro or NYC's subway systems. Coupled with the lack of cabs, getting around the city without a car can be tough. These start ups saw the need, and created a system to benefit the passengers who are stranded in the Mission at 2 am, and the night owl car owner who might need the extra cash. The best part? Lyft cars are identified with a GIANT PINK MUSTACHE on the grill. And while the City is certainly not happy about the new private taxi's, and Lyft might be shut down by the powers that be soon, it helps address the overall problem in the City and creates a dialogue about making change.
Homesteading is about sharing, about ingenuity and self-reliability. While these are certainly incomparable to raising goats or sheep,the goal of community building and a sharing economy is still alive and well. I hope that we keep seeing more of these ideas sprout up in these times when we are so in tune to our own lives!