SF resident estimates she has saved almost $50,000 by getting rid of her car – SFGate
Bicycle activist Maureen Persico got rid of her car seven years ago in favor of an electric bicycle.
When Maureen Persico first began biking around San Francisco with her son in a seat on the back, people used to scream at her that she was being unsafe.
Today, seeing a kid (or two) enjoying a ride to school or the park on the back of mom or dad’s bike is as common a sight as a regular cyclist. But before Persico would join the thousands of cyclists regularly traversing the city, she and her husband got around primarily by car or public transit. She knew she wanted to use her car less, so she and her husband decided to try cycling more.
“I was pregnant when [the documentary] ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ came out. I thought about the kind of world I was putting my kid in and I wanted to model Earth stewardship to him,” she said. “And I wanted exercise. I was overweight from giving birth and studies showed that doing things that are environmentally friendly are good for our health and our community.”
Since she wasn’t a very experienced rider back then, she wanted to build confidence, so she stuck to side streets and took a free class with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. She said the key was not comparing herself to other cyclists and taking it slow. “I took baby steps and I biked on Sunday mornings when it was slow,” she said. “I can understand why people are nervous”
Then, in 2014 their older car was hit by an uninsured driver and their insurance money wasn’t going to be enough to replace it. She suggested to her husband that they hold off on buying a new car and see how long they could last.
Seven years later, Persico estimates she’s saved more than $50,000 by not owning a vehicle (AAA estimates it costs around $700 a month to own a car), and before you ask her, yes, she still occasionally rents a car when she wants to go on weekend getaways or day trips. But getting around the city’s 7-by-7 on a daily basis is perfect for an electric bicycle, she said, especially since they’re now so widely available and much more affordable.
It’s my car(e) free anniversary. 7 years ago today our family ditched the car and bought an electric bike from @newwheel pic.twitter.com/auiRv2ycJ3
Before electric bikes blew up in popularity in the past few years, spurred on exponentially by the pandemic, Persico said just seven years ago there were barely any stores that sold them in the Bay Area. She finally found the New Wheel Electric Bikes in Bernal Heights and used the insurance money she had gotten for her car plus a little extra she had saved to purchase her e-bike (she wouldn’t reveal the exact price she paid since she didn’t want to distract from how affordable they are today).
An e-bike was important to her since she’d be biking up a very steep hill to get her son to school, something many San Franciscans can relate to. But sales for e-bikes are growing across the U.S. — from January to October 2020, bike sales rose 46% from a year earlier, while electric bike sales jumped up 140%, according to market research company NPD. That doesn’t include sales from online-only retailers like Rad Power Bikes, so the spike in growth is likely even higher.
The S.F. Bike Coalition, meanwhile, saw a 284% increase in people attending their free classes in the first few months of the pandemic. Even with the switch to a virtual format, more people were tuning in to learn the rules of the road and hear safety tips. “More and more people want an affordable, safe and sustainable way to get around the city,” said Nesrine Majzoub, the communications director at the S.F. Bicycle Coalition. “It’s important for us for everyone to feel comfortable and confident on a bike. Safety is the number one thing that keeps people from riding.”
Maureen Persico got used to bike riding in the city by starting out on quiet days when there wasn’t much traffic.
You can spot Maureen Persico by her signature helmet.
Maureen Persico gets ready to cycle in San Francisco.
Persico said an increase in cycling could also be a solution to pandemic recovery. A Portland study showed that people traveling by bike to a shopping area spent 24% more per month than those who traveled by car. An Australian study found that switching one car parking space to six bike parking spaces could create an increase in retail spend related to that space, from $27 per hour to $97.20 per hour. Here in San Francisco, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s study of Polk Street reaffirms this concept, as people biking, walking and taking transit all spent more at Polk Street businesses than those driving.
Furthermore, with the new administration, it’s possible those that want to finally invest in an e-bike could be financially incentivized. Reps. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., recently introduced the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act, which would provide purchasers of e-bikes an income tax credit equal to 30% of the cost of the bike, up to a maximum credit of $1,500. “Why do electric cars get these subsidies when they still pollute and they are just as capable of killing people?” Persico asked. “Why do they get that money?”
Even with a credit like this getting passed, she said there’s still a lot more that could be done to encourage cycling and make it easier for residents that do. Safe bike infrastructure is crucial, and more secure and cheap bike parking is another must, Persico said. She pays for a membership to BikeLink, a network of electronic bike lockers in parking garages around San Francisco, for now mostly located downtown. It would be great to have more of those located throughout the city, she said.
Persico also pays for bike insurance, which she said many people probably don’t know is an option. For $25 per month, if her bike is stolen it will be replaced without any questions asked. She said she’s also done her research and bought the best bike lock on the market and she also uses a secondary lock, following tips from the S.F. Bicycle Coalition to keep it safe.
Today, Persico considers herself a bicycle activist. For those looking to make the switch, or even just for those looking to take more trips locally via bike, Persico said if she can do it, anyone can. At 58 years old with bad arthritis, she said she’s happy to help answer people’s questions and encourage anyone who’s hoping to bike more in the city.
Mostly, she’s excited for the future of cycling in the city. “I am encouraged. The more bicyclists the safer the streets are.”
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Tessa is a Local Editor for SFGATE. Before joining the team in 2019, she specialized in food, drink and lifestyle content for numerous publications including Liquor.com, The Bold Italic, 7×7 and more. Contact her at email@example.com.