Living Car-Free European Lifestyle in Providence
September 18, 2023
Editor’s note: This story is a part of ecoRI News’ Rhody Riders series, a collection of stories about people who choose to live without a car and use a combination of walking, bicycling, and public transit to get around the Ocean State.
PROVIDENCE — Tim Empkie ditched his car after a yearslong sojourn abroad.
Moving back to his home in the Mount Hope neighborhood in the early 1990s, after working in Eastern Europe for nine years, he did the naturally American thing — he started looking for a car.
But he had enjoyed his car-free lifestyle in Europe, only occasionally renting vehicles for excursions he couldn’t take by bus or train.
When Empkie realized his house in Providence sat a block away on either side from stops for the Route 1 bus, he decided to give the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority a try as his main form of transportation.
He’s remained car-free ever since, going on 30 years now.
Empkie, a retired physician and Brown University professor now in his mid-70s, took the bus more often in his working days, but walks more frequently since the pandemic.
“During COVID, I only [traveled] within three miles of my house,” he said. A fan of the pedestrian bridge that spans the Providence River, Empkie said walking the loop from his house down to the bridge and back became a routine for him.
He still likes to take the bus to Newport and East Beach, and sometimes hitches rides from friends. Rarely, he’ll rent a car, mostly when he’s on a bulk shopping trip and getting to and from the grocery store would be too complicated.
Although he has tried to convince friends to take the bus, Empkie said he doesn’t think he has persuaded anyone to completely give up their car.
“It’s much more convenient for me than anyone I know,” he said.
There are a lot of obstacles to switching from driving to taking public transit, including RIPTA’s limited schedule, Empkie said. During weekend service, for example, buses run less frequently, which makes getting from one place to another more time-consuming.
But the benefits, both financial and environmental, are worth it for him, Empkie said.
“I’m trying to be, on a very small scale, a role model,” he said.