(This is my third post about moving to New Haven. I’ve also written about where to live and what to do. I wish you the very best of luck on your move, but I regret that I don’t have time to answer individual questions about your situation.)
If there’s one thing that everyone knows about me, it’s this: I give the people what they want. And the people, judging by my Google Analytics, want to know whether you need a car as a grad student in New Haven. So here you go: No, you don’t, and you probably shouldn’t have one, either.
Disclaimer: I had a car in New Haven and you’d pry it from my cold, dead hands. But that’s because I’m a) lazy, b) from California, and c) prone to making bad decisions about the short-term/long-term benefits of things. Even I could tell, as I begged rides to the car-impound lot at two in the morning, that if I were smart, I would give up on the whole having-a-car thing.
So! Why should you not have a car? The first reason is parking. There is not a lot of it in New Haven, and it is expensive. As a grad student at Yale, you have the option of buying parking in one of several Yale-owned lots, all of which are expensive and remote. Otherwise, you are forced to cobble together a day’s worth of parking by running out to feed parking meters, paying for expensive enclosed parking, taking your chances on semi-legal spots, or crossing your fingers that the parking attendants won’t ticket you.
Oh, but they will ticket you! They love to ticket you! They are startlingly efficient! And if you are maybe a teeny bit not-that-great at taking care of paperwork like paying parking tickets, they will tow you, and you will have to borrow money and rides to retrieve your car from the impound lot at two in the morning.
The other reason you probably shouldn’t have a car is traffic. New Haven drivers are not … good. They are not good. It’s a New England thing, I guess. This is all made worse by the fact that New Haven streets, charmingly quaint though they are, were not designed for cars. If you decide to take your chances, you’ll learn about something I like to call the “New Haven left,” which is when a driver swings an unprotected left as soon as the light turns green, before other drivers have had a chance to react.
(You may also find yourself blocked in on Orange Street by a tractor-trailer, gripping the steering wheel and yelling, “Move, you bastard, I’m late for yoga class!” Then you will wonder who you are and what happened to who you used to be.)
Listen: My beloved Toyota Tercel is not missing a headlight, a taillight, and both side mirrors for nothing.
So how to get around New Haven without a car?
You can bike, too. Most of New Haven is pretty flat and the city has a decent number of bike routes. I will warn you that, like I said, New Haven drivers are not the best. But there is nevertheless a solid biking community in the city, with Critical Mass rides and bike shops and whatnot. See Elm City Cycling for more information on bike advocacy, safety, and what you should know as a new rider in New Haven.
(When I think of biking in New Haven, I think of my poor roommate, who biked in the street, only to be yelled at by drivers, then moved to the sidewalk, only to be admonished in the following way by a pedestrian: “Oh, look at me, I go to Yale, I can bike anywhere I want!” This is admittedly hilarious, but also maybe not ideal for cyclists.)
You can also take the Yale shuttle, which is fine. It stops running regular routes pretty early, but you can call for a ride after 6:00 p.m. and they’re pretty good at coming to pick you up, as long as you live within the designated area.
You can take the bus, too, to more remote areas, although, like many public transit systems these days, the New Haven bus system is not so great.
You can sign up for ZipCar, which has an outpost in New Haven and special rates for Yale students.
OK, so say you are an idiot and you decide to have a car in New Haven. I will now tell you my tricks! They are obviously great tricks, as you will have gathered from the aforementioned experience with parking tickets.
- Get a Parcxmart (sic) card, which you can use on parking meters. Conveniently, you can’t refill this online! You have to hold up the line at Blue State or the cigar store or wherever so an irritated counter attendant can do it for you.
- If you’re a student in Connecticut, you don’t need to register your car in Connecticut or obtain a Connecticut driver’s license — at least you didn’t when I was there. You do, however, need to pay taxes on your car. Which, ha ha, it turns out they’re serious about.
- You can park in Yale-owned lots for free after 4:00 p.m. and on the weekends. If (true story!) a professor will only meet you during those hours, that’s why.
- Some local hero routinely breaks the parking gate securing the lot behind the gym, which means, hey, free parking! Be warned, though: sometimes they’ll patrol the lot looking for unpermitted scofflaws and ticket you anyway.
- There is free two-hour parking on Lake Street, directly behind the Payne Whitney Gym. Watch out, though — they’re serious about the two-hour thing.
- There are 12-hour parking meters in several locations around New Haven, notably on Grove Street, directly east of the gym, and on State Street, between about Grove and Orange.
- Here‘s a map of the residential parking districts in New Haven, for which you need a permit.
- If you study parking signs very closely, instead of, say, writing your dissertation, you will notice that there is a stretch of Chapel between about Park Street and St. Raphael’s Hospital where there are no posted limits on parking.
- If you must go to the DMV, don’t go to the closest location, which is an understaffed pit of despair. (But, hey, they inexplicably have a podcast!) Go to one of the East Haven or West Haven locations.