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The First Driver

Our office is full of large photographs of our clients with their cars, smiling with pride by their shining, affordable purchases. By my desk, I have another photo of a woman with her car. It’s Bertha Benz, the wife of Karl Benz, seated on the car he created, which was essentially a motorized tricycle.

While Karl was an engineer, content to be in his garage perfecting his creation, Bertha was a marketing genius. She was also his partner and principal investor. She understood that his car needed to be visible, so on August 5, 1888, Bertha drove 105 kilometers, taking her two sons to visit her mother. It was a pretty remarkable undertaking. With that trip she became the first person to travel any long distance by car.

There were no gas stations or garages along the way to fill up the tank or solve a mechanical problem. Bertha had to be resourceful. On her journey she fixed a clogged fuel line with a hatpin, invented brake pads, and saw the need for design changes—a gear for hills. The trip brought worldwide attention to the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, and, as a result, the first sales. Bertha proved that the automobile was useful—it provided freedom of motion!

I look at the photo of Bertha Benz every day and am as inspired by her as I am by the photos of our clients. These are all people of grit and determination, joyful in their ability to move around with ease. That freedom gives people the ability to take jobs they couldn’t reach by mass transit or their own two feet.

Research from the University of Minnesota Accessibility Observatory shows that people can reach many more jobs in their cars than by mass transit. The think tank at the University of Minnesota is the nation's leading resource for the research and application of accessibility-based transportation system evaluation. It examines both land use and transportation systems, and measures how many destinations, such as jobs, can be reached in a given time.

In Dallas, where On the Road Lending was launched, residents can reach almost four times as many jobs in a 20-minute drive than in a 60-minute transit ride. They can reach more jobs in a 10-minute drive than a 50-minute transit ride. In sprawling U.S. cities, mass transit is inefficient, slow and inconvenient. Most low- to moderate-income workers already know this—only five percent of them take mass transit to work.

I can’t help but think that Bertha Benz, who was essentially the world’s first driver, would understand and support our mission—better car, better job, better life!