Any student reader will smirk at this post – and rightly so, because which student ever needed a car?
But the majority of you, I might guess, are non-students who probably own or have access to a car. The fact that you read this post means that you have probably thought about the environmental impact a car has. Or maybe contemplated how it would be to live without a car. Or even considered even selling yours, only to find that you need the mobility, speed, flexibility, and all those benefits that lets you keep hold of your car.
I only owned a car once in my life, which was while backpacking around New Zealand (can you still call it backpacking, or is that already… “trunkpacking”?). I wouldn’t have traded the mobility I gained and the money I saved for anything back then (I also slept in the car). I sold it when leaving this beautiful country, and that was the end of that episode.
Still, even though I only had my own car for those brief months, I always had access to one all my life, first on my parents’ backseat, then my friends’, then my partner’s here in the UK. For pretty much all my life, I always had someone I could ask for some motorised assistance, sometimes out of necessity (late night lifts), sometimes because I was uncurably lazy (broad daylight lifts).
And then (I cannot say it was suddenly), my boyfriend sold his car. At first, it was a great relief, as it became increasingly financially problematic to maintain a car while being on a low income. Now it’s just over a month later, and how does it feel, not being able to rely on a motorised vehicle at your disposal?
The brief version is: It’s great!
The long version is:
Our circumstances allow for being car-less, which means keeping hold of our car was just foolish. We live in a town with fairly good transport links. I can go to all major Scottish cities with relatively low effort, and relatively moderate prices. I have a small supermarket within 5 minutes walk, and a larger one about 15 minutes away. The town is adapted to students and offers low bus fares to go to university and around town. Overall, the infrastructure is favourable.
But that’s not all. We live in the town centre, where parking is notoriously bad and costly, which means that (while we still had the car) we took on parking about 15 minutes walk away. Yes, 15 minutes to get out of the pay-and-display zone. No resident parking either. It generally took longer to get to the car than just to walk where ever we needed to go. Having a car which was so hard to reach made using it a different kind of consideration. So we sold it.
And now? We are rocking it bicycle style! Since my last post of buying a beautiful second-hand bike, it’s been quite a lifestyle change. Suddenly (I use suddenly in a rather loose sense here), we had to use our bikes for everything. Commuting, visiting friends, going to the cinema, day trips, grocery shopping, everything.
And riding a bike is, hands down, the most enjoyable and satisfying mode of transport ever invented!
Let’s break this up (pretending to know what I’m doing):
Owning a car vs. relying on public transport vs. muscle-powered transport
- Greater reach (several 100s of km per day)
- Faster going outside high traffic areas
- Flexibility to use it at any time, at night, in more remote places
- Can transport groups of friends or furniture
- Doesn’t require any preparation (such as getting your helmet on, checking timetables, etc.)
- Very costly in the long run (insurance, tax, MOT, petrol, and when something breaks..!)
- Parking charges suck – if you can find a space
- Rush hour sucks, too
- Pollute the environment (why isn’t this at the top of the list?)
- Supports oil industry (which in turn finances, among others, crazy oil sheiks, causes global warming, and even supports terrorism…)
- Makes you more anxious and aggressive than any other form of transport
- Doesn’t allow you to multitask or drink alcohol
- The only thing that’s more likely to kill you than a car (and old age) is chronic disease
Pros Public Transport:
- Someone else does the driving
- You can use the time to work
- You can still drink alcohol
- Fast in large cities due to bus lanes, fast in the countryside due to train tracks
- More environmentally friendly (especially trains)
- Don’t need to pay attention (and get annoyed by) the traffic
Cons Public Transport:
- Can be expensive in the short run (individual tickets can be very expensive)
- You have to consider timetables
- Usually don’t run as frequently at night or weekends – may leave you stranded somewhere for hours
- Customer Service can be terrible
- Relaxing and refreshing mode of transport
- Usually faster than motorists in heavy traffic
- Which is very satisfying
- Cost nothing to use, and very little to maintain
- Is increasingly supported by the government and businesses
- Can ride at any time (nights, weekends, etc.) and anywhere (paved and unpaved roads)
- Costs nothing to ‘park’ and you’ll always find a spot
- Very social activity – there is many cycling-related communities
- Can still kill you (provided there is distracted drivers on the road with you)
- Not as fast – in absolute terms and especially in rural areas
- Cannot transport heavy objects or friends
- Can cause sweatiness and exhaustion
- You have to dress appropriately (that’s not to say you cannot wear a dress on a bike – you can!)
Let me share a few pieces of advice on how to manage without a car of your own:
If you live in rural areas or suburbs, would you consider to move closer to your work or transport links? Being able to walk on foot in emergencies can make a huge difference.
Grocery shopping with bikes is quite manageable. Remember to take a backpack and bags that fit comfortably on the bike while cycling. Your most valuable purchase will be a pannier rack, and eventually investing in pannier bags makes shopping a breeze.
If you commute with public transport, inquire whether there is seasonal tickets with usually a significant discount over regular fares. Over 60s get a free travel pass on public transport, most bus companies have student discounts, and some even have reduced rates for those on low incomes – making it more affordable in the long run than keeping a car!
On robot mode, taking the car anywhere you go? You know the old advice: walk or take public transport if your destination is close-by. The one golden piece of advice (I involuntarily lived by) to reduce your car usage for short journeys: Park 10 minutes away by foot. If you have to walk 10 minutes to get to your car, it’s probably quicker to walk those 10 minutes to where you need to go. Only exception is unloading the groceries – but after that the car has to leave.
Sometimes, public transport or cycling just can’t get you to those remote locations. Or can it? What about combining both? Just recently, my boyfriend and me decided to visit a castle that was kind of “hard to reach”, and where we’d usually opt for going by car – only this time we didn’t have one! Instead, we took our bikes with us on the train to the nearest station, and cycled the remaining 15 minutes. Thus, a 1.5 hour castle visit ended up being an enjoyable and relaxed day trip in which we didn’t only go there and back, but also explored the surrounding area, all with lowest emissions.
Everyone’s circumstances are different, so if you really live in a rural area, there is no shame in keeping your car. Consider other ways to make it just a little more environmentally friendly: suggest car-sharing to colleagues, make fewer, more focused trips, and re-discover your local area to find access to things you would usually drive to (farmers markets for supermarkets, anyone?).
So what about traveling? Well, unless you have a holiday in Greece three times a year (and provided you don’t already live in Greece), there is countless ways to go on holiday without a car – I could even argue you can cut a lot of stress and frustration by opting for trains, busses and bicycles.
And if you choose to cycle: PLEASE invest in a good helmet and lights. Don’t trust in drivers to see you. And welcome to the club! 🙂
Have you got any other tips on making car-less living easier? Please share them in the comments, so I can extent this list!