Why We Chose to Remain Car-Free
I mentioned at the end of last year that we’d been deciding whether or not to buy a car, and this drummed up quite a bit of interest from readers. Car ownership can be controversial from a minimalist point-of-view, a sustainability point-of-view, a zero-waste point of view... I thought I’d write about why we were contemplating buying a car in the first place, what our options were and why we ultimately decided to remain car-free.
Some Background – Our Changing Circumstances
At the end of September, I started a new job. My office is a ten-minute walk (through a park!) from our flat. Glen has been working in the CBD for the last 18 months, which was a 45 minute train-and-bus commute, or a 30 minute cycle ride. There is no parking. In November, Glen’s office relocated from the CBD to another suburb. His commute is now a 1 hour 20 minute train-and-bus commute, or a 45 minute cycle ride. Parking is free.
We’ve known about this impending relocation for a while. Our new flat (which we move into at the end of the year) will be much closer to the new office – probably a 15 minute bus or cycle ride. It’s the 12 months before the move that are the issue. If I hadn’t just found a job where we currently live, we’d have moved closer sooner, but that was no longer an option.
Commuting isn’t much fun, and doubling your commuting time (with no compensation – it was the office location that changed, not the actual job) means losing a significant amount of free time. Glen doesn’t want to spend his evenings sat at bus stops.
With both of us working, there is less free time for errands, and a car might make things easier. We thought hard about the options.
Option 1: The Electric Car
The electric car appears to fit with our values. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and it raised a number of issues for us.
First up, electric cars are fairly new here, so there isn’t really a second-hand market. Buying a new car is expensive. One of the reasons I started working full-time was to save for the deposit for the flat. Buying a car would wipe out all that money. A new car would cost the same as my take-home salary for the year: they’d simply cancel each other out. Which rather defeats the point!
Secondly, there’s all that embodied carbon. Buying a new car is hardly a green option, whether electric or not. If we really needed a car, maybe we’d think differently, but this choice was more about convenience than necessity.
Thirdly, having an electric car without solar panels to charge it wouldn’t be ideal. The new house has solar but the current one doesn’t, so we’d need to plug it into the mains (powering it from fossil fuels). Our car port is not next to our flat, so we’d need cables and some ingenuity to manage to charge it at home.
All that convenience of having a car suddenly got remarkably inconvenient!
Option 2: The Conventional Car
What about a conventional car? We’d never even consider buying a brand new conventional car. Old cars are affordable (assuming they don’t keep breaking down) and older cars how a lower footprint, even when their fuel usage is less efficient. The embodied emissions of a car (meaning the energy used in the mining, transporting and manufacturing of the parts and the building of the car) are thought to rival the exhaust emissions over its lifetime. T
he older a car is and the more miles it has clocked, the better.
The thing is, we like living without a car. We’ve made it work for us, and we like the lifestyle. My husband feels that not having a car is part of his identity. You can justify anything to yourself if you try hard enough, but we felt that car ownership might be the start of a slippery slope away from the path we’re trying to follow.
Option 3: The Electric Bike
My husband was really taken with the idea of an electric bike. We have several friends who own them, so he was able to talk about them with people who could provide honest and helpful feedback. The appeal? An electric bike would make the 45 minute (each way) cycle ride to work faster, and less exhausting. The downsides: it’s still a bicycle.
There would still be days when it wouldn’t be practical. Going to meetings before work, or heading out after work, and the bike becomes a burden. If it’s pouring, you still get wet. if it’s a 45 degree day, you still get hot.
It wouldn’t be practical on the weekends if we were going somewhere together, as I’d still have my road bike. Buy two and the cost runs into a few thousand dollars. We have limited storage, they are very heavy and our flat is upstairs.
Option 4: Do Nothing
There’s definitely something to be said for doing nothing. It’s not about inertia or indecision, but about making informed choices. It’s a very minimalist approach to life – allow yourself to settle into your new situation before making decisions, especially if those decisions involve spending money and accumulating more stuff.
Rather than speculate that the commute would be too long, or the cycle ride too tiring, we decided that the best approach was to see how it actually panned out.
Why We Chose to Remain Car-Free
This year our focus is saving for a deposit on a flat, and spending money on other things is a distraction from this goal. Car ownership may give us increased convenience…but at a price. We’ve lived without a car for 3 1/2 years in Perth, and our circumstances have changed before, so there’s no reason why we can’t manage this latest round of changes.
My husband has embraced cycling to work. His current aim is 3 times a week, and whilst he found it quite tiring initially, he is definitely finding it easier. Rather than costing us more, his office move is saving us money (less bus / train fares), and his fitness is improving greatly! He is still contemplating the electric bike idea, but for now the pushbike is good enough.
Do you live car-free? Do you love the freedom it gives you, or find the inconvenience frustrating? If you have a car, is getting rid of your car something you’d consider? Would you contemplate getting an electric bike?! Please leave a comment below telling me your thoughts!
Lindsay, I love how your husband feels being car-free is tied to his identity. It’s a much better symbol to use than the big house or the fancy car. :-) It sounds like you and Glen ended up making the right decision for the both of you. What happens to your commute when you move into your new flat?
I decided to give up my car when I realized I paid more for insurance ($25 a month) than I did on gasoline to use it. At first I still needed it due to the fact that I was waiting on my electric wheel chair as I could only walk if I had something to hold on to. during that period of time I loaned the car out to my daughter-in-law when my son had to work an additional shift and she had an appointment and to my son when his vehicle was damaged in an accident. Once I finally got the new wheelchair I gave my son and his wife the car. While I still need electricity to power my chair, it’s a better option because at the same time I needed to pick someone up to go places with me even though I could still drive safely.
What I didn’t realize would happen when I gave up the car was the freedom I would find. When I was a teen the car was the symbol of freedom and now giving it up was more freeing than ownership. I felt more connected to nature and I met more people as I ran my errands. I much prefer the sounds of the birds and seeing flowers peeking out of the ground than fighting traffic.
I hadn’t thought of it like that! I guess you’re right, many people do tie their possessions to their identity – we tie our lack of possessions to ours!
My commute will be easy (although longer), because we will be living 30 seconds from a train station (of course!) and my work is 10 minutes from the train station in the suburb we currently live. We’ve always made it a priority to live close to good public transport connections – as the job is close to where we currently live it’s also close to transport links!
Walking and catching public transport are definitely much more community-building! There’s a few shops between our flat and the train station, and I walk past them so often I’ve become friendly with the shopkeepers, despite never going inside the shops. The same goes for neighbours on our street! Plus my walk to work is through a park and there are always lots of birds. Much better than car bumpers and exhaust fumes! Plus I love the trees, and the clouds, and the fresh air : )
I would love to live car free, but have never been able to do so. My work is a 40 minute drive from home, and I need to drop my 2 kids to their school and bus, each in different locations, and the school bus is mis-timed with the public bus that could get us to it. Even if that bit did match up, i can’t get from the school bus meeting point to the train station easily as the local public bus service doesn’t exist while the school buses are running! If I happen to not be taking kids to school I do sometimes ride my bike/catch a train. Doing this turns ups the time to around 1.5hrs, more than twice the time of driving, due to poor connecting services. I have tried multiple times to reduce the amount of driving I do, but in my area of Sydney it seems almost impossible!
Poor connecting buses / trains make me so frustrated! In Perth I think they are pretty good but where my parents live (in Kent, UK) the trains never connect and there’s always huge amounts of waiting time. I feel your pain!
The great thing about commuting is the added value. If you cycle you get a free workout, and if you get the train you can use that time to read, catch up on email, or just zone out – you definitely can’t do that when driving! Even if it’s something you only get the opportunity to do it every so often, i think its hugely beneficial for people’s health and mental well-being!
Even if living car-free isn’t something you can do now, there’s still plenty of time in the future : )
It’s easier to do without a car in the city but we live in the countryside and there are no buses to our village and it is a 4 mile walk to the nearest town (fine if I have the time). My husband is a general practitioner and has to be able to get around to do home visits in the area and also to the local hospital 10 miles away to do his overnight shift there (no buses outside 9am-59m & even then, the bus stop is 3 miles away). I do use the train as much as I can but still have to drive 10 miles to the station. I have cut my hours and work from home as much as I can to reduce car travel. With more charging points around I would consider and electric one.
I definitely agree with that! Living sustainably in the city means different things to living sustainably in the country. We’ve talked about living in the country and it’s something we may do, and we’d need a vehicle I’d expect. But on the plus side, we’d be able to grow so much of our own food, keep chickens, harvest our own rainwater and be more self-sufficient than we could ever be in the city!
My parents live in a village which does have a train station (fine if you want to go somewhere which also has a train station!) and when I lived there had one bus a week – on a Thursday! Not hugely practical!
I’m with you – I hope charging points increase and electric cars become more mainstream (and affordable). It would be such a good alternative for people living more rurally.
I sold my car a few months ago and bought a scooter. Not only am I burning WAY less fossil fuels which is good for the environment and my wallet, but I also save on car insurance and I walk a lot more now too.
That’s a great solution! I guess it’s the step between car and electric bike. Do you think you’ll ever swap again to an electric bike? Or do you think you’ll be getting a fair bit more mileage out of the scooter before you even contemplate the downgrade (or is it upgrade)?!
Hurrah for living car-free! I love biking and have never liked cars. Even as a kid I always preferred biking over sitting in a car. At 30 years of age, I still don’t even have a driving license! Must add to that though that here in the Netherlands, there is no reason to have a car. This is a little different in for example rural Sweden (my husband is Swedish). I commute by bus-train-subway. It takes me about 1 hour and 20 minutes one-way. I read or work while on the train, so I don’t waste time. I would if I would drive a car. I am a bit jealous of your husband. I would love to be able to bike to work. 45 minutes is very reasonable.
Yes, hurrah! I love cycling too. Glen was never a cyclist until I introduced him to it when we moved to Perth (just over 3 years ago), and now there’s no stopping him! Perth is pretty good for cycling. The drivers aren’t the most aware, but there are a lot of good cycle paths, lots of scenic rides (for a city) and far better weather than you’d find in Europe!
I might add that 45 minutes is how quickly he gets there – I wouldn’t be so quick. Plus the home run always seems to be slower! But it beats 1 hour 20 minutes on the bus, with the boring sitting around at the bus station part in the middle.
Good for you! Going car-free is worth aspiring to. Here it’s difficult in the ‘burbs where I currently live, as there is no good public transportation. Also, the city is just barely beginning to put in bike lanes, and car drivers are pretty hostile to bike riders (yes, there have been “incidents”). Copenhagen and Amsterdam are showing us the way, though, and in the US even NYC is starting to be a little more bike-friendly. Um, just remembered: as a teenager I loved having a horse, and didn’t get my drivers license until a year or so after I was old enough.
Thanks Sandy! Bike lanes are definitely something that we’re going to see more of, so hopefully this start that you talk about is the start of plenty more!
Haha, commuting or getting the groceries by horse would be awesome! Shame you don’t still have one!
I found the comment that your husband sees not owning a car as part of his identity interesting too – I think that’s how I see it also. Although, I feel like a bit of a phony saying that these days as my husband does own not one, but two cars (!). He shares one car with a friend and he’s trying to encourage our neighbours to give up their cars and use his too, I think he’s trying to set up his own local car share ;)
Glen would love to set up a car share! He’s wondering when we move whether it will be possible! Your husband is definitely onto something. It just doesn’t make sense that we all own these separate huge hunks of metal that burn huge amounts of fossil fuels just because occasionally we need to go to the hardware store and bring something home that’s to heavy to take on the bus! (Or whatever the reason is!) Cars are obviously useful sometimes – hence why we hire one when we go on holidays – but it’s the “owning all the time” thing that gets us – we just don’t need it that much!
I hope your husband’s “car share” plan gets off the ground! : )
I thoroughly applaud you and Glen for staying car-free. I also appreciate that it is a decision that you make us a couple and that staying car-free is not a given. (Mr M and I have points that we debate. I recently gave in to a coffee machine :-()
Location definitely matters but so does mindset & habit. I grew up in Flanders where ‘everybody’ cycled (including most drivers which makes for safer roads). My dad had a car but mum didn’t drive and she managed to raise four children, get us to school, deal with the shopping etc, without a car. Okay there was a monthly dry goods shop with the car but that was all. She was a child of the war so was used to walking everywhere. My upbringing, combined with my values, mean I see no need to drive. I get about using train for longer distances, cycling from medium distances and shank’s pony for anything up to 2-3 miles.
I think previous generations had a different attitude to distance and I’ve tried to hang on to that. My upbringing & habit has, I think, also cultivated a different attitude to time & weather-appropriate dress. As for waiting times, I always carry a book, a notebook and/or some knitting ;-)
Thanks Meg! It is definitely a decision you should make as a couple. I’ve met a few people who say they don’t have a car…but their partner / husband / wife does! Especially in Australia, where you don’t need different insurance for someone else to drive your car, I find it most bizarre. If your household has a car, and you drive that car, then you have a car!
I agree on all fronts. My parents live in the country, and when as a teenager I passed my driving test I assumed I’d be able to borrow their car like all my friends did with their parents’ cars. However, my dad would charge me “wear and tear” ( and his fee was pretty steep!) and it was often far cheaper to take the train. I think that cemented my acceptance of public transport!
Weather-appropriate dress and sensible shoes! Yes! I usually carry a notebook around with me, but alas, no knitting. Yet…
car free for my life of 32 years..well actually thats almost turbot not quite. I had a car for one year of my life whilst living in sydney but working in Nowra (for those of you that know thats a good commute). Australia can be a frustrating place to live if one has to rely on public transport… not a problem tho now as I’m comfortably living the public transport dream in London….as long as you call cramming onto the tube and praying that the doors close so we can move the hell on the dream…i guess on the plus side i can get pretty much anywhere without a car…
That’s awesome : ) I had a car for 3-4 years in my twenties – I had to get one when I switched jobs and public transport couldn’t cut it, so I can relate. Glad to be rid of it!
Australia can be a challenge, I agree, but in the city at least, I would always choose to live somewhere central with good public transport links. I’ve lived all my adult life in cities (Bristol before Perth) and I wouldn’t be without it. I’d rather compromise space. If I lived in the country I’d reassess…
Haha, I love London public transport despite the many frustrations. At least it’s frequent! And it’s getting a lot better. When I first used to go to London there were plenty of awkward-to-get-to bits, but it’s all a lot more connected these days…
I would like to live car-free and hope to one day. I do have a car at the moment but don’t use it much. I fill up every six weeks or so. I work from home mostly and live close to the farmer’s market and grocery store. When I lived in Toronto, I didn’t need a car. The public transit there is very good. You can take a street car to the subway and get anywhere from there. But here in Northern California, public transit is almost non-existent (it’s better in San Francisco, just north of me). And with the high-tech economy booming in Silicon Valley, the traffic is just unbearable. I would have to leave if I had to commute to work. And you’re right about the zero-emissions nonsense of electric cars. Unless you have solar panels on your roof to charge the car up, your car produces emissions.
If you want to, then I’m sure you will : ) Where do you drive to when you do use your car? Sounds like you’ve got all the important things close by, at least!
Do you think the public transport situation will improve where you live?
Right now, I couldn’t justify an electric car. Part of me wants to be an early adopter and encourage manufacturers to build more, but realistically, there’s not enough charging stations, I wouldn’t be able to go far enough (we’d still need to hire a car for holidays), I don’t have solar panels and I don’t have 40k to “donate” to the cause!
I guess most of the driving is kid-related. I try to carpool with the other moms when possible.
Public transport simply has to improve here. The population keeps growing, as does the congestion. Some companies like Google and Facebook provide shuttle buses for employees but that’s hardly going to solve the problem. We have a main 6-lane street that goes through the entire area and it needs a trolley or streetcar. That would make a huge difference. But people are in love with their cars here. Oh and if driverless cars take off, that will just put more cars on the road :(
I would prefer an electric car too but they are still very expensive. I don’t have solar panels either. Good luck with your decision (or non-decision).
The roads in Australia are so big and spacious and there are so many lanes, I’m astounded compared to what they are like in the UK. And people moan about congestion here! I have an American friend, and she thinks the road infrastructure is small in Australia, and we need more lanes! She’s told me about the car culture over there – I don’t think I’d like it at all!
I haven’t heard of driverless cars, and I don’t think i want to know : /
Oh Google is developing driverless cars. I see the prototype driving all over town! Someone sits behind the wheel but the car drives itself. Apparently they will be safer and lead to fewer accidents, but, at the risk of sounding like a self-flagellating ascetic, we need less luxury and more public transit! You would NOT like the car culture here. People (not all people) weigh their self-worth based on what they drive. It’s sad. I see a guy driving Ferrari and I think, well…that he’s compensating for a short-coming, literally. My kids say I’m too judgmental, but why else do people spend a quarter of a million dollars on a car???!!! Teslas at least are electric…still polluting, but electric. Anyway, I will stop my rant…
Do they really think driverless cars will catch on? I’m not convinced. I find it strange that people spend so much on cars, but then people spend a lot on things that I struggle to understand…
I think car-judging works both ways. If I had any car other than an old banger, I think my friends would raise their eyebrows and say, oh, I didn’t think she was the type! ; )
This is an interesting one in our household. When my boyfriend and I moved in together we both had a car (his family live 2 hours south of Perth and he regularly visits for holidays/birthdays/etc and I play a sport that requires a fair bit of equipment and training is often difficult to get to via public transport). For a few years we’ve been a two car household but lately I’ve been noticing we almost never drive both at the same time so we’ve got a wasteful pile of metal sucking funds permanently in our car port (let alone the fact we park the second car in visitor bays up the back of the lot). By the time the new place is built we are aiming to be a single car household (I don’t think we can be a zero car household just yet but maybe in the future, baby steps first) which will save about $1000 a year! I’m so impressed that you have continued to be car-free (and a little embarrassed to admit our current situation!).
Are you a two-car household because you both had cars before you lived together, and when you moved in you just never thought about it? I say get rid of the second car! Do it now! : ) Seriously though, if you’re committed to getting down to one car, set an end date. Tell all your friends. Tell everyone on here, too! Don’t use the other car, no matter what. You’ll not feel so dependent, and as the time gets closer people will ask and you’ll get sick of it, and be forced to act! My friend did this and it worked spectacularly for her. Just think what you could do with the money – not just the money you save, but the money you get for selling the other car!
Glen loves the idea of having a car-share at the new place. It would be awesome but I’m not sure how it would work. If people bring their own cars, it’s different to everyone clubbing together to get a communal car. I guess we’ll have to see who else moves in…
Thanks! Don’t be embarrassed, everyone’s circumstances are different. You’ll get there if you want to! : )
It’s simply because we both had a car before living together (although it has been quite a while before we have even started to think about reducing by one), and I’m definitely more keen than him. And it won’t be as easy as just selling one as I don’t like his because it’s not very fuel efficient and he doesn’t think my little car is big enough. We have decided on a small number of more fuel efficient cars he likes the look of and are starting to look around for second hand ones. At least I’ve talked him this far, which is a win in my eyes. Just need to follow through and yes, I think the more people I tell the better :-)
Well it sounds like you’re making great progress – you’ve already come up with a plan! And started working towards it! All you need now is the end date… : p
I have been car-free for about 1 1/2 years now and I love it. Kind of like your husband, I feel it is part of my identity. I feel we live our lives in a series of ‘boxes’… our houses, our cars, our cubicles, our health clubs, big box retailers, etc…
I agree that is no such thing as a ‘green’ car, when you consider the entire lifecycle from extraction to disposal. Also, it takes an incredible amount of resources to build roads and keep up with urban sprawl, not to mention the safety issues, road rage and obesity epidemic. When using the triple bottom line philosophy of sustainability (people, profit, planet), our current car culture is not at all sustainable, regardless of the vehicle.
Good for you on living car free! You might enjoy this post:
Good for you! It’s so much nicer to be out and about, to see things and interact with people and the world : )
I didn’t even think about roads when I was writing this, but urban sprawl is a huge problem in Perth. They say the city of Perth is the same size as Greater London, but with just over a million people living here (compared to more than 8 million in Greater London). The suburbs just extend and extend and extend, and people drive and drive and drive… They are destroying a lot of native bush to build these new suburbs too [shudders]
Your link didn’t show up on your comment. Would you be able to share it again? Thanks!
Oops.. here you go!
I have to say no to this: we are not car-free. But to be honest.. we are thinking about selling it. On the other side.. the costs of our car are very low, the amount of money we probably get by selling is also very low and if we have to buy another one in the future..
We think we hold on to our so loved (tiny) sweetheart until the costs of a possible repair become too high.
Thanks for sharing this post!
Love from Holland
Hello and thanks for your comment! If you’re car is useful but not sellable, then I would keep it, look after it and try to squeeze as many more km out of it as you can before it dies. And in the meantime, prepare yourself for a car-free adventure once it’s gone! : )
Looks like it’s been awhile for this one, but I felt I needed to chime-in. In many of the places We have lived, there has been almost no infrastructure for cycling, and some very bad attitudes toward it. I even was fired from a job for trying to get a more secure way to park my bicycle! What makes our situation unique is that since my wife stays home with the kids, we really couldn’t afford a car if we wanted one. We have tried, and found it too expensive because of upkeep and insurance. I currently use a sidecar motorcycle for most of my commuting and running-around. We plan to get cargo bicycles, but it will be awhile, because they are not cheap, and the used market for them is also non-existent. We had some nice English three-speeds at one point, but when I lost that job a mile down the road from home, a new job came with a move and we didn’t have the room or ability to use them anymore.