I recently completed my eighth year without a car and I’m not missing them
When I tell people I no longer own a car and why, there are typically two reactions. There is the expected ‘really?’ and the unexpected ‘I wish I could do that’. The latter is the more common response, which I really didn’t see coming. When I break down my logic in making the choice, everyone understands the why of it. It is the how that takes some time to sink in.
300 miles a month
I had a very nice car that was coming off a three year lease. I was considering buying it until I started looking at the numbers. I no longer needed it to get to work as I had transitioned to working remotely much of the time. As a result it was only getting used for short hops to buy groceries, etc. I live in a city, Rochester, NY, with the shortest average commute times in the country for a city its size, averaging less than 15 minutes from anywhere to anywhere. My last commute was twelve miles and it took me about fifteen minutes, during rush hour. Commuting, for the average driver, is where most people rack up the miles. When that went away, I found myself down to 300 miles a month. After three years of a lease, I’d only racked up 21,000 miles of my 36k allotment. When I added it up it made no sense financially to plunk down a big chunk of cash for the car. So I decided to try going without one. I promised myself that if I ever wanted or needed one I would go out and buy another one.
In hindsight it looks like I was subconsciously preparing for this for awhile
After a relationship ended that involved a house in the suburbs, I couldn’t wait to get back into the center of our urban downtown, where I could walk to things. My gradual transition to remote work eliminated that commute, which freed up time and money. I do not have children or grandchildren, which would have been a big factor. And I am an environmentalist who understood very early how the fossil fuel economy was destroying our way of life. So, the decision was relatively easy to get to.
Being single, I wondered how being carless would impact my dating life. Would I look like a hopeless loser or someone hiding a DWI conviction? I’m happy to say that there was only one instance where it was a problem because a woman I liked a lot didn’t see how it could work over the long run with her firmly ensconced in the burbs with two boys, a place that was really unreachable without a car. This was pre-ride sharing, which was a game-changer when it finally reached my city. I have regrets about that one, but I also doubt it would have lasted, knowing her priorities (we have remained friends but she took a job in a nearby city shortly after we gave up so…).
My lease payment was around $400 a month. Add in gas and insurance, and even with my low miles, I was saving about $600 a month. That buys a lot of cab rides and even more Lyft rides. Freeing up $7200 a year in after tax income was a factor that didn’t hurt things! And I realized that if I wanted to take a trip I could rent a car.
These days I walk an average of four miles a day, a combination of getting around and keeping fit. My consciousness as a pedestrian has evolved and it is very apparent that we have a serious problem with distracted driving. Unlike drunk driving, which is actually going down because of Uber and Lyft, distracted driving is 24/7. I’ve learned not to assume anyone sees me at intersections even if they appear to be looking right at me. I want a physical acknowledgement that they are aware of me.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that many drivers don’t have a clue how to drive. They don’t know or care about right of way, they don’t signal, and a surprising number have a seriously hard time backing out of parking places. And then there are the hilarious examples of people trying to parallel park who display a blatant ignorance of geometry while maneuvering!
The other pedestrian thing that depresses me are people, mostly adolescents, who walk down the sidewalk with a phone permanently planted about two inches from their face. I have been walked into more than once by these idiots. Sigh.
The end of private car ownership?
It is a stated goal of both Uber and Lyft, to end private car ownership by replacing it with transportation on demand. Elon Musk recently announced that when their cars become fully autonomous, they will stop selling them to individuals because renting them out 24/7 turns them into money machines. And all those parking spaces we covet as Americans? Cars in use 24/7 don’t require parking spaces, which frees up enormous amounts of urban land currently covered with asphalt and generating heat in summer while requiring plowing in winter. Turning these into green space will have a marked environmental impact.
It’s easier for me to be less skeptical than many about these predictions because of no longer being a car owner. I’m personally experiencing the liberation it can offer, but understand that it will be a challenge for many. I’m optimistic. Now if they could just fix public transit…