Living car-free

Trisha of LGRAB, very recently wrote an interesting post of being forced to live without her car for a short period and she evaluated the pros and cons that she experienced.

It made me think of my own experience.

I have a driving license and I drive occasionally when I need it either by borrowing a car (usually my mum’s and on a couple of occasions, friends’) or hiring one.

When I moved to Manchester, in my teens, we drove from Italy with our little family car, which had been in the family since I was 11. A delightful Lancia Y10, like the one shown below 🙂

{Image sourced from Google Images}

I learnt to drive with it, and although I had my very own car for a brief period, when my mother moved back to Italy I was left the cute Y10.

I drove it till 2006. I can’t deny to having loved every minute of owning it and driving it, it held many happy memories and it was my link back to my life back home.

In 2006 it packed up! Arrggghhh… I felt really sad! (which is sad in itself, I know, it’s just a car)…

Anyhow, to cut the story short, I decided to have a go living car-free, but not without plenty of worries and doubts:

– Would I feel limited in where I could go?

– Would I lose my ‘freedom’?!

– I’d have to get used to ‘smelly’ buses and trains!

You get the picture.

What I realised with time, is that it’s all about habit and getting used to things. Living in the city makes living car-free rather easy actually, once you take the plunge to go for it!

And the money I have been saving by not owning a car is phenomenal! Having used an online calculator, I worked out that I save approx. £1500 a year! (calculator says £1800, but even a conservative £1500 estimate is still impressive. I have made some general assumptions btw). I inputted the data that I had and knew of my car usage (together with the budget I would have put aside to get a second had car) prior to going car-free.

Even when I need to a hire a car and even if I use few more taxis a year, I never ever come to spend £1500.

Of course, I am aware that I don’t have children, so perhaps that makes a difference (although I’d like to think that when we’ll need to start thinking about getting a family around we’ll make use of a cargo bike and not a car). Work wise I have always ensured that my employment was reachable by bike or bike+train. Like I said you adjust, and often the initial thought of ‘change’ is scarier than the change itself. And to be also totally honest, because there’s no need to feel coy about it, I do care about the environment and there’s no point in me encouraging others towards a low-carbon lifestyle or championing sustainability in my work if then I don’t ‘walk the walk’…

If to meet friends or participate in social activities I can’t get there by bike, a share a lift and pay towards my friend’s petrol. I find that it works well for both of us, I don’t feel like I am missing out and my friend enjoys the car company plus some money towards the ever expensive petrol.

But what I love most is that gone are the days of panicking when the car went wrong! You know, when you notice the engine making a strange noise? The gear box ‘grating’? The serpentine belt starting screeching? And that panic moment over the phone when your mechanic tells you the diagnosis and how much you have to fork out to fix it????? No, I really don’t miss those days!

And even despite the everyday grinds of potholes, angry drivers etc, I still love my bike(s) and now I wouldn’t swap cycling for any car in the world…. not, not even for that sexy Alfa Romeo 😉 Give me a sexier custom built Mercian or a vintage Bianchi any day!

Btw if you are wondering about my current cost of  owning two bikes, I can tell you that I take both Pashley and Dawes for a yearly service and they cost respectively £50 and £30. That certainly doesn’t burn a whole in my pocket!


13 responses to “Living car-free

  1. It’s nice to hear your perspective on this, having ‘recovered’ from prior car ownership versus my own experience of never going down the car ownership route. One thing I have to ask, did you really only do 1200 miles per year? That’s particularly low mileage, I’ve done over 3000 so far this year on my bike, and that’s just mostly getting around.

    • Good observation. I have kept some of my assumptions very conservative estimates (as I noted in the post), possibly used to do more, possibly not. I was already using buses to go to work etc… but even with conservative estimates the calculator is already showing a huge amount of money a year, so if someone does even more mileage, giving up the car would give them even more savings!

  2. They say what you never have you never miss.
    Well I was always going to get a car, got a provisional driving license and never did any more!
    So over the years the bike has been my normal way of getting about.
    But I do miss a car now, My friends and work colleagues, The news papers and TV all tell me about how expensive it is getting to run a car, How a 2 car family is now a 1 car family, the number of people who car share to come to work now is rising while the cost of a car sitting on a driveway because of the fuel prices costs the same and diminishes in value at the same pace.
    Yes I do miss out a lot on not having a car!

  3. Nice post LC & an interesting perspective.

    Would love to go car-free in our household, but as it still makes my commute to work much easier we’ve gone ‘car-lite’ instead if such a term exists! I use it for work. It’s use otherwise is for very rare occasions of transporting bulky items, for which if we didn’t have the car we would either get delivered or borrow/hire as you do.

    What I would offer is that throwing kids into the mix doesn’t necessarily mean a car is essential. We don’t live in the city, but amongst several towns within walking/cycling/bus/train distance. We send our kids to a local school to which they walk.

    I do our bulky shopping on the bicycle. Wend’ does regular bits in between on foot. We don’t bother with a freezer as a result because we don’t have the need.

    The point is…like most other people we have most amenities within reasonably easy reach and despite the hills & occasionally crappy weather, functioning without resorting to the car isn’t difficult…and in most instances is more enjoyable.

  4. ‘What I would offer is that throwing kids into the mix doesn’t necessarily mean a car is essential.’

    It certainly doesn’t. Many thousands of children in the city of Manchester live in car free households even now.

    However, since I left university in the early 80s I’ve known quite a few eco-concerned people who’ve made a bit of a thing about being car free. It’s usually a phase which ends when children come along, and now I’m quite used to seeing some of these people buying cars for their children when they pass the test.

    Maybe things will change if petrol becomes ever more expensive, but cycling and being green do tend to be interests of the better educated, and as these people tend to earn more it’s usually only a matter of time before this not only turns into a taste for more expensive bikes but also more cars, more car travel and more travel of all kinds than most of the population.

    • Hi Ed. I quite like, and value greatly, your to-the-point and a tad cynical (am I allowed to say so? Hoping not to offend you, of course) views. But I think that in comments like this the risk of making sweeping, stereotypical statements is rather high. You are of course right, but not for all the ‘eco-concerned people’ as you put it, surely!

      I guess I am on of those ‘eco-concerned people’ and I can only say that I simply try to do my bit, not to stick my head into the sand and to question my own actions and decisions all the time.

      For example, I am Italian and all my family lives in Italy (apart from my mum) so I do take planes to go visit them, I never claim to be a eco-hero nor to be a villain. I do what I can do and I try to do a little more all the time 😉 With regard to children, I don’t have any. When, one day, I will, I hope to move onto a cargo bike and not a car. But never in my wildest dreams would I think of judging those people who make that decision.

      But I very much like the debates that you raise, they are very healthy!

      • I’m not cynical, just observant.

        It would have been cynical of me over the last 30 years or so to predict that nearly all the people I heard profess a desire to live a green eco-life, car free or whatever, would turn out to behave exactly the same as most people who said nothing at all on these matters.

        But I didn’t. I just saw what happened. In the long run these people have just as many cars, holidays, flights etc as their incomes allow, just like most other people.

        It happens in other spheres of life too. Many people who raged against privelege such as private schooling or medical care buy it themselves later on if finances permit. Couples ‘committed’ to living and working in the inner city move to the suburbs with good schools when children come along.

        I’ve never taken anyone to task for their changes of direction, merely noted it happens more often than not.

        I mention all this only because it I think it makes public planning very difficult. What people say and what they do are twoo different things. People claim they’ll use public transport if it is made better, but what they really jmean is they hope others will use it so the roads will be clearer for thier own cars. The same goes for government encouragement of cycling. It is usually a waste of time because most people just don’t want to do it and never will unless they are too poor to do anything else.

        Of course, I’m generalising again, and I’m sure that there are a few car free middle class people who stick to their principles, but compared to the number who start out with good intentions they are not a significant number.

      • I do not doubt that, unfortunately, people who try to live differently and go against the norm are the minority, but I trust that minority to inspire, hopefully, other people. Yes, many (most even) may be ‘middle class’ (as a non-British native, I am fascinated by the obsession this country has with classes, but that’s another story) but not all… again, I am not a fan of generalisation, in any context.

        As human beings we want to/ need to feel like we belong… we belong to a place, we belong to a group etc and going against what others do feels, for most, odd and uncomfortable. Is the status quo to own a car, I shall own a car! (that sort of thinking).

        I find the “pioneers, prospectors and settlers” theory (is it a ‘theory’? Not sure if that’s the right word) on social values very interesting. Pioneers will always be a very small minority, that doesn’t mean their actions/’tries’ are not important, on the contrary.

        And yes perhaps it’s quite utopian to think that with good public transport and good cycling infrastructure we will all hop off our car and join the more environmental mode of transport… but, hey, we can try, can’t we? Well, at least, I will. In my work and in my everyday life. Bearing in mind that I am open to the understanding that if you asked me again in, say, 20 years time I may think very differently about the matter… having had more experience in observing others around me.

        (you know?! Even Italy, with the all the political mess we are in, still has a cracking train transport system, which is not privatised, and a lot of people do use it, despite being a car-loving country too. Not to mention that if we look yet again at the usual model countries like Denmark, Norway etc the urban population that relies on their bikes and public transport outweighs those who rely on their cars, so I guess that good, affordable and accessible public transport can persuade people to move around their cities differently.)

  5. Hi ed,
    Their are a lot of fair points in your article and things have changed more due to money than considerations for the planet.
    I live in Cardiff and we have a massive amount of students amongst us with a fair spread of universities across the city.
    A few years ago it was laughable that the council put up signposts for the students to direct them to their uni’s and halls of residence as on these were the logo of a bike. If you passed some of the newer halls of residence where a huge amount of bike parking facilities had been installed you would have found the majority empty. The students came with their new cars and the streets around the student land filled with cars, people living in the area did not take their cars out after 6 o’clock as they knew they would never park again! and that is true. Taxi’s just waited for the students to return as well as they were such good business.
    Now the cars have diminished hugely, the bikes have taken over once again, the city centre has a lot of bike racks provided but these soon fill up.
    Why? well, in my opinion it is simple, Insurance costs for a new young driver are massive and the fuel costs accompanied by the costs to go to university and it is just over the top.
    Will this change? as it stands I don’t think so. Will the students be straight off to the car show rooms as soon as they leave uni? Well, their chances of getting a descent job after uni get less on a daily basis and a new generation of cyclists may well have a different outlook on the need for a car.
    So even if things improve on the jobs front (and we all hope they will) it will be interesting to see just how many take up the urge to have a car.

  6. I’m getting a feeling of deja-vu here – have you written a similar post before ?

    I agree with John’s point that money is the main motivator for the masses, and LC’s point that cars going wrong causes people to think – about both the expensive running costs and their dependency on the car (aka complete panic / feeling of inadequacy).
    It often only takes a short time spent getting about without a car for people to feel more empowered and in control of the situation than they could ever have imagined possible.

    Aged 18-20 something I used to regularly drive over 1000 miles a week, butt also used to take a month or two off driving when the insurance/mot/tax ran out. My little attempt to keep it real and have a break from ‘the fast life’. (And maybe a way to get some lift favours paid back!)

    Now, 20 something years after passing my test, I haven’t driven my own car for 30ish months… but still haven’t sold or scrapped it…
    Maybe I’m still feeling dependent!

  7. Ciao bella!

    I guess it is the deplorable state of railway travel in the UK that makes it unfeasable for you to take the train to visit your family in Italy? Sometimes train buff Man in Seat Sixty-One does have good railway travel schemes:

    Unfortunately I have no choice but to take the plane if I want to see those dear to me in Europe. I live in Montréal Québec and have never owned or driven a car in my life, and I’m in my 50s. Alas it is hard to be consistently environmentalist.

    Have you got a carshare scheme in Manchester? Ours here was founded by a friend of mine who died in 2007, the deeply regretted champion of urban cycling Claire Morissette, who also founded the charity Cyclo-Nord-Sud, which collects unused bicycles and ships them to countries in the global South, where the charity contributes to training bicycle mechanics who make these cycles available to people through community development schemes.

  8. Going car free is the ideal. Living much closer to work can save you enormous amounts of money (no gas, no insurance, no maintenance costs, no oil changes, etc.). I am currently experimenting with the intention of going totally car free in 2 years. It is challenging, but entirely possible in my estimation. Better still, get a job as a transit bus driver in your locale and get free fare for life. For me that is $84 CDN dollars per month ($1008/yr). Why not? Get the most fro less…cycling is KING!

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