Friday, May 23, 2008

Contemplating the car-free lifestyle

When I was a teenager, I dreamed of the day I would get my driver's license. Driving meant freedom, the ability to go where you wanted when you wanted, without asking anyone for permission. I've owned a car since the day I graduated high school, and I've never even considered the possibility of not owning one... until now.

I don't have to tell you about gas prices. But with the cost of driving increasing daily, our family is forced to take a good hard look at whether or not driving is actually necessary. After all, we live in a big city. There's a bus that stops at the end of our street; there are at least six more buses that run within three to four blocks of our house. A mile away is the mass transit hub of our part of the city, with buses and trains coming and going every minute of every day. In addition to public transit, there are taxi companies and the up-and-coming Philly Car Share. We also own bicycles. And within walking distance, we have a supermarket, a CVS, several restaurants, bars, stores, banks, hair salons... So honestly, having a car is really more of a luxury than a necessity for our family.

And what an expensive luxury it is -- for us, the monthly cost of driving, including car payment, car insurance, and gas (I've conservatively estimated six fill-ups per month at the going rate), is about $740 per month. That doesn't count parking, or routine maintenance like oil changes, car washes, etc, or big expenses like the new battery we needed two weeks ago, or traffic tickets from someone in my household's tendency to run red lights (ahem). So it's really over $800, on average, per month. (And we just have one small, fuel-efficient car.) In comparison, an unlimited pass for our mass transit system costs $78 per person, per month. (Single-ride tokens are only $1.45.)

So, for the first time in my adult life, I'm really considering the possibility of not owning a car. I know it will make some things more of a hassle, and I won't be able to just hop in the car and go somewhere at a moment's notice. But at the same time, maybe it will force me to make a concious effort to be more organized, to make do with what I have, and to appreciate my surroundings.

If you'll permit me, I also have an Eckhart Tolle-influenced observation to share. As I drive around the city, I notice how much of the act of driving has to do with the ego. I'm not talking about luxury cars, premium gas, or even my big pet peeve, gas-guzzling SUVs, but things I'm guilty of, like impatience, speeding, not letting someone cut in front, road rage, talking on the cell phone while driving, etc. Sitting in traffic stresses us out. Everybody's in a Big Hurry, and everybody wants to be First. I know that the guy who rear-ended me in March was driving with his ego -- he was in a Big Hurry and couldn't wait ten seconds so I could let the pedestrians cross; instead he tried to to go around me, wound up underestimating how much space he needed, and crashed into my car. Maybe if everyone slowed down and took a walk, or took the bus, every once in a while, instead of being in such a Big Hurry, we could become less impatient, less competitive, more aware of the world around us... Okay, maybe I'm dreaming, but at least it might reduce some of our stress and make us happier people overall.

Or maybe it's just me. But having an extra $800 in the bank every month sounds really good right about now...

5 comments:

Misty said...

i SOOOO Get it. Where we live, and where my husband works- it is NOT AT ALL Feesable to have a car free lifestyle- but we have more than reduced the amount we use our cars. We have vowed never to buy new again. We still owe on one of our cars, and once we are done with our michigan mess, plan on paying it off as soon as possible.
we have certainly grown up in regards to this...

songbird1083 said...

You know me Ms. "never turns down a free ride" Becca. But, I agree with you wholeheartedly. People always ask me why I don't drive.

Um, I'm lucky I can pay my rent and still have enough $ left over to maybe buy a pizza, and I'm supposed to shell out the bucks for a car and ALL the expenses just because it's what everyone wants me to do? Screw that!

So I have to leave my house an hour earlier than you do to get to the same place. At least I have time to read my book/do my suduku and unwind. Beats the heck outta cussin' and fussin' in traffic.

Ty-Anna said...

I must say that I agree with you 100%. Our insurance isn't too high, my car doesn't have a payment, but my husband's does (and it hurts...we just counted only 7 months to go). I have seriously considered for myself to not get rid of my car (I work 1/2 hour away and there's NO public transit or carpooling opportunities) BUT for any trip I absolutely do NOT need to drive but can walk, use public transportation or ride my bike (will have to get that wide seat, LOL)...I must make that change. Otherwise I have been mostly staying home and riding with friends to events they too are attending all in the effort to save money. $20 in the tank is like putting $5 just 2 years ago...sucks.

Thanks for this post really has me thinking and fired up!

Anne said...

If you can do it, I say GOOD FOR YOU! DH has an hour-each-way commute to work, and in a small town, we don't have public transportation, so we seem stuck as a two car family. We are, however, blessed to have no car payments (thank you, Goddess!) and reasonable insurance rates (small Midwest town advantage); even so, I'm continually looking for ways to cut back on driving - for gas and for the environment. So, I'm combining errands, walking more - and, today, I bought a bike (I haven't ridden a bike in over 20 years!)!

Anne said...

So...what decision did your contemplations lead to? :)