How To Live Without A Car

This year, I sold my car. Flackback to five years ago, when my last car was totalled: I was in a panic at the thought of being carless for even one weekend, let alone the rest of my life. My insurance didn’t cover me getting a rental, so I spent that weekend searching relentlessly for a car, finally settling on my latest, and possibly last, car—which I promptly named Petunia (after Petunia Pig, the cartoon character that Porky the Pig dates). The name I chose might have been a foreshadowing of my car’s future with me, considering what a sideline cartoon character Petunia turned out to be! Unlike my last car, Petunia didn’t get into a wreck, and she didn’t break down either. I sold her because I’m trying to save money to travel, or to buy my own house, and I knew that she was standing in the way of my dreams. And–with regret that this wasn’t my first reason for selling her–I don’t want to try to offset my car’s pollution by buying trees, and I don’t want to try to pretend I’m filling my car with candy and licorice when I fill up at the pump. I don’t want to be part of the system that sends troops to war to fight for oil. I worry about the future of our planet, and now, standing on the sidelines, it seems like there are even more cars than people sometimes. Top that all off with the fact that I am now, again, living in a major city with ample methods of public transportation, and a car just seemed like an excuse to indulge in convenience.

Living without a car gets me outside—most days. But better than that: it makes me feel like a traveler. I almost never rent a car when I’m traveling, and I end up a pedestrian in every strange, new place I go—so being carless in my hometown holds a lingering feeling of being a world traveler, which I adore. And really, that feeling of being a traveler—it’s true, even when you’re deeply rooted in one place, a space you call home—you’re just a temporary visitor here on earth. No one gets to stick around forever—might as well take some good long walks and get to know where you are more intimately.

So, how can you live without a car? I’m a walking (literally!) example of how:

  • you make up your mind to get rid of it, and you just–sell it. Or donate it to a charity that accepts cars, if you’re feeling especially generous (or you have a real clunker of a car). It helped me to make the decision by making a list of all the expenses my car included—gas money, upkeep, DMV registrations and smog checks, and car insurance. I figured that as long as I spend less than $5.50 per day on public transportation, I will be saving money over the long-haul. And many days, I don’t spend a dime.
  • Make good friends with google maps—you’re going to need it! There’s a public transportation mode right there, ready to give you sometimes-accurate information about the timing of the next bus heading your way. Better yet, download Nextbus, a superb app that I almost always forget that I have installed on my phone.
  • Buy a good pair—or three—of walking shoes.
  • Give yourself ample time to get from place to place. It might slow your life down—but in this fast-paced world, is that really a bad thing? I find that I either don’t plan so many events in one day, or make sure I have lots of podcasts loaded onto my ipod so I don’t get bored during the commute.
  • Get ready to see more varied people on your commute. I especially enjoy the fellows on the BART who breakdance for spare change. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, and I miss the comfort of sitting inside my very own box, traveling down the road as fast as can be—usually singing my heart out along to my radio. But that seems to me to be a way of thinking independently. By being out in the world more on public transport, you get a chance to build community. Yesterday, an older couple fell on the BART—they didn’t take their seats before the BART started moving, and down they toppled. Luckily, they weren’t hurt. What shocked me almost as much as seeing them falling was the immediate reaction from my fellow commuters—no less than five people rushed to help them stand up and get to their seats. Sure, there’s the flipside—you might feel more vulnerable, and you might actually be more vulnerable, being around so many people all the time. But you can’t see the good in people from the freeway.
  • Buy a bike—or, like me, tune up the one you had but weren’t using.
  • Be prepared to give up some options for places to visit—unless you’re more willing than me to spend money on Uber or Lyft. Just today, I found an advertisement for a grocery store I’ve never visited, but when I looked them up—they’re an hour walk from me. But there are so many ways around this, if you really care to investigate, such as instacart. There are solutions to every problem that come up when you find yourself living without a car. I’ve been surprised to find people who are willing and interested in carpooling to events, even when I tell them I don’t have a car and we’ll have to use theirs. Sharing a ride means another chance to connect with another person. Just yesterday I carpooled with a woman to a meeting, and along the way, we shared some of our highs and lows in life. I wouldn’t have gotten to know her so well if we hadn’t spent that time commuting together.

I have shifted my view about cars, but I haven’t divorced myself from them altogether. I’ve been using Lyft and Uber like it’s going out of style for the past month, mostly because of: convenience. It’s inconvenient to have to walk in the 100 degree heat a half-mile to the grocery store—but it’s the most sensical thing to do, really (unless you have a bike, or don’t mind waiting for the local bus.) I also take public transportation, which still uses fossil fuels a large percent of the time. So I am definitely not saying “look at how I’m not using any fossil fuels!” I don’t pretend to think that I’m better at living in this crazy mixed-up world than anyone else. I just know that if I can go from being so dependent on my car, to not having one, then anyone can. It seems to me that it’s a very viable option, especially in the big cities—and as more people get rid of their cars, there will be more demand to get better public transportation to all those hard-to-reach (on public transport!) areas.

I haven’t committed to living without a car forever, but I would like to see how long I can hold out. Perhaps by the time I’m ready to buy another car, there will be an option that won’t run on fossil fuels at all, with an app that lets me co-own my car with several people. Or maybe, those hoverboards from Back to the Future will finally be invented, and I won’t ever need a car again.

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