*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

"How did you get started with getting rid of your vehicle?"

A good question was just asked me by 'SusieTron FiveThousand':
Just a wee bit curious, how did you get started with getting rid of your vehicle. I honest to god live 2 miles from where I work and I think I could do quite fine without driving if I purchase a bike I think. Our pub trans system here sucks especially for what would be my route.
It is hard to give her advice, as I do not know if where she lives is urban, suburban or rural.  I am not even sure what country she lives in.  I hope she responds to this post and gives a bit more detail, but not enough to compromise her privacy.

The hyperlinks in this paragraph go to posts I have made.  I became 'car free' out of carelessness and financial necessity, though I'd always suspected car ownership was a racket.  Not only would it be dishonest to portray myself as a paragon of environmental and social virtue, but that's a useless sell.  Once I quit, or anyone quits, the benefits were legion.  Among these are your health and pocket-book, but also getting a better sense of your city, and a more reliable way of getting home in a disaster.  After having to walk home 12km from Tokyo when the trains were stopped, following the Tohoku Earthquake, I will not live further than a half-marathon's distance from work.

Besides habituation to an automotive lifestyle, the biggest obstacle to commuting by bicycle any great distance is a lack of showering facilities at work, which is the norm.  Of my six most recent positions, only one has had a shower; or I should say, four of six have had showers, and three of those four showers were made inaccessible to staff by school principals for no better reason than small mindedness.  But do not let me get started on the type of teacher most commonly attracted to that authority...  I am afraid none of the work arounds are ideal: gym membership, if one is near your office; washing out of a sink; riding more slowly, if you have the time...

There are people far more durable than me without car ownership.  I have done it in Tokyo, where it is unremarkable and easy; Toronto, where it is remarkable, but not too difficult with a bike, transit and a car-share membership; Montreal during university, which is the only Canadian city where it is easy; Toronto's suburbs, where my lifestyle and social-standing were severely impinged; and St. Catharines, Ontario, which was entirely miserable - but any life in that inbred hinterland is.

Feet and bikes have been around a long time, as has transit, but the car-ownership killer is car-share: Zipcar, Autoshare, or whatever company your city has.  If you can commute without a car, there is no reason ever to own one.  Hell, even if you need to use a traditional rental agency from time to time, there is no reason.  Let's do some 'back of the envelope' math:

Average annual N.American cost of car ownership, including depreciation, insurance et alia: $9000 US/CAD

Living the most luxurious and mobile life, without owning a car, annually: $7700
- transit pass: $1200
- increased bicycle expenses for a better bike, maintainance, etc.: $1000
- taxis: $500
- renting a car once every week from a rental agency: $5000

I in no way spent that much money, but even if I did I would be ahead more than a thousand dollars, and be able to drink any evening I'd like.  The truth of my expenses in Toronto was more like this: $3250
- transit tickets (as I did not need a pass): $600
- increased bicycle expenses for a better bike, maintainance, etc.: $600
- taxis: $250?
- renting a car twice every month from Autoshare: $1800

Shall I mention that I never bought a gym membership: $1000/yr?

Reason and emotion both should convince one to give up the car: getting to your perfect BMI with no extra work is icing.


  1. I got rid of my car because I was living in the inner city and had nowhere close by to park it. The tram stop was just outside my door so I'd catch the tram instead.

    I'm living in the outer suburbs now and we have a car (although planning to get rid of it in April when the rego expires). The only advantage to having it is that we can go to the "nice" dog park rather than the ones near home where people have their rottweilers off the lead! Plus my sister is still recovering from her op so is not very mobile.

    But we survived 2/3 years (2 for me, 3 for my sister) in the burbs with very inadequate public transport. Very rarely take cabs because most of the cabbies here are freaken creepy and I don't feel safe with them.

    We have a granny style wheelie bag and would take that on the bus to the market once a week and do all our shopping - limiting shopping to once a week saves heaps too. Sometimes we do internet shopping for large grocery items (dog food etc). And we have a "rent-a-bomb" nearby that has car hire for $24 a day.

    1. There is a place for cars, such as for your sister, but most people use them either from habit, sloth, or to move away from anyone 'different' in society, to get a house in a pablum suburb.

      Taking transit and cabs have different equations for women than for men, I am afraid. I have a daughter en route for birth in January. I'll be teaching her to take a cell phone photo of every cab driver's licence, and texting it to me. I'll tell her to ask first, and blame it on her 'paranoid father'. If they don't like it, take the next cab. I should hope most would take the attitude that any decent man would: you do whatever you need to do.

      Grocery shopping even in a city is a chore without a car. We used a car-share agency once a week for that. Now with a family of four, if I can avoid buying, I may try to do all the heavy lifting by Internet grocery shopping.

    2. Apparently a company here has developed a phone app that tracks you on gps and, if you hit the alarm button, sends the details to the cops. I'm not sure that helps you or just helps them find the unmarked grave given police response times here.

    3. I think it might help if you tell the guy his car is already being tracked, so his best bet is to let you out. Also, why I want my daughter to ask to take the photo before she gets in the car, is a predator would look for easier game, not that I want anyone else harmed...

  2. BMI is good. So really the choices to go with bike riding are not weight related but I would benefit from the exercise (and be able to axe the gym which I have only been a member of for shy of a year).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria,_California is where I live. And I am on the west side before you hit the ocean of agriculture fields. The bus routes don't really run down that street in the direction I need and I would most likely need to detour for fear of getting hit by ag trucks, about half a mile on that road has no shoulder and hitting a bike rider round here isn't a stiff a penalty as other places. Unless you kill someone and even then if you have a clean driving record you are looking at manslaughter and roughly 2 years in prison.

    1. Good god, is there anywhere with a better climate for year round bike commuting than southern California? Use what detours you need to be safe. BTW: those penalties are much stiffer than in Canada, which are essentially none.