For the first time in more than a decade we do not own a car. During the autumn last year, the car we shared with some friends went to meet its breaker – the cost of repair too high for a car worth so little.
At that point we decided to experiment, how about we not replace the car and live without one? Sure, let’s give it a month and see how we go. Four months later, we’re still experimenting but no one is talking about buying a new car.
I appreciate that for billions of people the idea of a life without owning a car is very much reality, their aspiration is to one day own one and if they do then they’re on the up in life. I suspect, however, that for most of the people reading this only the second half of that last sentence is true.
There are a number of reasons why we were willing to try a car-free life. Here are our reasons:
- Environmental: Cars are big polluters and no one gets an award even if you own a Prius or an electric car, given the environmental cost of simply making the thing.
- Status: I’ve seen enough pastors size up each other’s cars to know that what we drive gives us status and identity. It certainly did for me, when a motorbike was my transport of choice. Of course, now we get to be proud about not having a car but it’s just one less thing in our lives (and often a pretty big and expensive thing at that) that is defining us.
- Cost: The first two reasons may make us sound heroic but honestly this was the topic that really motivated the discussion. Most people don’t know how much it costs them to run and own a car but when we did the maths it was a significant sum of not alot of money. We need to rent a garage space, insurance, MOT, running costs, congestion charges, plus the set of winter tyres you need in Sweden, plus of course petrol. It’s several thousand pounds just to own an old banger and it’s only getting more expensive. You can go quite a long way on that kind of money.
- Alternatives: This is the big one. In Stockholm we have alternatives – we realised that even though we owned a car we weren’t using it that much because the alternatives were more convenient. There’s an excellent bus, tram, train and underground network which is being expanded and invested in. Not only that but we own these things called bikes and I cycle to work and we cycle around for fun. Cycling the 12km to work is cheaper, healthier and sometimes quicker than if I was driving a car.
- Living local: We live in walking distance from shops, schools & abundant amenities as well as forest and the great outdoors. We’re just a few minutes walk from a bus hub and the underground network, we’re 15 minutes walk from the train network. This means we can live local, reducing the need to use a car.
- We still access cars: Part of our alternatives is well, the car. We no longer own a car but we don’t lead a car-free life, not only is that not-likely anytime soon, I’m not sure it’s even what we’re aiming for. We use car pools, occasionally borrow (and contribute to their cost) a friend’s car and would hire a car for longer periods if we needed it. For most people, most of the time the car they are paying for is not moving. Sharing and being smarter with car ownership makes a lot of sense.
There are a few challenges. Moving around as a family requires a bit more planning. The convenience of just getting in the car has gone and I suspect that convenience is worth a lot to many busy people, but because we have alternatives (and I realise how fortunate that makes us) the loss of convenience is rarer nor as hard to overcome than we thought. I could even spin it to say not-owning a car helps us develop our organisational and planning skills.
So far not owning a car means we have more money, live more simply, are healthier and better organised (sometimes). What’s not to like?