Living without a family car

It has been three years since we dispensed with the family car and I don’t regret it, not even a little bit. Car ownership is governed by the same law that rules chocolate: when there’s chocolate in the fridge it will be eaten and when there’s a car in the garage it will be driven, even for trips that don’t require a car.

How much money have we saved? It’s hard to put a figure on it but What Price puts the cost of car ownership at £2,500/year which is £7,500 for three years. We are members of a car club and we probably spend £1,000/year on that so overall we’ve saved around £4,500. This is not counting the health benefits. Some people spend hundreds of pounds a month on gym membership but because we walk and cycle everywhere we don’t have an exercise budget. I’m sure we’re also healthier thanks to active lifestyles and this likely costs society less. We’re also polluting less – not counting my farts – which similarly costs the community less. The car club has lots of electric and hybrid cars and we almost always book one of those.

One of the biggest and often forgotten benefits of dispensing with the family car is the space it frees up. Car parks are 2m x 5m which is 10m2. There are around 31 million cars in the UK and unless we figure out how to master Ant-man shrinkage every single one of those cars requires a parking space. That’s 310 million square metres of space set aside in this country just for cars. That’s obscene.

Some people ask me what I do when I need the doctor and I simply walk or cycle there. I even walked to the hospital once. If I were really unwell I’d catch a cab or an ambulance. What about groceries? Everything can be delivered to your  home these days. It’s called internet shopping. What about school? Make the kids walk. It’ll make them smarter. What about the rain? Wear a rain coat! There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

14 Comments

  1. I wish I had the gumption to do that. I’m older than you and the habit of cars is completely ingrained. I have two sitting out front and my older, more sedentary lifestyle means the cars sit most of the time. I do work on the house a good bit and feel I need my 20-year-old Camry to buy supplies and haul junk to the dump; though I could sub that out. That car cost me little to keep. My second car is new and I got it so the missis would have a safe vehicle to drive. She likes to walk and does most of our shopping walking to the local stores. That car sits most of the time and it took a chunk of change to put it and keep it there. My son and his wife have cars but they use Uber for all their short haul trips. Their cars are the only practical way they have to get to work though they both work from home much of the time. I can see that the day is not far off for doing without a car though it will be your generation that truly makes it happen.

    1. Are there any car clubs near you? The car club has definitely made it easier. They even have vans you can book if you want to shift large items from one place to another. Once I also booked a 7-seater when my parents were visiting and we all wanted to go somewhere together. Having the choice of several different car types is really useful. We use Co-Wheels – http://www.co-wheels.org.uk – but I think there are several others like it in the UK.

  2. I spoke to a friend about how you do this 🙂 It really inspired him. I know long term I really want to live in a city or in a neighborhood in a city where I don’t need a car. The US is so crap with this.

    1. That makes me so happy to hear that someone else is inspired by my car-free life.

      It’s liberating to live without a car. I love it. It’s also nice to never have to vacuum a car ever again 🙂

  3. This is really interesting! I haven’t used a car, and don’t even drive but where we live now, we need a car sadly. Well, don’t _need_ more “it would cut our travel times by 80% for a week”. For the car club – is there a minimum joining time? like could you join for a month and see how much you use it, then cancel if needed? I couldn’t see anything on the pricing page

  4. I don’t have a car – my other half does though, and guess what – it sits on the drive most of the time. She used to be much better about cycling to school, but of course now the weather is getting colder – doing exactly what you said – driving, because the car is there.

    1. Your wife is not the only one. Yesterday there was a lot of snow here and the traffic was way worse. Everyone chooses the car when the weather is bad but we walked to school and the kids loved it because they were so excited about the snow.

  5. I gave up my car in 2008. Back then the Car Club had two cars in Cambridge, now they have about 10, including a van. I do wish they’d start offering electric vehicles (or at least hybrids). I just checked my statements and I drove 7 times this year spending about £400 (just for me)

    With regard to shopping, I used to do a “big shop” where I’d buy non-perishable bulky staples in bulk – things like breakfast cereal, loo rolls, washing up liquid, etc every two months or so. That meant I would have a reduced weekly shop that I could do on the bike. I still do that pattern, but the “big shop” is now online, and I still go into stores and browse.

    Like Rachel, I find not having a car liberating rather than stifling, but my car club does insist the car is returned nice and clean, so I have had to vacuum (or sweep them clean) after a trip to the garden centre !!

    1. Which car club are you with? I guess it’s a different one to the one I use which is Co-wheels. Well done on giving up the car so long ago. Almost 10 years! Cambridge is an easy place to live without a car.

      1. Rachel, I’m with ZipCar. It’s really big in London and used to be called StreetCar before it was bought by the American car club that it was inspired by. Its a shame that there’s no choice in most areas since the potential market is so small.

        Yeah, Cambridge is a very compact city, with good cycle infrastructure and, on the whole, considerate car drivers. Since you lived here, we have gained a new train station; “Cambridge North” and the new rail white paper published by the government appears to greenlight another one – “Cambridge South” – by the new Addenbrokes/ bio-medical campus.

        I don’t see myself ever going back to car ownership: when cycling becomes too arduous I will get myself an e-bike.

      2. Yes, I don’t ever see myself going back to car ownership either. If anything it will be an e-bike. How do you know I used to live in Cambridge? You are right but I don’t recall mentioning it.

      3. Don’t worry, I’m not stalking you !!

        You did mention living in Cambridge on your blog, I think in a post about your new bike, which, if I recall, you’d seen when you were in Cambridge. Obviously (since I live here) it stuck in my memory …

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