We live in a location where we can get to most places via public transit or by walking, but we're very used to using our car to go shopping or to my parent's place in the suburbs. We're thinking of waiting a few more years to sell our car, but I'm already getting sick of paying for insurance and dealing with maintenance issues.
People who have owned a car, but decided to get rid of it: what was the transition like? What do you do if you have an emergency or need to run to the store in the middle of the night? How do you haul large stuff around? Do you hate it…or ist it awesome? -Jessi
Yay! Public transit is one of my favorite topics, and one I try to regularly delve into on Offbeat Mama. My husband and I have lived years without a car, years with a car — and experienced both situations with and without our son. Let's dig in!
Sean (husband in question) and I ditched our car for bicycles in 2007. We lived on-campus, a bus took students to the grocery store every Friday night, and we always had friends who were happy to cart us to and fro if we were all going somewhere that required a vehicle. Our university had a nurse on-staff, so if we had mild health concerns we could visit her. Even though our city of Huntsville, Alabama's public transit wasn't the best (the bus ran Monday-Friday, 6am-6pm, once an hour), we were able to take the bus downtown, to the library, etc. I got pregnant in August 2008, and we kept using the bus and/or bikes — it was what we were used to.
We loved it. We were living in a city with a population of 180,000, spotty public transit service that was totally spread out, and we made it work with minimal reliance on other people's vehicles. We had no problem taking the bus or riding bikes to my doctor's appointments, and everything was awesome.
We moved to Portland, Oregon, in December 2008 and were even MORE excited about the public-transit-user-friendliness of the city (though rumor has it this may not last forever). We were so stoked with the bus system in particular — every 15 minutes! All day! All night! — and happily bought our bus passes and biked everywhere we could get to until I began to feel unbalanced on my bike. Then the bus and I continued to be best friends — we even took the bus to the hospital I delivered at (I was in the early stages of labor).
When our son was born we left the hospital with him in a sling and (you guessed it) hopped onto the bus to go home. We continued to take the bus to any appointments or outings we had, and life rocked. We happened to live directly across the street from a grocery store that could meet most of our needs, and we took a cab the one time we had to go to the ER in the middle of the night with our son. Obviously it wasn't a dire emergency, or we would have called an ambulance — which is probably what you'll do anyway, out of instinct and life-long "call 911" training.
Then we moved back to Alabama and were promptly introduced to how much it can suck when you have a small child, no car, and live somewhere that makes it hard to practically get around without a vehicle. What was easy when it was the two of us suddenly seemed nearly insurmountable when we became three — and the third member was five months old. We still have our bikes, but we definitely use our car for way, way more of outings now.
Basically, my thought is this: if you live somewhere with kick-ass public transit and want to ditch your car, GO FOR IT. If you're good at self discipline you can try a test: just leave your car at home. Pack only the essentials for your kid, and see how long you guys can get around without using your car. If you really don't want to use it, I'd say it's highly likely you'll soon discover you can easily get along without it. We're moving back to Portland this summer, and are hoping to phase our car out of our lives. There are awesome services like Zip Car available in many parts of the US, so you could always sign up for an account to have a car to use for trips and in other cities. We both LOVED our time without a car so much more than we love our life with one, but we're bound by the situation in the city we live in presently.
I'm totally curious to hear from fellow car-ditchers: What were your biggest transitional challenges, and how did you overcome them?