Do you wish you had kept your car — or does car-less life ROCK?

Posted by
My Bus © by Gilgongo, used under Creative Commons license.
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

Stephanie says…

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?

Comments on Do you wish you had kept your car — or does car-less life ROCK?

  1. I got rid of my car while living in NYC after a really horrendous parking ticket shook my wallet hard. Living in that hyper-urban setting I didn’t miss my car at all (well ok, I sometimes missed the act of driving, but not having a car). When I needed groceries I’d walk to the nearest market. If I needed A LOT of groceries, my boyfriend and I would go together and each wear a backback and bring a tote bag. Public transportation in NYC got me everywhere I needed to go, often faster than taking a cab or driving myself would have. Thankfully, I never needed to call for an emergency ride or ambulance, but I certainly could have. When I wanted to go visit my mom in north western New Jersey, I took a bus and had her meet me at the bus stop closest to her home.

    Now I live in Philly and while we do have a car, I hardly ever drive it. My husband uses it to get to work outside the city, so I take the train every day. Philly’s public transportation isn’t as good at NYC’s was but I’ve got no big complaints. It will factor in, though, when I get pregnant and have to choose a practice for prenatal care – it will need to be someplace I can get to without a car (and without taking a whole day off work to ride the bus out to Whereversville, Nowhere).

    Overall, the transition to no-car was easier than learning to be a “one car family.” One car between multiple drivers requires coordination and scheduling (esp. if the car needs to be serviced for a day – then we need to borrow one or someone takes a day off work). When there is no car in the picture, just familiarize yourself with the public transportation schedule for your area, and carry a small stuffable/collapsible tote bag in case you need extra carrying capacity on the go. Oh, and get thee a travel size bottle of hand sanitizer!!

    • It’s all about the “granny cart.” Seriously. Those things work so well you almost don’t want a car – they’re far easier to manuever and deal with while in the store than an auto. Most small hardware and variety/discount places have them, or you can get an overpriced fancy pants one from the Container Store.

    • Agreed! We recently became a one-car family, too, and the scheduling challenges are pretty significant. (It is ROUGH trying to get that car serviced. We have a mechanic we trust, but he is not near our home nor near transit. Sigh.)

      Anyway, we live in the ‘burbs (of Philly), and there’s no way we could go carless. We actually don’t use the car to commute (we live midway on the train line that runs between my husband’s office in the far-out burbs and my office in Center City), but we’d never see our friends and family if we didn’t drive.

      • We just moved to Philly from NYC and are considering getting a car for the same reason – to see friends and family. In our case, we live in the city but most of our family lives out in the ‘burbs. For errands and whatnot we can use Zipcar, but it’s hard to plan what time we’ll want to leave Grandma’s so it’s less ideal for family visits.

        • Yay for NYC –> Philly moves! In thinking about getting a car, spend some thought time on parking and the costs that might be associated with it. We’re lucky to have a driveway, so it’s never a problem, but we have friends who live in Fairmount and it’s sometimes tough for them – or for friends who drive to visit them – to park.

  2. *Sigh* If only public transportation were an option in my area of rural Indiana … I would ditch my car in a heartbeat.

    I lived in Japan for a while, and used the trains and my feet to get everywhere, and my commute to and from my mentor’s studio was almost relaxing. It gave me a chance to experience the lovely weather and clear my head for work – or clear my head AFTER work. I really miss being able to get around like that …

    • Rural Indiana *perks up* Hello from a former Fishers/Castleton gal.

      Perhaps you will understand my sorrows when I saw that it’s a shame that Indianapolis doesn’t have a metro system. It’s probably too small, but I’m spoiled after living in DC and abusing the metro/bus system.

    • I live about 7 miles outside of Lafayette, Indiana. It would be near impossible to live here without a vehicle although I suspect with some good disciple we could become a one car family as we bundle all “into town trips” anyways. My husband bikes to work during good weather (20ish miles each direction) and would love to year-round but the folks out here aren’t as aware of cyclists as you would hope. The nearest bus station is five miles, but the bus system is so flawed it’s a bit of a mess to use.

      To those of you able to live car-free, I am so jealous!

  3. Not a parent, but I went without a car for two years recently. It really worked, because I lived in an area with good public transit, and it was also convenient to walk/bike for most immediate needs (groceries, library, etc). I just moved to a small rural town with not many resources, and was without a car for my first 3 months here. My husband takes our car to work, so we do have it on the weekends for the long trip into the “big city”, but it’s nice to have one of my own for running those errands myself. I have mostly loved having a car. I find I don’t need it, really. I have to organize my lists a little more, but I also survive completely fine without being able to buy whatever I want, whenever I want. One idea is to consider some sort of car-share, or renting when you really want one. I was able to use my parent’s car most times when public transit wasn’t an option, or borrow a family member’s car. I know this isn’t always a viable option, but most people use their cars for 2 hours per day, and they are sitting for the other 22.

  4. Our household went from two cars to one when my car died last summer and we chose not to replace it. We live in a mid-sized midwestern city with moderate to poor public transportation. I carpool in to work and walk or take the bus home (we’re just lucky to live only a few miles from my job and on a bus line that runs right to my office). I don’t know how we would grocery shop or run most errands without any car, and my husband’s work and school are not reachable by public transportation. Going down to one car was a great choice for us, though- it saves us hundreds of dollars a month that we would be paying in a second car payment + insurance. My mother was recently out of the country for a few weeks and we borrowed her car while she was away, and quickly realized that we had gotten used to relying on one car and having two cars was a luxury that it wouldn’t be worth paying for at this point.

  5. Yeah, I think it really just depends on how the public transit IS in your city. Where I live, travelling three miles down the road can take about an hour and a half, plus walking half a mile to get to the nearest bus stop. Cab fare for the same distance is $20. A car is worth having here (I can’t ride a bike!)
    It sounds like you’ve been using public transit and love it. If I were you, I’d look into cab fare for the places you normally drive to/can’t bike to and add that into your typical public transit costs monthly, then compare that to your car maintenance and insurance costs. It could well be financially worthwhile.

    • Dootiesbug, I learned to ride a bike at the age of 18 (though not without a bloody nose and a few chipped teeth from stopping myself with my face, but that’s besides the point) and 4 years later I’m a mostly-confident commuter cyclist who rides on the often trafficky roads of my college town. My point is, if you decide you want to ride a bike, you’re never too old to learn.

      • If she’s like me, it’s not that she doesn’t know how, but there’s a physical issue preventing the biking. I have a terrible sense of balance and a life-threatening blood issue that makes cycling really dangerous. I have friends who can’t bike (doctor’s orders) because of the condition of their knees.

        • I have TERRIBLE balance. I can pedal and even keep the bike moving and NOT on the ground, but I am CONSTANTLY off-kilter. I’m never riding perfectly upright! Some friends in college set me on a bike and down the sidewalk at college, and I seriously rode at a 60 degree angle. THAT felt right. XD
          I’m notoriously accident-prone and I’ve warped so many bike tires (and training wheels) over the years that it just doesn’t feel worth doing. I can’t afford that many bike rims!

          • Not to be all You can do it, just keep trying!!! on you, but have you thought about a trike instead? 3 wheels keep you solidly on the ground no destroying the tires. Not to argue the point, but if yo would like to ride a bike and have that freedom of movement but with a more solid base, this might be a way to do it. 🙂

    • I’ll toss out that in addition to public transit, another thing to consider is PLACES YOU GO FREQUENTLY. I live in a compact, 100K-person city with awesome public transit. But while my church is on a bus line the bus doesn’t run early enough on Sundays to get me there. And over the years many friends have moved further away to non-bussable locations. So while I walk to work, the store, movies, and downtown; I haven’t been able to give up the car. For me, maintaining these relationships (weekly MST3K movie nights with friends, albeit 25 miles away!) means having a car.

  6. I have lived in Albuquerque for 8 years and haven’t had a car for any of that time. I bike pretty much everywhere and sometimes use public transit. I’ve found that if your traveling distance is less than 3 miles or so, it’s easy to get somewhere on a bike in just about the same amount of time as it takes to drive. Usually, this is because with a bike, you don’t really take any time finding a place to park (Awesome perk!).

    I really love biking everywhere! It keeps me in shape and gets me outside for at least a little while, even if I’m going to be inside for the entire rest of the day. The bus is not so great all the time, but that is mostly because there can be some…interesting characters traveling with you. In this city at least, a lot of homeless people use the bus as a way to escape the heat or the cold. It’s not dangerous, just interesting. Sometimes maybe a little smelly.

    I guess the only really big thing that I can think of that you NEED to take into consideration is, what is the weather like in your area? Spring time here gives us about 2 months of 40-70 mph winds coming from all directions and it can get dangerous and scary biking alongside a road. Also, in winter, does it snow a lot and how cold does it usually get? For me, I am OK biking around down into the 20’s. Below that though and I am not able to keep myself warm. Here, there is not a whole lot going on in the way of weather. I think there’s been maybe 5 days in 8 years that I haven’t been able to bike to class because of weather. Rain and snow are not huge considerations for me, but they may be for you, so keep that in mind for anything you are are carrying with you.

  7. My house is car free and has been for years (myself, husband, 1 yr old twins, dog & 2 cats). We live in a walkable neighborhood (1 block to grocery store, 1 block to a street w/ our fav. bars and restaurants, short walk to work, ect) and in a public transportation friendly city.

    We actively looked for a house to rent that was on a major bus line, within a short walk to a pharmacy and grocery store and within walking distance to our twins pediatrician.

    We have zipcar for the occasional stock up trip to a big box store. We also use zipcar to get to our son’s weekly physical therapy session.

    We just the other night had the “what if we have an emergency” conversation. I took a cab to the hospital when I went into labor and we’ve decided that we’ll go the cab/ 911 route in any future emergencies.

  8. I live in an old suburban town just outside of Los Angeles… so we have great public transportaion and bicycling. Life is good. My family of three (mom, dad and 1.5 year old) own three bikes, two bike trailers (one cargo and one for baby), a abuela cart (granny cart), sweet stroller, red wagon and one ergo wrap. We also don’t have a car payment, insurance payment, gas price worries or parking worries. It all works for us. We are lucky and I wouldn’t change a thing.

  9. I’ve gone without a car for almost 9 years in NYC and can’t picture starting now. The public transportation is awesome and I’m lucky to live within walking distance of a grocery store, post office, liquor store…all of the essentials, which I schlep home using a granny cart (like this:

    Don’t get me wrong, the pros far outweigh the cons but there are cons. If we want to go somewhere like Target or Ikea or even take a day trip upstate we have to plan ahead and get a zip car. It also sucks when you’re out late and the subway is shut down for repairs and you can’t find a cab to take you home so it takes you 45 minutes to travel 2 miles on shuttle buses. :/

    We’re probably going to be moving in a year and will need at cars because the cities we’re looking at won’t have NYC’s public transportation and aren’t known for being very bike-friendly, but I really want to give it a go with just one car for a while and see how we get by!

  10. We’ve been car free for almost 4 years now. It was a very rough transition – we were living in a slightly remote area of the city when we lost the car – and we had to makes some locational decisions based on not having a car, but frankly, it’s been fabulous. We’re obviously privileged where we live (DC). We have a very comprehensive metro system overlaid by a great bus system.

    Our modes of transport are: bikes (for him) and metro (for him and me) to commute; walking (both of us) for general getting around to shopping and bars; zipcar for big shops/ikea/cat to the vet/trips into the woods; rides from friends to places we’re all going together. I actually think that fewer of my friends here in DC have cars than don’t. The cost savings (depending on your public transit commute cost) is enormous. DC also has a fabulous bike-share program that a few of my friends have been raving about. There’s stations all over the city and you can pick up and drop off at any station.

    We don’t have a kid, so I can’t speak to that, but we’ve had to take the cat to the vet in an emergency and zipcar was perfect.

    tl;dr carlessness is happiness!

  11. I have lived without a car since June 2007, when I moved from rural UK (Rossendale) to Manchester, UK. UK may be different to the US but I haven’t really missed it – We live on one of the best bus routes in Europe, and we moved to a house in June 2010 which is also 10 minutes walk from a train station. Only things I miss it for would be visiting my parents back in the countryside, although we can get public transport there it takes over double the time (ie 2 hours instead of 40 minutes)We have talked about getting a car in the future, but the cons outweigh the pros at the moment. Maybe in the future if we have babies we might reconsider, but right now i’m happy with my bus pass.

    • Wow, another Manc! I’ve heard that the Wilmslow Rd is the busiest bus route in Europe, pretty handy if you’re near that.

      We are a family of 4 without a car, with a bike trailer to haul kids & groceries. But we do borrow my parents’ car sometimes – they commute by bike/motorbike, & we commute by bike, so we tend to only use the car for day trips which can be booked in ahead. It works really well.
      A timely post as my parents in law have just offered us their old car for free. Not sure whether we want to become car owners at all, but useful for the odd schedule clash with my parents.

      • Ha Ha! We are few and far between it would seem! Yes, we live just off the Wilmslow Road route, which is brilliant. Although it was something that we prioritised being near when we were house hunting.Being without a car does mean planning ahead sometimes. Luckily I am a bit of a control freak and tend to plan a lot anyway!

  12. I never made the transition from owning a car to going car-less. I just never bought a car in the first place. I stayed car-free and loving it (in WI)until I married a man with a car. One huge benefit of being car-free in the North is that you never have to dig your car out of a snow bank. Nor do you have to do the street parking shuffle.

    I think that the bike rack and good panniers are key and having a good bike trailer is even better. If you live somewhere bike-able car-less is really doable. If the public transit is good too it helps even more. As for what you do in case of emergencies…you call a friend or you call a cab. You can pay for an awful lot of cab rides for the price of car insurance. A membership in something like zip-car is definitely an option too. I always had it in mind for the future if I needed it, but never felt like I did.

    If you get rid of your car (which I totally recommend), I would budget some of what you save in car costs to cover costs which increase when you don’t have a car. The biggest for me was groceries because I shopped at a store which was closer to me, but had higher prices. Also my bike maintenance costs ran several hundred dollars per year. Don’t forget bus fare and occasional cab rides either. You shouldn’t feel guilty about these additional costs since they are more than made up for by the savings on car expenses and they are necessary to make car-free life not only work, but be enjoyable.

  13. I long for the day we (husband & I) can give up at least a car! We both live about 30mi from work. And the village we live in doesn’t have much outside of a few gas stations…we have to travel to the next town which is about 3mi away for groceries, library etc. But if things go right in the next couple of years we will buying our forever home in that little town and have everything we need in a 5 block radius! I can park my car after work and bike/walk whereever! I can’t wait!

  14. I grew up in the suburbs near NYC (Hudson Valley) and I enjoy driving every now and then. The open road! Windows down! Except the road is NEVER open here- I have to be on vacation to enjoy that kind of driving. In fact, I would argue it’s more infuriating to drive around lower Westchester and the boroughs than it is to drive in Manhattan. The parkways are narrow and aging and construction is endless. My best friend swears by this advice “If it’s raining and the road has ‘River’ in its name DO NOT DRIVE ON IT.” Because flooding is as common as pizza, bagels, and Irish pubs around here. Now that I’m done with my rant… 🙂

    I ditched my car a few months before moving from Yonkers to Manhattan and have never looked back. That was nearly 3 years ago. I love not having to drive anywhere. Often, taking a cab can take longer than hopping on the subway so there isn’t even a point in splurging. Groceries can be tricky. I’m not a huge fan of Fresh Direct, and though it can be a pain to drag bags of groceries up four flights in my walk-up building, I find that I’m more conscious about what I buy. I rarely buy all my groceries in one fell swoop because it would be a pain to carry them. My boyfriend and I recently signed up for a local CSA, and there’s a great local butcher and local cheese place in our neighborhood (Saxelby!!).

    If we need to cart something around I rent a Zip Car truck or SUV. In fact, that’s how I’ve purchased 95% of the furniture in my apartment- using Craigslist and a Zip Car. The only annoying part of not having a car is visiting our friends and family outside the city. For this we use Metro North, LIRR, and NJT (NJT is the WORST!). They can be very convenient, but a trip can sometimes feel like a journey, especially if we’re doing a same day trip since I’ll wind up taking 3-4 different kinds of transportation for 3+ hours. Complaining aside, we do have excellent public transit here. Now if only we’d get high-speed rail like they have in Europe and I’d be really happy!

  15. I considered ditching my car a few years ago- until I looked up the most direct bus route to work and it would take 1.5 hours in the morning and more than 2 hours to get back home at night- making my 10 hour day significantly longer. My husband got rid of his car and got a scooter and then a motorcycle, and that works pretty well and has decreased our gas and insurance bills greatly. I like having the car as a safety net, but if there were a way I could easily go without it most of the time believe me I would!

    • I think my biggest problem is that I drive an old jeep- and it gets pretty terrible gas mileage. I do carpool with one girl from work on the way to work, but not on the way back. Hauling only myself around at 16 MPG is really weighing on my shoulders. I would like to buy a more fuel efficient, smaller vehicle and leave the jeep parked for when we need to haul things. I can’t afford a new car right now, but it’s definitely something we are prioritizing.

  16. About grocery shopping without a car I’ve found that as long as you live within walking distance of the store it’s completely do-able. It just takes a little more planning.

    For example we make sure our big grocery shop is always on the weekend so theres two of us to do it, which doubles the amount of stuff we can buy. We also do a very informal version of meal planning – we decide what dinners we’ll have that week and buy the ingredients, along with basic essentials like bread and ice cream, to make sure we’re not having to carry stuff we don’t need.

    Also I’m not sure about other countries but most UK supermarkets have an option to order online and have your stuff delivered. Which isn’t ideal for everything, I want to choose my own fruit and veg for example, but about once a month we order heavy things where we’d just grab the first pack off the shelf anyway like tinned tomatoes and washing powder.

    The one downside, for me anyway, is that it does limit your choices a bit. I love the idea of buying meat in bulk at the farmers market or driving to a wholesale place to fill our own glass jars with a years supply of pasta but our nearest farmers market is a train and 40 minutes walk away and I’m not sure I could carry a glass jar of pasta more than 5 feet without dropping it.

  17. I had a moped in college in lieu of my own vehicle and it was great. My husband still had his truck, which I used for grocery shopping or when I had to carry giant amounts of crap to class for whatever project. The only big challenges were grocery shopping on his schedule instead of mine and fighting the rain!

  18. It’s about where you live in relation to amenities. When we lived in the country, we did NEED a car, but we moved to a small city last year, and our car broke down october-ish and we’ve yet to get it repaired. There are factors that make it easy for us to go without a car: We live easy walking distance to my husbands work, several grocery stores, the playground, library, farmers market. We live on a bus line, and walking distance to the main bus stop hub. Bus service is expensive and not great in our city, but we only need it on rare occaisions that we have to go to the mall.
    I stay at home with our toddler, and she’s a really good walker, which helps.

  19. I think it does depend somewhat on your closeness to amenities and public transit, but if you live in a fairly bikeable place in a decent climate, neither of those really matter. I live in Minneapolis, which is always getting more bikeable, but gets pretty cold. While living in a neighborhood with so-so public transit that was at least a 20 minute bike ride from anywhere I needed to be (which was fine in summer), I ended up using the car I was borrowing from my parents in cold weather UNTIL IT SNOWED. I have always hated digging out/de-icing cars in winter, and after 10 inches of snow, shaking off my bike just seemed easier. Much to my surprise, I was actually warmer biking in winter than standing still waiting for the bus or cleaning off my car. Now, I live in a community that’s close to everything I need (including a co-op nine blocks away) and doesn’t have parking, but is on tons of bus routes and the light rail. The public transit is nice for days when it snows or ices too much to bike, but that’s like twice a year, so that’s not incredibly necessary, either. I have two bikes, which helps if one is broken, but mainly, I have a cheap $40 one for winter (an old schwinn, which was built to last, not one from walmart or target–I went through two of those in just a few months of actually riding them, and they can’t be fixed) and another old schwinn that I got for $180 for mainly summer. In total, I’ve put less than $500 into them for repairs (probably under $400) in the three years I’ve been doing this, and considering I spent at least $35 a week on gas and parking even when I only drove three or four days a week, it’s been a LOT cheaper. I don’t have a trailer, but there have definitely been times when one would have come in handy, and if you are selling a car and ending insurance payments (it wasn’t mine and my parents were covering insurance), I’d recommend taking some of that money RIGHT AWAY and getting one, because very quickly, you will realize all the other fun things you can spend car-less savings on

    • Much to my surprise, I was actually warmer biking in winter than standing still waiting for the bus or cleaning off my car.

      This! I bike year round in Chicago and always chuckle when people say oh, you’ll freeze! No, you won’t. If it’s really really cold out, at most I put an extra layer of gloves on to start with but after about 5 mins going, I don’t need them anymore. I see people shivering waiting for transit and think, you could be comfortably warm, protected from viruses and the flu, avoid crowded boiling buses where you feel you’re suffocating AND get to work faster if you’d just ride your bike.

      The only time I don’t ride is if it’s snowing when I leave or I know it’s a big snow coming that day, or if a big snow happened overnight and they’re trying to still get the roads sorted. On those days I’ll use public transit. But otherwise, my good hefty Oma dutch-style bike has been the perfect vehicle to get around town.

  20. We went car-less last year and so far, so good. We live on Capitol Hill in Seattle, so everything is close by – grocery store, restaurants, bars, parks (for the dogs), and my office. If I need to use a car, I rely on ZipCar, which is KICK ASS – as there are a bunch of locations in our ‘hood. Also, my bike. 🙂
    I think eventually we’ll get another car, but for now, I kind of like not having that responsibility!

  21. my car died a year ago, so we’ve been carless for the last year (northeast metro area – we live on the outer edges of public transit). between walking, bikes, buses, subways, commuter rail, zipcar and enterprise (which is often cheaper than zipcar!), we’ve never had a problem getting anywhere we want to go. however, it often takes a lot longer than driving would.

    a few things that make this doable – we live 3 blocks from a supermarket (although we still like to rent/borrow a car to go to the GOOD supermarket and Asian food mart a few towns away), we both have multiple public transit options for getting to work (so if the subway breaks down we can take the bus), and we live in a town with a lot going on, so we don’t often feel the need to leave it.

    however, we’re having a baby this summer, and are planning on replacing the car towards the end of my maternity leave. mainly because we’ll need to stagger our schedules so we can drop off/pick up at daycare, and the public transit schedules don’t allow us to manage that.

  22. I often joke that I’m the oldest person in California who doesn’t have a driver’s license by choice. 43 & going strong! California very much has a car culture & most everywhere is built around cars (except, perhaps, San Francisco, a place I’ve visited often but never wanted to live). Yet, while I took driver’s ed as a teen, I just didn’t like driving. I consider it my vegetarianism.

    That said, my husband of 11 years does drive, & we bought a Prius together. His freelance job requires *a lot* of driving around to gigs. And yeah, he drives us to the grocery store & similar errands, & recently, when I lost my carpool, he started driving me to work a few days a week.

    But for the vast majority of my life, I’ve made too with a mix of (crappy suburban) public transit, carpooling, & a lot of mail-order (which is SO much better since the Internet came along).

    You realize that there really aren’t many real “emergencies” — why do you need to go to the store in the middle of the night? Probably poor planning, so make a better list & you won’t run out of whatever you needed. If someone is truly sick/injured, that’s what an ambulance is for or at least calling on family/friends if it’s not life-threatening. You build up a support network.

    Not having a car cuts down on impulse shopping (who’s got the munchies?) & some spontaneity (let’s go to the movies!). But then again, you become more interdependent with people too, & that’s not bad (hey, anyone want to go to the movies? I’ll buy the popcorn if you pick me up).

    As for large stuff, honestly, how often is that a real need? For most people, it happens once a year at most (I’m buying a new couch!). Call a friend with a truck (if you had a car, it’d prob. be a little sedan anyway, right?). Or rent a truck for the day. If you’re thinking groceries, as others said, get a little cart or use a delivery service (it’s a lot cheaper than you think, & if you plan carefully, you can stock up & the fee becomes negligible).

    For more on the topic, check out the interview I did on living carfree in the ‘burbs in the More Hip Than Hippie podcast at

  23. Less than a year ago, my husband and I decided not to replace our old, breaking down cars. We decided to join a local car-share. We have two small children, live close to work and major bus routes; we enjoy walking and biking, and have strollers and bike trailers to be able to do this with kids in tow.

    A car-share for many individuals and families, probably works really well. Not to say that it doesn’t for us, but we are often weighing the benefits to the inconviences and annoyances of it.

    Reasons I LOVE it –

    Cheaper than owning one or two cars.

    Less responsibility.

    Good for the environment.

    Has forced us to really consider when we NEED to use a car.

    We now find ways to make not having a car work – doing things that are w/in walking distance, not doing things when it just doesn’t make sense, walking more, taking the bus, etc. We’ve made changes where it’s possible to.

    Why I HATE not having our own car –

    Sharing – yes! Even as an adult it’s hard.

    Walking to get the car – coordinating how we are going to pick up/drop off the car with two young kids, groceries, stuff! can get complicated and nearly impossible when we are alone in this situation.

    I am busy. Seriously – I’m busy. Our bus system is not great (barely exisits on a Sunday), and I just do not have the time some days to spend hours (not joking) getting to a place that’s 5miles away.

    It gets political – back to the sharing part. Everyone has a concept of what owning/using a vehicle means. Sometimes this causes conflict – which sucks.

    We have friends and family that live far – I enjoy visiting them and have found that we just do this less due to conflicting schedules with other users, not wanting to use our limited miles, etc.

    It’s inconvienent!

    I wish we would have had this when we were kidless and in school. It would have been the PERFECT set up. But, it does just work for us right now. But, this is not a long term option for us.

    Do I miss a car – yes. I totally do.

    • I do not look forward to spending hours to take a 30 minute trip. Also, I just realized the school we might want our son to attend is not served by the public school buses. I don’t want to limit his education.

      I’m beginning to think keeping the car is the best option. I think it would be a lot easier if we didn’t have a child, or if the car was really crappy or something…

  24. I’m just about to go officially go carless, but for almost a year I barely used my car. Driving into DC wasn’t a financially viable system and at the time I could sock away more money for the Metro. Turns out I liked walking as part of my commute (4 miles a day, but every second is a quiet refresher) and I relied on my car only for tutoring. I’ll be ‘retiring’ from tutoring by the end of the year though and after that I won’t even be borrowing my boyfriend’s car.

    However, I would not use a bike in my area. Drivers are pretty reckless and impatient here. I rarely feel safe in the crosswalks.

    There are times I wish I lived in Arlington (or somewhere similar) so that I can be closer to a farmer’s market, but that’s the only real drawback for me. However, if I plan my errands, or get creative (Washington’s Green Grocer delivers produce as do CSAs) I don’t notice it as much. Otherwise, no loss in my social life. I’m a fairly introverted person so I don’t mind a little disconnect.

  25. We have not yet owned a car, but I think my experience might be relevant.
    We live in an area with GREAT public transport. I have a special student card on which I can ride it for free during the weekends and my husband can come with me with 40% reduction. Also, during the week I travel with 40% reduction. So, public transport is frequent, accessible and in our case, by far the cheapest option.
    Also, we live in a bike-friendly city and bike to work everyday. It makes no sense to own a car.

    BUT, we are thinking about buying one. The reason is that we really, really hate travelling to family and friends. They all live 1.5-2hrs away by public transport. By car less than 1hr. When you switch train/busses/metro, you loose time.
    During the weekends, we like to visit friends and family, but it has gotten to the point that we rather stay home than spend half a day in public transport. It sucks.
    This might be something you want to consider. How often do you visit family or friends who don’t live in your city? How easily can you get to them by public transport? We don’t have the car yet, because financially it makes no sense. The maintenance, the insurance, the gas, it is far more expensive than public transport. But a car is more comfortable. My advice is to take that into the equation.
    Good luck with your decision!

Read more comments

Join the Conversation