Owning a car in the city can be annoying. Sitting in traffic is stressful, cars require constant upkeep and those parked on the street face break-ins, bumper dings and winter snow scraping, just to name a few. More and more, people are opting out of it.
Evidence is mounting that people don’t place the same cultural value on owning a personal vehicle as they once did. Folks are making the choice to ditch their cars when they break down, and younger Americans are getting their driver’s licenses and buying cars later in life, or not at all. Ride-hailing services like Lyft have made not owning a car even more convenient, and possibly cheaper, too.
I’ve lived carless in a few major U.S. cities–relying primarily on public transportation, with a little biking, walking and ride-sharing thrown in. In my experience, not having a car forces you to make healthier transportation choices, but living car-free does come with its own set of challenges.
Here are some of my insights from living car-free, and my experiences with getting around in alternative ways.
Imagining a less car-centric everyday life means considering your values and weighing money and convenience trade-offs. For me, those values are living a lower-carbon lifestyle and living affordably in a dense, walkable, urban environment.
For my day job, I research renewable energy transitions. Reducing my carbon footprint is a continual process and research shows that living car-free is the second-most impactful action we can take to combat climate change. Transportation accounts for about 25 percent of global CO2 emissions, with the rest coming from electricity generation, heating and other industrial processes.
Living without a car forces you to be mindful of your daily comings and goings. It requires foresight and planning. Because of that, I really value walkable cities. I prefer to live within a few miles of where I work so that biking and walking are viable commuting options, but this isn’t always possible.
I make it a priority to find housing within blocks of a major bus line whether I own a car or not. I should add that being an able-bodied, single adult without kids makes some of these decisions a lot easier.
Of course, you have to weigh financial considerations when deciding whether to own (or get rid of) a car. Personal vehicles come with monthly payments, including insurance, gas, maintenance and parking. Parking doesn’t come cheap in city centers where workers often pay a premium for a dedicated parking space.
According to the latest AAA report, it costs an average of $8,469 to own and operate a new vehicle annually. The average price of a monthly bus pass is $67.07 across U.S. cities, or about $805 per year.
This isn’t to say that living without a car doesn’t present its own challenges. There’s much less freedom when you’re restricted by transit schedules, the weather and car-hailing costs. For people with disabilities, the option to drive a personal vehicle sometimes isn’t a choice, making extensive and accessible public transportation crucial.
Considering your options? Here are some ideas to consider:
Reducing your car use while supporting alternative transportation signals to decision-makers the importance of developing an infrastructure that emphasizes equity, well-being and environmental health. Your transportation choices can impact the future of your community and our planet.
Jen is a Ph.D. candidate in environmental social science at Arizona State University, currently residing in Minneapolis. As an educator and researcher she is frequently pondering the intersections of technology, culture, the environment, policy and politics. She is deeply uneasy with the lack of Oxford commas in this writing. You can follow her on Twitter @soundbitelife.