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Living car-free(ish)

December 15, 2008

First off, I am not completely anti-car – I’d be a hypocrite if I was. I grew up in a very rural area where cars really are a necessity. Our village had one bus a week (on market day)and eventually that service was cut. The nearest bus stop after that was about a mile and a half away – not too far in the summer (and quite a pleasant walk) – but not so nice in winter or following heavy rain when the lane became impassable. So, I do appreciate that people living in remote areas need cars – probably now more than ever due to the sad demise of many village amenities such as post offices, pubs and village shops.

No, what I am against is unnecessary car use. I now live in the centre of a small market town where everything really is within walking distance. We are literally 2 minutes walk from the centre of town yet, on our road of about 30 houses, we are the only people not to own a car and I can’t help wondering why? It’s not my intention to have one long moan about other people’s choices though – I’m sure every person on the road could give me a list of (what they consider) good reasons why they need a car. No, instead I’d like to be a bit more positive and tell you about our experiences of living car-free(ish) and explain how we cope – in case anyone out there is thinking of taking the plunge and ditching their motor… 🙂

We’ve been living car-free(ish) for many years now, about 10 I think. I don’t want to be all smug about this – and I certainly don’t want to pretend it’s always been easy – it hasn’t. In the early days I used to whinge something rotten about our lack of transport and the only thing that stood between me and car-ownership was my husband’s cast-iron resolve. Now, I’ve adapted to our car-free state and am proud that we’ve managed it for so long. So here’s how we’ve done it…..

Made use of Public Transport

I think of all the places we’ve lived, Sheffield had the best public transport. You had a choice of tram, train and bus and the ticketing system was fully integrated: you bought a travel pass which was valid on any of the available forms of transport – no faffing around having to get separate tickets for the train and tram. Living car-free there was a doddle! I wish all towns and cities had such comfortable, convenient and easy-to-use public transport but know that’s not the case in many places. Still, most towns do have some form of public transport available and I think, if you’re willing to plan your outings a bit, it can be a great solution.

Walked a lot

Yes it takes longer. Yes it can be a bit damp at times. But you get to see so much more. I also find I bump into people a lot (not literally) so it’s much more sociable than sitting in a sealed metal box! The baby enjoys it too as we can stop and look at things – squirrels burying their nuts in the park, leaves dancing in the breeze and birds flitting to and fro. At one of my previous workplaces, I used to have a lovely walk to work through some woodland and would arrive feeling refreshed and uplifted – well except for the one time that I slid over in the mud and arrived at the office plastered with the stuff!

Shopped locally and online

Living without a car can mean that when you’re shopping, you can only buy what you can carry home. If you ride a bike, you can of course use panniers, but as I’m not very confident on two wheels, I have to use my hands. My solution is to shop for the perishable items – bread, meat, vegetables, cheese etc – at the market and butchers every couple of days, and to supplement this with one big monthly shop of heavy stuff online and have it delivered. Yes, I know that my shopping comes to me in a van but, as I only have it once a month and the van is out doing other deliveries in the area anyhow, I feel it is still more efficient than if I drove to the supermarket…

Car-shared

I think one of the main reasons people feel they need cars, is to do with getting to work. I remember when my former workplace introduced a compulsory car-rationing scheme, whereby employees were only allowed to bring their car to work 4 days out of 5, there was uproar! However, people soon adapted, helped by a car-sharing scheme that was set up at the same time. I car-shared for a couple of years and really enjoyed it as I got to have a good gossip on the way to work! 

erm…hired cars (I know, I know) 

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been careful to say we live car-freeish rather than car-free. This is because we do hire cars every now and again for special occasions. For instance, we recently went to Westonbirt Arboretum for my birthday treat and the only way to get there was to hire a car. I don’t feel too guilty about this as we don’t do it very often and I think if we had had absolutely no access to a car over the past 10 years, we’d have cracked and ended up buying one!

Resources

Want more info about living car-free? Take a look at these sites:

Carbusters

Sustrans

Liftshare

Living Streets

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. dowhatyoulove permalink
    December 16, 2008 3:49 am

    Good job being car free-ish. I dont drive too often, but unfortunately I am very tied into the car world. I tend to live in areas that are not near town. Currently we are 15 minutes from the edge of town. But I do try to plan my trips in, because not only is it a waste of gas going back and forth, I dont like wasting my time going back and forth. I also have a gas guzzler, and am hoping to upgrade to a more fuel efficient car.
    Keep up the good work!

  2. December 16, 2008 8:27 am

    Amazing post! It is hard not owning a car and I love reading how you get around it. I own a car now as I live in the country but I only got it 4 years ago and before that was car free, my whole adult life. I got mightily fed up with public transport, cycling on busy roads and spending entire days travelling to visit places and friends! Good on you for staying strong, especially with a wee one too.

    I have to be honest and say there are a few unnecessary journeys that I could cut out by using public transport or by shopping online. It surprises me to read that back, as I never thought I would ever own a car let alone over-use it! I need to pull me finger out!!! Thanks for the poke!

    hen
    xx

  3. December 16, 2008 1:14 pm

    Thank you both. I’m sure if / when we finally move back out to the sticks, it’ll be a different story but it works for us at the moment!

    Hen – I did worry how it would be having a baby and no car but it’s working out ok (so far!) – in fact, she loves buses and trains and squeals with delight whenever she sees one! Lets hope she continues to be so enthusiastic as she gets older!

  4. December 16, 2008 3:48 pm

    I too am car free – but I live downtown in a large city, which makes it easier. Surprisingly, there aren’t that many car free people here, despite how easy it is. I LOVE not driving. I also love bumping into my friends while walking/busing… it’s actually a really important part of the social dynamic – seeing friends without having to schedule a thing. When I lived in WI and had to drive everywhere it was really hard to transition from acquaintance to friend because the only way to see people was to schedule a “date” which seemed so formal – whereas here in Vancouver I would bump into acquaintances during my travels and get to know them gradually. So much more natural. (If interested in this idea – check out “Life Between Buildings” by J. Gehl)

    Hiring a car/using a car share isn’t cheating at all – those are tools that make it possible to be car free and they’re ridiculously efficient use of cars. We belong to a car co-op which we use once a month or so.

    I’m always impressed by carfree people. It’s really easy to just go with the flow and drive like everyone else but when you step outside you car you see the world differently and it can be awesome.

  5. thegardensmallholder permalink
    December 16, 2008 7:30 pm

    Having a car here is needed really as the village is so tiny and there is really not much here! I walk whenever I can and I enjoy it too. I walk the children to school and home again and also walk to the local post office and shop.

    I wish I could be care free now, hopefully sometime in the future can be.

  6. thegardensmallholder permalink
    December 16, 2008 7:31 pm

    Oops, I meant car free not care free !! hee hee

  7. December 19, 2008 6:43 pm

    LisaB – thanks for your comment – great to hear from someone else who enjoys being car-free. You’re right, it can be very liberating and it’s great for getting to know people better.

    GSH – I’d love to live care-free too! 🙂 I think if we ever get back out to the country, a car will be a necessity but, like you, I’ll try to walk as much as possible too. It’s hard though – in the area I grew up in so many village shops, schools and pubs have closed down that there really is no choice but to go to nearby towns 😦

  8. December 21, 2008 5:56 pm

    Great blog post!

    For many years, my wife and I had one car each. Then, several years ago, in a move toward a simpler, more eco-friendly lifestyle, we downgraded to a single, fuel-efficient car for the two of us.

    We live in the country, so it would be quite difficult to go to no car, but if we ever moved into town, the idea is quite appealing.

    P.S. I discovered your lovely blog yesterday via your post on the Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre. Merry Midwinter!

  9. Carla permalink
    December 23, 2008 9:42 pm

    I wish it were possible. However, we live 14 miles from the small Texas town where we go to church and shop. (There is no shopping between here and there.) We’re 20 miles from my husband’s work. IF we lived “in town” there is very limited public transportation (none in evenings or on weekends) and multiple-lane highways which people do sometimes cross on foot — at their own peril. One daughter is nearly 3 hours away and the other is nearly 10 hours away. Parents: 10 or 11 hours of driving. I think we need our cars. They do get 30-ish MPG and we try to consolidate trips. Afraid that’s the best we can do here.

  10. December 24, 2008 10:02 am

    Wil – thanks for your comment. Have been checking out your blog and it’s fabulous!

    Carla – that does sound tough – I guess in the UK (well, most of it) things are a lot closer together so it’s easier to be car free.

  11. January 1, 2009 6:12 pm

    yeah for being car free! excellent post!

    Husband and I have been car free ourselves for about 8 years with various room mates with cars. The last 3 have been completely car free. We bike everywhere and rent a car when we need big stuff, like taking our 100 lb german shepherd to the vet’s office.

    I live in Los Angeles and get oogled a lot when I tell people I have no car. It’s possible to do it when you plan your trips and know the public transit system.

  12. January 1, 2009 6:34 pm

    Thanks Malinda – I love to hear from other people living car-free. I imagine that living in LA and being car-free is no mean feat!

  13. January 12, 2009 11:20 pm

    I’ve been car free since I left home in 1977 -which has allowed me to build my life around alternative modes of transport. I share all your feelings and experiences with the exception of car hire, despite the fact that there’s a car club vehicle parked round the corner from our house.

    Sure there are experiences I have missed out on, but I don’t believed that my life (or that of my husband and two teenage daughters) has been diminished by my refusal to give in and buy a car. Quite the reverse.

    I agree that being car free is easier in some parts of the country than others, and that there are significant variations between one city and another. London and Edinburgh were brilliant. Bristol’s fairly awful – and expensive! Sheffield sounds very enlightened.

    I find other people’s attitudes very puzzling. There are some who think I’m mad and others who think I’m an eco star. I’m neither. I just can’t justify the unnecessary pollution when there is a perfectly viable alternative. And I just wish more people would give it a go.

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