As a person who grew up in a country that not only relies on cars, but actively promotes car ownership as a rite-of-passage, driving was a way of life. Getting my driving license when I was 17, I’d pretty much own a car over the next 15 years and drive it nearly every day. On my first trip to Europe, I was amazed at the infrastructure that allowed people to travel around without using a car. There was nothing like that back in the smallish area where I was from in the United States. We had a few buses here and there, but nothing that you could rely on day after day.
Soon after my first trip to Europe I moved to Montreal. Suddenly, that infrastructure I longed for existed and I could travel all around the city car-free! I was glad there were alternatives, as driving in Montreal was a fast-paced, no hesitation situation. I certainly felt more comfortable leaving the driving to others for a while, but still had use of a car throughout my time there. Old habits and all. But, it was a good lesson in learning how to navigate public transport, when to use the bus or metro, how long it might take and giving myself enough time in case of delays. All these experiences certainly made the transition to London a few years later much easier.
Owning a car is a major expense – it costs UK motorists an average of £3,500 a year to run their cars after purchase (Source: webuyanycar.com) and the charity Sustrans maintains four out of five short journeys were made by foot, bike or public transport instead of by car, drivers could save £279 a year in running costs – £8.5 billion for all UK drivers.
Three days before getting married in London, the car that my partner owned for quite a few years stopped running. It was going to cost a lot of money to get it fixed, money that we didn’t really have to spend. So, the decision was made that we’d give non-car ownership a go. 10 years later and a move to Birmingham and we are still car-free.
Life has changed a lot since then, moving next to a train station and a grocery store, getting a new job working full-time from home, and having a little guy who thankfully goes to school mere minutes away from our house. These things were planned, as staying car-free is an important aspect of our lives now, but I also realise that not everyone has the luxury of being able to plan these aspects of their lives. All this aside, there are so many ways that one can cut down on car usage, just travelling a different way to work on days when the weather is nice, or using a car pooling service.
So how much have I saved in the last 10 years by not owning a car? Conservatively, around £35,000 in expenses, and that's without adding in the cost of purchasing a car. I’ve also gotten a load more exercise than I would have. It’s far too easy to hop in the car to go somewhere locally, when I could have walked, cycled or taken the train. At times, when I just can’t be bothered, I’ve called a taxi, gotten a ride from a friend, or just stayed home. So whether you decide to to go car free one day per week, or change how you do short trips, you can really make a difference!