Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Could you live without a car?

I’ve driven a car for my entire adult life, and I’ve become dependent on that sort of lifestyle. For nearly 10 years, a car has helps me get up into the mountains on the weekends, drive to field hockey practice in the evenings, get to work, and run errands on a daily basis. So I was a little apprehensive about not having a vehicle when we moved to Germany. And after 5 months without a vehicle, I can’t say that I don’t miss having a car, but it’s a lot easier to adapt to a car-free life than I first anticipated.

Going without a car seems normal in Europe. Whether it’s a crowded city or rural countryside village, people in Europe walk and bicycle a lot more. It’s so much easier than trying to find parking (old buildings = no underground parking), plus the last time I checked, gas was around the equivalent of $1.90/litre ($7.20/gallon). And what’s most remarkable is that people of all ages are walking or bicycling around the cities – it’s not just for youthful, fit people. I’ve seen men in expensive suits and women in sky high heels riding bicycles in Prague, old women peddling with a basket full of groceries, and “cool” teenagers in skinny jeans riding their hipster fixed-gear bicycles.

Transit also appear to be much better in Europe than in most North American cities. The networks reach farther, and systems are generally quite good in smaller cities.

Additionally, those Europeans that do own cars, usually drive small, economical cars. It is extremely rare to see a mini van, SUV, station wagon, or truck parked on the street. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that a 4-door VW Golf, or Suzuki SX4  is considered to be quite big over here. Our “small” cars in North America are spacious, family-sized cars in Europe. People drive tiny cars like the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper, Smart Car, and scooters are everywhere!

There are so many pros to going without a car:  not having to pay for insurance or gas or repairs, it’s better for the environment, and I’m getting exercise every day. From where we live, it takes 35 minutes each way to walk downtown, 20 minutes to the grocery store, and 40 minutes to the train station.

That being said, I do miss the freedom of having a car. Last weekend we wanted to go to IKEA, but it took us over 2 hours roundtrip just to get there (2 trains + 3km walk each way), and then we had to lug what we bought with us all the way back home. Plus, when we go grocery shopping, we can only buy as much as we can fit into our backpacks – meaning we go shopping at least two or three times a week. Transit is somewhat expensive if you take it irregularly, and when it rains or gets too hot or too cold, you can forget about riding a  bicycle. It’s the worst.

Even though I’m enjoying life without a car (for the most part), and I will definitely ride my bicycle a lot more when I’m back in Vancouver, I don’t think I could go completely car-free. Living in the suburbs of Metro Vancouver, too much of what I like to do is car-dependent – and I’m willing to pay for that.

Do you think you could ever ditch your car completely?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


Comments

  1. We were car-free the first year we were in graduate school; it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Now the BF has a job that requires a little commuting, so we brought my car up from our hometown. We mostly walk places, and occasionally I’ll bike somewhere (we also both have transit passes to get us any farther than a mile or two).

    The car is the expense that we get the least bang for our buck for, but it’s nice to have for extended trips and multiple transit destinations (which are normally 1 1/2 hour commutes). I think if we stay in the city long-term we’ll sell it.

  2. Brian says:

    I could not live with out a car in my city. Our public transportation is well below par and it would simply be too much of a hassle. I thought about taking the bus to work, but it would take close to two hours (normally a 20 minute drive). If my city had better public transport or was more compact I could do it, but at the moment there is no way.

  3. sp says:

    In the right city, I would love to be car free. I lived without one for about 6 months when I lived in Hong Kong, and it was very freeing. But I think you have to have patience if you are going off the beaten paths (or… away from the metros). My husband didn’t have a car in L.A., which is not really a great car-free city. It is possible, but again, relying on buses can be frustrating. Now we share a car.

    The main thing I’d miss is the freedom on the weekends. It would be very hard to do hiking/backpacking trips using only public transit. Also, my commute would be over an hour instead of 20-30 minutes… So, no, not here.

    i love the small cars in europe. One thing I hate about having a small car in the us is when a giant SUV is blocking my view of an intersection.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Totally agree about missing out on the freedom on the weekends. I’m sure I could go without a car during the week, but not having access to hiking, skiing, and climbing during my spare time would probably kill me a little bit. :|

  4. Kimberley says:

    I’ve owned a car for more than 6 years now, and I’m about to sell it due to the choice to pursue grad school. In preparation for this, I bought a bicycle, and I’m falling in love with riding around the city on it. In fact, it’s making the tearful decision to let go of a car much easier, and I’m hoping that I can make this transition as easily as possible.

    I’ve been surprised to learn more about the biking culture in a Canadian city where cars rule the road, or so it seemed to me. I think it’s an easier choice that some would think, and I hope that more people commit to the change over the coming years in Canada. It’s way more cost affordable and a great way to get around.

  5. I live in Toronto and I don’t drive at all. Never even took the test for it. Personally, I think it’s overrated especially if you live in a city with public transportation. I do admit, I spend a lot of time commuting from home and work but it’s not time wasted. I spend a lot of time reading, napping, catching up other things I normally don’t have time to do if it wasn’t for the quiet time on the bus. All one needs is a bit of planning and you really don’t need a car I find. And nowadays, there are co-op car companies that makes it even easier to do without. The idea of paying for a car at +$15K and then gas and insurance… Well, I rather use the money elsewhere.

    • @The Asian Pear: That sounds about like my life! In the right city, it’s do-able; you develop a different sense of how long things take, when you don’t have a car. I’ve never had one of my own, and I’ve lived without one in the household for more than ten years.

  6. Susan b says:

    I live in a rural area with no public transportation. Our driveway is almost a half a mile long! I can’t live without a car. However, if I lived in an area with good public transportation, I could live without a car. When I lived in Minneapolis, I lived for almost a year without a car. Visiting the family was difficult (it was about 5 hours away) and I ended up using the student board at U-Minn to get rides.

    At the moment, my neighbor is without a car – she was arrested on drunk driving charges. Who does she depend on to drive her places? I finally had to make limits – ie one drive a week and she couldn’t buy booze on these trips. I told her if she loses her license permanently she is going to have to move.

  7. Yes totally! I can’t wait to be car free. Living close to transport links will be one our top priorities when we move.

  8. Squasher55 says:

    Great article, Krystal. Many N. Americans are clueless that a better lifestyle does exist. Of course better public transportation makes a huge difference…..but walking and biking or scootering can really cut down on expenses.

    We have traveled a lot in Europe and Asia…and now we have two very fuel efficient cars, but also two scooters….one new, and one picked up cheaply at a garage sale. Average cost is $1500.00 for the scooters, and they both get 82 mpg.

    Our town in New Mexico has a good bus system, and it is totally free. Not too shabby.

    And our average age is 59.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I think that’s amazing you have a free bus system! More cities should adopt that. I really like Seattle because they also have free transit within the downtown core.

  9. Cassie says:

    I was car free for the first 3 years I lived in Edmonton. I lived close to downtown, so I could get everywhere by either walking or taking public transit. I’ve moved to the suburbs now, and where I am the car free lifestyle isn’t currently feasible. The public transportation is insufficient, especially during the winter. If I lived downtown again I would totally reembrace the car free lifestyle.

  10. Erica says:

    I depend on my car. There’s no way I could get around without it. I live in a small town that has no public transportation so I need my car to drive to and from work. I could walk to get groceries but then I wouldn’t be able to carry everything home.

  11. Sure I think we could live without a car. Mrs.CBB didn’t have a car when she was in school and said it wasn’t a problem but took planning. If I went car free now I would definitely need to plan my day. If I needed to go anywhere out of town I could always rent a car. I’ve heard of many people who do this to spare the ridiculous cost to own a car. I would also try to own my home close to my job although that is never for certain. Good Post. Mr.CBB

  12. I have a car, but I basically live without it. I walk to work and bike to most of the places I need to be, but I do take my car to the grocery store and on other shopping trips. I like having it, but I wouldnt say that I ‘need’ it.

  13. bw says:

    I’ve been living in the same town as your home base for the past year and even though I own a car, it’s been in storage in another city the whole time.

    My half hour commute isn’t any longer by transit than it would be by car, so I haven’t missed driving in traffic even the slightest bit – I get to read on my way to/from work instead. I do contemplate biking to work, though, which would take roughly 45 minutes each way and leave me sweaty (work has showers) – it would be great exercise without going to a boring gym / anywhere else out of my way, and I can easily do that reading later on at night instead

    (I do cheat, though. I have a car I can borrow to go play hockey.)

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I think one of my big problems with Vancouver is that you basically NEED a car to enjoy anything that the city has to offer. Want to head to the mountains to go hiking or skiing? You’re probably going to need a car. It’s tough lugging skis on public transit. :|

      Before, I used to commute from Port Coquitlam to Richmond to work. That took me over 1 hour by car each way, but if I had taken public transportation, it would take me well over 2 hours and 3 transfers. Not worth my time.

      Now that I’m a freelancer living in a more central neighbourhood, I’m envisioning only using my car on the weekends to do fun outdoorsy stuff, during the week for field hockey, and to occasionally run errands. Anything I want is less than a 10 minute bike ride away. :)

  14. Eddie says:

    You’re so right, in Europe people walk, cycle and use public transit more. Could I go without a car? Sure, if I lived down-town Toronto. Sadly, to rent a condo in the downtown core is $1,500+, and I’d defiantly need a car for the weekends. Oh well, I’ll stick to my car.

  15. Katy says:

    I gave up my car when I moved downtown and now bus everywhere or I ride my bike to work in Burnaby which I’d much rather prefer. I get there faster biking than driving or taking transit! I’m a cheater though because my boyfriend ( who doesn’t live with me) still has his car and drives me around if I need to and to get groceries if I need to get a lot.

  16. If it was to up to me I would get rid of our car. It is a waste of money but when you have a small child it is important to have access to transportation and time is a priority.

    We pay for the privlege of having a car but it is worth it and I am not carrying my golf clubs on a bus!

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I think when you have a child, having immediate access to a car is crucial!

      And it made me laugh thinking about seeing someone lugging gold clubs or other sports equipment (how about an ice hockey player!?!) on the bus. ;)

  17. If I lived and worked in the same city at normal work hours and the city had decent public transportation, I would ditch the car.

    Unfortunately, I do not work in the same city in which I live. I start work when most of us are still asleep or just getting out of bed (6:30 am), so I am not willing to wake up an extra hour before my normal wake up time (5:15 am) to take public transportation (which would mean taking the bus to the GO train and then the GO train and then a 10 min walk to my workplace). With my part-time job, I am travelling to several different locations and I have to start at a certain time, so I can’t afford to be late due to possible delays with public transportation.

    So, I have no choice but to have a car. :P

  18. Melissa says:

    We cut our family down to 1 car a long time ago, and being I had my own car for the last 14 years it was a bit of a transition but living where we do know its pretty easy to walk to alot of places. The bank,pharmacy,tourist attraction area and restaurants are all within a 15-30 minute walk from my house. Groceries and a couple other odds and ends still require a car since there is no subway system and bus transportation here leaves alot to be desired but I don’t think we’ll need anymore than 1 vehicle for a very long time. Money better spent elsewhere.

  19. Life without a car? All you have to do is have a teenager with a driver’s license to learn what it’s like to live without a car in the driveway :).

  20. jennifer says:

    I could easily do without a car, and have done so when living in Holland. To be fair though, I do have a scooter, which I commute to/from work year round. On the occasional snow or icy day, I take Skytrain, which is across the street from where I live. I even do most of my grocery shopping on my scooter. It’s no hardship since I pass at least three major grocery stores on the way home, and many more green grocers. Now if only I could convince my husband that we don’t need the car…

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I too had a scooter when I first moved to Vancouver (originally from Victoria, which is very scooter-friendly). It was great for local travel in Vancouver, but as soon as you need to get anywhere outside of your neighbourhood, it can be really limiting. For example, I had to commute from Port Coquitlam to Richmond every day for work… a scooter can’t go on the highway, and transit would have taken hours each way. :( Now that I live in New West, it’s probably a bit better, but it’s still a pain to get out to the eastern communities.

  21. Tess says:

    I commute 50 kms to work (one way!) and I always thought I had to have a car. I found out a co-worker lived in my neighbourhood, and took public transit to work. Turns out, he was spending only 30 mins more a day commuting than I was. After having my own car for 6 years, I gave it up and started taking transit too. I’m saving about $650 a month, plus whatever repairs my old car would have needed. I thought it would be a lot harder than it was, but luckily I live in the GTA, so the transit system is good, and I can borrow a car from my brother if I absolutely need one on the weekend.

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