/ Motoring

Could you get by without a car?

When the lease on my car came up I decided to give the car-free life a try. Do you need one as much as you think you do?

With emissions scandals hitting the headlines and a lot of conversations around poor air quality, it got me wondering whether I (and my family) really needed a car to go about our day-to-day lives.

After some lengthy discussions with my partner, we decided to take the plunge and go for the car-free life. Here are our experiences so far.

Shopping and day trips

With online shopping being so easy and accessible, the weekly shop was something we didn’t have to worry too much about (as long as you don’t mind someone else picking the items for you – we’ve had a few interesting sized carrots delivered!)

Fortunately the local shops are within walking distance, too. So if we do run out of anything essential, we know it won’t be an issue.

Day trips on the other hand required a bit more discussion. It’s a big one for me, as I love getting out of the city and into that fresh country air (plus hot chooclate and a scone, please!)

Without a car we’re severely restricted on where we can get to, meaning seaside trips and countryside walks are out of the question without some advanced planning.

Is a car better in an emergency?

We’re lucky enough not to have had any emergencies in the family recently, but it does make you appreciate the peace of mind that comes with having a car when you need to get somewhere fast.

For example, if I had to rush to my son’s school in an emergency, I’m not so sure I’d like the idea of being stuck on a delayed train!

My verdict on going car-less

So, will we go back to being car owners any time soon? Maybe not quite yet.

We’ve found we can get by now with little bother, but it’s not without a downside – it does severely restrict what we do (especially spontaneously) and, I have to admit, I am missing those countryside scones.

We are lucky that with living in London we do have convenient transport on the doorstep – I’m not sure we could have made the same decision if we had to walk miles to a railway station.

But what about you? Would you consider a car-free life? And do you have any advice for anyone who may be considering it? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to discuss the pros and cons, and my experiences so far!

Comments

The only house I could afford has one bus an hour during weekday times only and no direct link to rail services except twice a day. Without a car, I just can’t think how I could have tolerated 30 eighty-mile round trips for cancer therapy. It would have entailed using three buses and a train each way. A rental car would have sufficed for that, but the hassle of getting a taxi to a distant car rental outlet would make occasional weekend visits to relatives very troublesome.
I wish that there were a really affordable electric car that I could charge up on my solar pv.

Heather Kale says:
9 February 2019

Growing up in the Yorkshire Dales being car-free was not a concept I’d ever entertained until, moving to a city once I left home and got married, we ditched our car when our second child was born because it was more hassle than it was worth – no residents parking on our street and as we live 10 minutes from the city centre commuters make the most of the free parking so there’s never anywhere to park close to the house – a nightmare with small kids and shopping. We went car-free for 17 years, throughout our 3 children’s younger years. Basically, I’d say that if you live in a city where walking, cycling and public transport are viable options then it is perfectly possible to go car-free, even with busy family schedules to keep. It takes a mind shift in terms of how you consider the way you travel; you have to be prepared to be brazen in asking for lifts for kids to get to activities, parties, clubs etc (but we’ve found that people like to give lifts as it makes them feel better about having a car), you take taxis sometimes and you factor in extra time for getting to places. Overall though, in our experience, being car-free brings huge benefits, if you live in a city: Walking is a great way to get to know your city better, to meet or at least say hello to other people from your community as you pass, to get a bit of fresh air and exercise everyday (my biceps are beautifully toned from carrying shopping bags several times a week!), using local shops and services feels like a good thing to do and you feel more connected to your community by doing so. My husband has cycled to work for the past 21 years, even when the office moved out of town and my work is local enough that I can walk or cycle and I take a train when going further afield. Some of my fondest memories of the children being young are on the walks we’ve done to and from school and clubs etc and the amazing conversations you are able to have during these times. As they have become teenagers this has been a really valuable means to keep the lines of communication open and they would often choose to ask for company even when perfectly able to go alone and we would chat #screen free! For day trips or the times when we absolutely needed a car for an hour or two, we joined a car club which was great and meant we didn’t feel restricted by our car-free status. For holidays we hired cars or went by train. Last year we bought a small car as the children are at the learning to drive age – and yes, it’s useful, but I don’t like it nearly as much as not having one – far from feeling I have more freedom, it feels like being forced back into the (metal) box!

Kate says:
9 February 2019

I share my car with my daughter who decided that she would rather buy a house than a car. We live in cities which are 15 miles apart, both served by good public transport links. She will mostly borrow my car on a Sunday to allow her to take her husband (a non-driver) and her young daughter for outings. We both compromise on car use by using bus and train whenever possible, but there are definitely some journeys which would be impossible without a car.

Dave says:
9 February 2019

I have never owned a car, I find a motorbike more convenient and much more fun.

Motorbikes are definitely more fun 🙂

Not so great for carrying passengers or groceries though…

Sidecar?

As favored by Wallace and Gromit 🙂

Harpo Marx rode a great motor-cycle combination in the film Duck Soup [I think]. The passenger – Groucho Marx – got in the sidecar and Harpo drove off leaving side car stuck at the side of the road.

In those days, motorcycle combinations were used by many families, if they could not afford an actual car. Every now and then, dad might be allowed to dismount the sidecar and enjoy a solo for a few days. Or so my grandad said…

Motorcycles were a luxury in those days weren’t they? I got to sit behind my dad in one of these, and it wasn’t padded….

Did I mention I used to ride a Bonneville?

Do you regard that as an achievement or a triumph, Ian?

My father had a motorcycle and sidecar when I was young, before buying a new black Austin A35 complete with the optional fresh air heater. There is a review of the diminutive (by modern standards) A35 in the first issue of Which? magazine. When I was a student I used to ride a motorcycle, which meant that I could park free of charge, unlike car owners who payed for parking and had to be there early to find a space. Anyone who has not ridden a bike will not be able to appreciate what it’s like on a warm sunny day.

A Triumph, most definitely…

I live in a Nottinghamshire village with a population of about 9000 some 6 miles from Mansfield. It might as well be 60 miles. There is an infrequent and unreliable bus service and nothing else. No train line- they keep promising to open the Robin Hood Line through our village but HS2 gets the funds. We get nothing.
There is simply no way to manage without a car unless I was prepared to severely restrict access to the outside world. I enjoy living in a semi-rural place but the downside is the appalling lack of public transport. I’m envious of those people who can elect to give up their car without much of a problem. I don’t know how we will cope as we get older and stop driving.

Car(e)free says:
19 February 2019

Very proud to see someone from the Retford area has raised this important issue of living car free. We lived for 30y in a village near Retford. When we first moved there there were hourly buses into town during the day on week days and even though we had a car we rarely used it. We mainly needed the car to go to activities in the evening and meet friends at weekends. Over the years the bus service was cut back and as teenagers do, the children and wanted to be in town more. We let them cycle but looking back I think we were very lucky non of them were seriously hurt as they were knocked off their bikes by cars a number of times. Narrow twisting country lanes are pretty but not safe. To help people in the countryside use cars less, a good rural bus service or car share scheme is essential for older and ill people. Safe, properly thought through cycle routes would be a bonus for the young and fit, not just a line down the side of the road or pavement or the assumption a 60mph country lane is safe. Recently we have experimented with being car free whilst splitting our time between living 2 miles from the nearest bus or shop and at our sons in a small town. My experience suggests that car free and care free go hand in hand where there are good local amenities and transport links.

Kate G says:
9 February 2019

It’s getting harder to park outside our house as our street gradually converts to bedsits. So as we are both in our 60s we are thinking about seeing how we get on without a car, once our current one packs up. We live close to a bus route and about 25 minutes’ walk from the rail station, so a combination of public transport, taxis and occasional car hire might work for us. It’s interesting to read how others are managing, but I don’t feel either of us is ready to take the plunge yet.

Diana Snell says:
9 February 2019

I have got to an age, 76, when I ask myself that question. I live near good transport, terrific hub, Hammersmith, buses and underground’s on my doorstep. My concern is visiting my friends out of town, it would have to be planned, no spur of the moment, I feel like going out of town, now, this moment as the weather looks good. I feel if I give up my car I give into my age! I feel it may age me as I like keeping on the ball and I pick up grandchildren from school, so much nicer on a rainy day by car! I lease my car and have just signed up for another 3 years, so will decide, perhaps when79. Not too sure yet if I am willing to give up even at 79.

Peter Pickering says:
9 February 2019

I am 83. I stopped driving in my mid-70s. I am relieved of the worry of being involved in an accident and of the need to abstain when out. I live (by design) near an underground station, a few shops and some reasonable bus routes; have groceries delivered; and take minicabs (nothing to the cost of keeping a car). I have an active life, with frequent visits and meetings day and evenings. I do however unashamedly sponge on others to bring me home from local events (I go on foot and by bus, and for events in central London the underground is ideal). Whether a car is necessary depends very much on where one lives and on one’s responsibilities (work and family). But in inner and much of suburban London one can live a full and varied life without a car.

Paul Hepworth says:
10 February 2019

In my home City of York, we have an Enterprise Car Club (formerly City Car Club) A vehicle can be hired for an hour, a day or longer.
https://www.enterprisecarclub.co.uk/gb/en/home.html

Perhaps more urban residents would cycle if conditions were made safer. Unfortunately there is a serious imbalance between Whitehall spending on roads, and upon active travel through the poorly funded “Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy”
https://www.cyclinguk.org/current-campaigns/funding-walking-and-cycling

I go to York for quarterly meetings and a car in York is a liability. There are six park & ride sites and I don’t understand why anyone chooses to drive through the congested streets. Our host at Natural England’s headquarters goes to work on a bicycle.

We walk round York regularly and I agree; a car is never needed.

In am in my early seventies and live in a rural village and in theory could get by without a car as we have a train station and two hourly buses (daytime only no evening service) to/from a small market town six miles away.
I help look after a local Wildlife Reserve, not too bad as within a cycle ride, I also help look after/restore water meadows in the nearby town, some of these work sessions take place on Sundays when no transport running and at odd times on different days at other times.
Likewise, various other groups, I belong to (beekeepers have evening meetings in a village 12 miles away with no public transport)
I also help organise and run an annual beer festival in the local town which involves numerous meetings at different times and locations during the day and evening.
As a beekeeper without my transport to my out apiaries (my wife won’t allow hives in my garden) beekeeping would be almost impossible, likewise visiting my allotment wouldn’t be easy.
This is not to mention shopping, day trips etc.
But the point I really want to make is that I like thousand of others volunteer help keep many community groups and public bodies from hospitals to police going and as country dwellers, we could not do this without our cars yet we receive no support.
If us retirees were unable to continue proving this support social life for older people in this country would virtually cease.
It is shameful that new housing in this country not only doesn’t require renewables or community facilities to be incorporated into the build nor does it require cycle paths and public transport, doctors, hospitals, schools to be available to the new homeowners.
The whole system is unsustainable and yet our MPs seem oblivious to the situation.
I guess as they get subsidised or paid for travel so doesn’t probably occur to them that pensioners are not in the same privileged position.

We have lived in Devon without a car for the last 17 years. I only drove for 2 years and was absolutely terrified the whole time. When I became chronically ill with ME I gave up as the stress was really making me worse.
My husband is visually impaired and will never drive, though he used to cycle. Our choice of home has been dictated by being near good transport links. Though living in Dawlish had its challenges, still no real commitment to a sustainably on the main line through Devon and Cornwal.
The main downside is lack of spontaneity and difficulty accessing open countryside. We have a dog and he’s happy on trains and buses now, but we can’t really have another which we’d like to do. There is often no space for dogs on trains and they get packed in Devon in summer so trips to the beach are off.
I sometimes think about getting a car again, but on limited funds, I’ve been too ill to work for 20 years, I don’t know how I would find the money to buy and run a car, so I think it won’t happen.
Life without a car is certainly possible if you live near good trains and buses. Online grocery shopping is a real bonus, haven’t been in a big supermarket for years and don’t miss it.

As has been pointed out living near to public transport is a great benefit but does not solve the problem of trips out of town. Even trips across town can be incredibly time consuming if interchanges are involved; In and out out of the center is not bad. Even a trip to my local swimming pool (about 1.5 miles) would take about 30 minutes each way if the buses were on time. I am hoping to be able to continue driving for a few more years (now 78) if only to be able to get out of town for a decent country walk. My plug in hybrid car means no pollution on journeys within 15 miles of home.

We’ve never owned a car because initially we couldn’t afford one and buy a house. We bought a house near to good public transport routes. Now 70 and still car less! Coped very well but you have to organise every journey. Today public transport is very unreliable and often quite uncomfortable and over crowded which makes it so much more difficult, but at least it’s cheaper now due to our bus pass and 1/3 off rail travel. Because we don’t run a car we can afford a taxi when it’s necessary. I know we are a lot healthier and fitter without a car, and we just accept that there are some things we can’t easily do spontaneously.

Kevin Morris says:
10 February 2019

If I lived in a city then yes but where I am now no as the bus service is very poor and the nearest train station is ten miles away plus the bus service will most likely cease at the end of march fortunately I am able to walk to work in twenty minutes but for longer trips a car is essential

Janet says:
11 February 2019

For trips when public transport isn’t practical, I use short term rental or taxis and still save money over running a car

We can thank those who who don’t drive for helping to reduce pollution and congestion, but many of us would struggle without our cars. I think the priority should be to reduce the need for commuting and use of vehicles for work, wherever possible.

We made the conscious choice when we retired of moving to what was then a well-serviced village north of Aberdeen (certainly a welcome change from the environs of Milton Keynes!). At that time, there was a GP surgery in the village, but this is now being closed, so any GP visits without the car will involve a very irregular bus service for a 7 mile journey. At best, the round trip would take 2 hours, but 4 is more likely, so we currently rely on the car. Some sort of car-pooling arrangement might be a sensible solution while we can still drive, as could community based car sharing. Schemes of this sort exist in Aberdeen, where arguably they are less necessary, but rural areas still don’t seem to be catching up. Surely the ubiquity of internet access should be a help with such schemes?

That sounds like a plan. 🙂 There is a big difference between never having had a bus service or ATM and them being removed.

There is a big difference between never having had a bus service or ATM and them being removed. Ignoring this group of people seems…….. well, unhelpful . I doubt most people move to an area simply because it has an ATM. However, having settled, people age and become less mobile which is why I’d like to see as much focus placed on helping all with access to cash. ATM’s are not the only answer; we need to broaden our approach (in my view).

How about writing another Convo, Abby? This one has proved popular.

Luana Dee says:
11 February 2019

I am single and will be 68 this year. I gave up my car 18 years ago. I lived in Cardiff, Wales for over 30 years, then I moved to Newport City 2 years ago. I’ve never missed having a car as a single person. There are plenty of things to do in a city: parks, transport to seaside, bus and train services, and cycle paths. Local shops and super stores nearby. I get stuff delivered if it’s too heavy to carry, or a taxi for short distances. Neighbours will help if I ask for a lift on odd occasions and I offer to pay petrol or do something in return. I walk, cycle and bus, locally – I have a free bus travel pass for the whole of Wales. (for over 60″s). We have Wetlands here in Newport that are accessible by bus and are an awesome place to visit for all the Family with free entry (paid parking). I have a kitchen garden plot I share with others and grow edibles in my garden. I still work in Cardiff 2 days and travel on the bus. (12 miles each way).

If you ditch the car the money you save can go towards the cost of travel for the whole family for a few more expensive days away. Without a car I am not tempted to buy stuff I don’t need and I can travel light. If there is somewhere I want to go and have to have a car for the trip/holiday in UK I will hire one for the day or longer or arrange the trip with a friend who has a car and happy to drive us around. Without a car you will save money, the planet and your waistline, (scones are simple to make at home and take on a picnic); and by walking and cycling. But if you live in a rural area or are unable to walk and cycle and are not on a regular bus route I guess a car is a more convenient mode of transport to get about and if you have a family. Another option is to consider living in a co-housing/co-operative development where tools and cars and food etc is shared and owned by the community, including the cars. eg: LILAC in Leeds, Springhill in Stroud and many more communities that have no cars on the street so children can play outdoors safely and enjoy nature.

Barry says:
13 February 2019

I’ve never had a car in my life, and I’m now a long way into retirement. I’m grateful to the relatives and friends I’ve travelled with as a passenger in their cars over the years, but few of these trips could be classed as essential. I’ve also been lucky healthwise, which of course helps, as does the fact that I live in a London suburb – on the outskirts but still with good public transport. I like being able to get my exercise by walking into my nearest town, and then returning by bus when I’m carrying shopping. And I always think of the money I’m saving by using my Freedom pass rather than running a car. I quite understand that many living in rural areas have no alternative to the car, but feel that in a civilised country the government should ensure that everyone has access to at least a basic standard of public transport. Back in my schooldays there were few places you couldn’t reach by bus or train. Finally I’d add, for anyone who hasn’t tried it for a long time, that in many parts of the country nowadays, using a bus is less of a hassle than it was because you can check its actual arrival time on your phone and avoid the aimless wait at the stop.