5 Things I Have Learned From Going Carless
Several years ago going Carless started as a simple challenge from a close friend. He knows I’m a sucker for challenges, like a 30-day fitness challenge or something the 100 Day Challenge that I participate in to help me hyper-focus on my goals.
My friend and I were drinking wine and pontificating about life as you do when vino is pulsing through your veins. I started complaining about the growing traffic in our city and was sharing that I had recently had been taking mass transit a couple times a week into work. I said, “I have almost no commute stress and I arrive relaxed, I should take mass transit for at least a month just to see how much better I feel?”
My friend jumped right on and with a smirk said “Yeah, go carless, sure why not? I bet you $50 you’ll cheat.” Without missing a beat I accepted the challenge on the spot, 30 days later gladly relieved my friend of his $50.
I want to make it clear that the original challenge was to exclusively take mass transit for 30 days as a form of commuting, but it morphed into me simply not driving. I absolutely will a take ride from a friend or family member and I use car services. I do drive approximately 4 to 5 times a year when I rent a car for long distant trips. Other than that, I either ride, walk, bike or take mass transit.
I originally considered using mass transit as just a way to lower my stress, but it has had so other many positive results that are worth sharing. I also should say I don’t hate cars but I do hope this post will inspire at least a few people to make the switch.
When I first accepted the challenge, I didn’t give much consideration that it was mid-October. The weather had begun to cool, and the rainy season was starting. Being a native Oregonian, it wasn’t a huge deal to me because I have a ton of inclement weather gear to keep me dry in any kind of rainfall.
I am a big believer in and creator of systems to address the repetitious and mundane. From the start I recognized that to make going carless work I had to have a solid system to get me out the door and keep me on schedule. My biggest concern was staying dry and warm in the rainy weather and this is what I came up with…
The only purchase I had to make was a telescopic umbrella that collapses down to fit into my bag. I found the non-collapsing types to be impracticable on mass transit. They can be unwieldy to manage on a crowded train and they almost always occupy one hand.
However, non-telescopic types do tend to be better at resisting collapse in windy weather so keep that in mind when purchasing.
Personality, I think that the best part of a telescopic umbrella is its lightsaber like quality. I become a 10-year-old boy when I push the button on the handle and Kwishuuuuuu, it shoots forward and opens like a weapon to fight the inclement weather. A lone Jedi Knight, facing the stormy battle, then the train arrives, the saber is retracted, and for now order is restored to the galaxy.
I have delegated three coats for the three basic kinds of wet we encounter here in Puddle Town. I keep them in the hall closet to easily grab without a lot of thought.
1. Drizzly rain: A lighter cotton barn coat, I keep a light scarf in the pocket.
2. Steady rain: A wool overcoat, I keep a warm scarf in the pocket.
3. Downpour: My North Face snow jacket, I keep a knit hat, scarf and gloves in the pocket.
I have two main hats that I wear to keep both the rain and the sun off my head. In addition to these two hats, I have a handful of both knit skull caps and trucker style caps I wear according to mood and weather. It’s good to have variety but when the rain is persistent I default to the following;
An open straw weave trilby style fedora hat for springtime showers and drizzly days. I like this style of a hat because of its versatility as a crossover from spring showers to summer sun.
I wear a wool fedora for steady rain. It’s warm and its brim is wide and keeps me dry enough that often I don’t need to break out my umbrella.
I have a hood on my snow jacket for nasty weather but rarely need to use it.
This is a big one for a lot of people, I have been asked how I keep from ruining my shoes. I don’t do Galoshes instead I use the brute strength method. If I have a meeting or an event that requires me to wear clothing on the nicer side of things, i.e. slacks, jacket, dress shoes, I’ll arrange a ride or use a car service. I usually know in advance when such an occurrence is going to happen, so I plan accordingly. It happens less frequently than I originally thought it would therefore easier to justify a car service when I do
I switch between several pairs of footwear depending on weather, occasion and mood.
During the rainy season, I regularly treat all my leather shoes with waterproofing and I give them a quick wipe down when I remove them. I have been successful in keeping my shoes from getting ruined with weatherproofing, a good umbrella and watching wear I step.
The biggest issue I have run into with shoes is heel wear with all the walking I do. I rotate through several pairs of shoes so no one pair wears faster than another.
Finally, to make the time I spend on my feet as comfortable as possible I place gel insoles in all my shoes. A small purchase for hours of comfort, a must.
If I’m properly protected from the elements the actual pants, shirts and sweaters I wear don’t really matter. The one exception would be long underwear, which I wear when it’s chilly out. However, to reduce decision fatigue I almost always wear black jeans which go with all my shirts, sweaters and shoes.
Everyday Carry (EDC)
Have you ever visited Everydaycarry.com? The simplest definition EDC is the stuff you put in your pockets when you head out for the day. Things that make life convenient and easy. I tend to lean towards minimalism, so my EDC might not contain as many objects as you carry but here is my list that goes with me into the world every day:
A computer bag – A large nylon messengers style bag. I used a leather one for a while, but it took quite a beating and nylon bags are a lot less inexpensive to replace. I keep the following in the bag:
- Computer and power cord
- Charger for my phone
- My notebook and a couple of pens
- A handful of miscellaneous office supplies (clips, rubber bands, sticky notes)
- An eyeglass repair kit
- A Leatherman multi-tool
- A book to read
- The case for my eyeglasses/sunglasses
- Umbrella for the rainy season
I try and resist packing too much stuff into the bag because what seems like a manageable weight in the morning can turn into a slog by days end.
The other things that I keep directly on my person include:
- My wallet/money clip – A small compact wallet that’s easy to stash.
- A wristwatch – Easier to check the time rather than trying to dig my phone out.
- My smartphone with earbuds – Earbuds are a quick way to get a little privacy.
- Eyeglasses and/or sunglasses – Sunglasses are another fantastic way to go incognito.
- House & office keys – For doing what keys do
I try to keep my list of EDC simple and short. It’s always good to have a little extra room to, as I often do, need to store things I pick up along the way.
I have designed my system to be minimal but effective. Even though I’m an early riser I rather spend my mornings on things of higher importance than trying to figure out what I’m going to wear or pack that day. My system allows me, with minimal thought, to grab and go.
Do the Walk
I live 0.4 miles, a seven-minute walk to the bus line that takes me to the train. After the short bus ride, approximately 10 minutes, I depart the bus and walk 50’ to the train. Once I arrive at my stop I take another short walk of a city block to my connecting train. Once I do my final deboarding it’s a two-block walk (approximately 400’) and I’m at my office. The entire trip takes about fifty minutes depending on the time of day.
It really doesn’t seem like that much distance I’m walking but it adds up. During the course of a day, I easily walk a mile, sometimes much more. It just depends on what I have planned on a given day. On average I work three days a week from my office in the city, so the average total miles walked while in transit for a week is about three miles.
When I’m not using mass transit I do a lot of walking and biking to get around my neighborhood. I don’t actively track these miles, but I put in approximately another five miles a week just running errands, grabbing lunch or meeting up for a drink.
Adding all this up I walk and bike between 8 and 10 miles a week. It’s probably more than that but still 500+ mile a year is respectable. It’s not something I dread but rather just something I do to get around.
This was new to me when I first started going carless. I have meditated for years but I had never practiced breath walking. I came across it by accident in a training program I was taking to help me balance my mind, body, and spirit. Breath walking was an exercise that was recommended under the “Spirit” section of the program.
It’s extremely easy to do and consists of breathing in one breath every four steps and breathing out that breath over the next four steps. I find this extremely useful if I’m crunched for time and don’t have time to meditate at home. I often practice it on my way to a transit stop, it’s a fantastic way to keep myself chill when under stress.
This has been a game changer for me and this one topic alone has made going carless worth it. It’s so easy to lose track of how much time automobile ownership demands. The argument against mass transit usually has to with convenience. I have heard people say, “Oh I never could go carless, it’s too inconvenient, it takes too much time.”
Really? Let’s see, most trips I take around the metro area only adds 15 – 20 minutes more than driving a car. However, the commute time for driving a car is getting increasingly longer as the population grows, and traffic worsens. The highways are a mess, no matter how many lanes get added by the time the construction is finished it’s overdue for another expansion.
I love the feeling of riding along on the train engrossed in a book and glancing out the window to see the freeway jammed with bumper to bumper traffic. As I roll by I know that I will be arriving on schedule and relaxed. I can remember those hellish days of sitting in traffic, motionless and not knowing why.
I’m not wasting time on the bus and train either. When commuting to my office I have a little system that works out pretty good for me. The first leg of my commute, the 5-minute walk to the bus stop is great exercise and a chance to practice breath walking. The next leg of my commute, the 10-minute bus ride down the main thoroughfare to the train station. During this short ride, I take the time to just sit and think. I don’t have a set agenda I just let my thoughts come to me, but usually, think through my day or about any challenges facing me.
My first train ride is my longest at approximately 30 minutes. This is when I take care of things like email, social media or reading. If I haven’t had time to journal, meditate, review my goals or recite affirmations I will use this part of the commute to do some form of self-development/accountability exercises.
Last Leg of the Journey
The last leg of my commute is another short 15 minutes train ride from the city core to my office. I again use this time to just sit and relax. No phone, internet, reading, meditation, I just relax. Participating in the global marketplace can produce ridiculously elevated levels of toxic stress and numbing demands on our time. We must manage that shit. Whenever wherever I can squeeze in “me time” I pounce on the opportunity. I value and guard those times when I can re-center and focus my being.
I recoup the extra time spent in commute because when I arrive wherever I’m going I have already prepared my mindset. I’m in a relaxed state with higher focus and I’m ready to go. I don’t need to “go through” my email or update my calendar because I already have. It is also applicable for other annoying time-sucking tasks like to do lists, banking or whatever.
I have shifted my mindset from dreading shared transport to enjoying the extra time I have to spend however I want. The experience needs to be managed, alertness as to what’s going on around. With a few simple habits, mass transit can be safe and convenient like carefully choosing where and by whom you sit and keeping yourself occupied with reading or other distractions. As with most public places if you are looking for difficult people you’ll find them so plan ahead a little and avoid them.
My primary goal in going carless wasn’t saving money. I don’t even really notice the money I’m saving, because what I’m really doing is not spending money. Nowadays I usually don’t pay a lot for transportation so when I encounter transportation-related costs I can experience sticker shock.
I’m going to break down my transportation savings and costs. Most of the numbers are spot on but in some cases where I didn’t have exact records or memory, I used my best approximation. However, if I did approximate it was on the conservative side.
When I decided to stop driving I didn’t get rid of my car nor did I cancel my auto insurance. What I did do though was reduce my insurance to the minimum coverage so that in the case of an emergency I have an option. By reducing my coverage, I save just over $100/month and recently I’ve been considering options like Metro Mile, a pay-per-mile insurance which would almost eliminate my auto insurance bill. My current insurance costs now me $360 a year.
I want to note though that even in an emergency I probably would still call a car service or an ambulance. Using a professional driver during an emergency is smart and allows you to focus on remaining calm.
I used to have my car’s maintenance performed every 3,000 miles which worked out to about three visits a year. Each visit averaged approximately $225 for an annual cost of $675, conservatively.
Now, other than an oil change, a new battery and occasionally taking it for a spin around the block I haven’t done any maintenance on my car in five years. Ok, I’m not including the handful of times I washed it but none-the-less, all in I have spent less than $300 on maintenance. That’s approximately $60/annually.
Deducting what it costs me now ($60) from what it used to cost me ($675) leaves me with an annual maintenance savings of $615.
I don’t remember what gas cost a gallon five years ago, but I do recall driving approximately 520 city miles a month or 6,240 annually. It’s a 20-mile round trip to my office and I often took side trips on my way home. My wife and I used to spend our weekends running all over the city taking care of errands racking up miles along the way.
Add in an additional 1,350 miles annually for weekend getaways, day trips and the like produces a total of approximately 7,590 annual miles driven. This is probably conservative but is close enough.
Let’s put an annual cost on what my gas bill would be if I was driving.
My car is a 2006 Chevy HHR with the following pertinent specifications:
- Fuel tank capacity in gallons: (16)
- Mile range per tank: (453)
- Average cost to fill one tank ($3.50/gallon): ($56)
- Number of tanks required annually: (17)
- Miles Driven Annually: 7,590
- The annual cost of gas ($56/tank x 17 tanks): $952
With gas alone, I’m saving at $952 annually, it’s not a huge amount but I can count on my petroleum bill is the same every month, zero.
Miscellaneously Incurred Costs
It’s difficult for me to put an accurate cost on this element. The kind of cost I’m talking about are associated with those little side trips taken on the way home from work or to satisfy a late night munchy attack. The kind of expenses that I would not have acquired other than it was convenient to act on an urge. I will take a wild albeit conservative stab in the dark and say it was around $500.
Ok everything summed up looks like this:
Almost forty-four hundred dollars a year is a nice chunk of change, however today I have other transportation costs I didn’t have previously so let’s determine those costs.
Remember all those errands that my wife and I wasted our weekends running all over to accomplish, we now have most of those errands delivered which allows us up to make better choices with our time.
I have discovered that everything is deliverable. If you have an Amazon Prime account or if you use services like TaskRabbit , you know what I mean.
What if your favorite restaurant doesn’t deliver? You can use a service like TaskRabbit to pick up your order and deliver it to your door. You can also have them stop at the grocery store along the way for just about anything else you can think of.
Places that sell bulk items like home improvement stores or high-ticket items like appliance stores often deliver for free. It usually depends on how much has been spent, what’s being delivered and to where. Most people don’t have a vehicle and the gear required to move something like a refrigerator, so they don’t even consider it.
Using a car for moving smaller items like furniture is doable but cumbersome and often results in damage. There are lots of services that pick-up and deliver just about everything imaginable. I have a couple go to services I use whenever I need something moved. It saves my back, my time and my resources.
The annual cost for delivery? In quickly looking over my bank account it looks like I spent approximately $850.
After going carless for about a year I decided to rearrange my work schedule and work from my office in the city only three days a week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. This schedule works most weeks but occasionally I need to adjust.
A 2.5-hour transit ticket costs me $2.50. I obviously take transit both directions so a round trip costs me $5 for the day, three days a week totaling $750 based on fifty weeks worked in a year.
I use car services like Uber or Lyft on average about twice a month. The cost of the trip can vary widely in cost depending on which car service you use and the distance you are traveling. I use car services when I’m pressed for time, don’t feel like dealing with inclement weather or I have a lot of stuff I’m taking with me. My average cost for using a car service is approximate $50/trip which works out to $1,200 annually.
I use car rentals primarily for road trips that require me to travel outside the metro area of my city. I rent a car to visit the mountains, the beaches or to travel to work destinations within the Pacific Northwest. Again, this is an area where cost can vary greatly and there is a plethora of car classes to choose from. The following are taken from Enterprises car rental website:
Rental Cost/Day (Including Tax & Fees)
7 Passenger Minivan
Many times, when I’m renting a car I’m sharing it with another person or group which can lower the cost considerably. I had to look at my rental history with Enterprise to get an accurate dollar amount for what I’m spending annually on car rentals. In 2017 I rented a car five times for a total annual cost of $1,125.
Ok, now let’s compare my old costs versus my news costs:
As you can see it is costing me approximately $60 more a year to go carless but like I said I’m being conservative with these numbers, so it may be a wash. I could cut back on deliveries, car services and perhaps save a little more in some other areas. There are other costs of driving that I haven’t calculated in like repairs and replacing tires, so I might be paying out a little less going carless. In my humble opinion the benefits from not driving far out way driving so if it’s a wash on cost I’m ok with that.
5. Community & Connection
This is something I really didn’t expect, a better connection to my community; people, places, and things. It seems so obvious now but when I first went carless learning more about my community wasn’t even on my radar. I was reared in the city that I now live in so I’m familiar with the lay of the land. When I was younger I moved away but after several years I moved back and that was a long time ago, so I didn’t expect to learn much new about my city.
What using mass transit allows me to do is slow down and observe things that when behind the wheel I don’t notice. Only makes sense, right? When I’m behind the wheel I’m focusing on driving the vehicle and navigating through traffic. It’s easy to ignore what’s going on in the community as your driving through it. Sure, while driving you’ll notice large in your face things like new construction, road closures or a large group of people.
However, when I’m using mass transit I’m not zipping through my community but rather I’m in it. Since I don’t need to be concentrating on driving I experience many things that I didn’t before, beautiful gardens, children playing, goofy dogs, incredible art installations or to simply enjoying a beautiful day. There is simply so much beauty and positivity that we miss when we are stuck in our shiny tin boxes.
Dealing with people is an aspect that I actually thought I’d hate. I imagined that there would be homeless people begging for change or idiots looking for trouble. As it turns out I have had very little trouble with people. That’s not to say that I haven’t had undesirable interactions because I have. I always use my sunglasses and earbuds to buffer myself from aggressive and/or unwanted approaches from people looking for a handout or a fight. However, with that said I have had way more positive interactions with good, kind people than I have with people who need to be managed.
I have had meaningful conversations with people just trying to make it through the day. veterans, parents, bikers, tourists, retirees, it’s very rewarding to make a connection with people that otherwise would never cross my path.
Try It, You Might Like It
I completely understand that going carless or semi-carless isn’t a possibility for everyone. However, if you live in a city where you can use mass transit in full or in part you might find that you enjoy the benefits.
I must admit that Portland where I live, in my opinion, has a great transit system. Having a good system of interconnected buses, trains and streetcars make it a cinch to get around. Most arrivals are every 15 or 30 minutes and many stops have large shelters to protect you from the elements.
I sometimes get asked if I see myself returning to driving full time again and the short answer is no, never. Too many benefits in not driving to convince me to crawl back behind the wheel of a car just to sit in gridlock. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m in a $10,000 or $100,000 car if I’m stuck in a parking lot of traffic. I also think about that if even if all the cars on the road where 100% electric there would still be gridlock.
Perhaps autonomous driving car services that are synchronized to maximize speed and traffic flow will make gridlock a thing of the past. I personally am looking forward to letting the robot drive, so I can enjoy the scenery.