Minimalism, Sustainability

Reflections on life without a car

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This past July marks the fourteenth year in which I have not owned a car. I bought my first car when I started my first job (an elementary school teacher) and lived in a small town in South Western Ontario, where it was impossible to get around without a car, since there was no public transit. I faced a similar situation when I lived in Detroit, a city that is designed to encourage driving a car; which is not surprising, given the importance of the automobile industry in that city, and where public transit was limited. In Toronto, I hardly ever used a car, as it was much easier to get around with the subway and TTC buses.

When I moved to Halifax, I drove to work for the first few years, but switched to public transit. It’s not really possible to drive in Halifax without winter tyres, given how hilly the city is and how much snow and ice we get, but I couldn’t store tyres in my home. I started taking the bus to work and drove my car only on the weekends. I was never comfortable owning a car, given its carbon footprint, so once the lease of my latest car was up, I decided not to get another car. I had done a trial run for two months prior to this point to see how well I could manage without a car, and I found it surprisingly easy.

Fourteen years later, I can safely say that giving up owning a car was a splendid idea. I certainly don’t miss the lease payments, the insurance premiums, and the ever increasing cost of petrol. My employer subsidizes my year-long transit pass, which is also tax deductible. Not owning a car has saved me thousands of dollars a year. I live close to a car rental company, from which I occasionally rent a car for purchasing larger items, going on holidays, driving to the airport, and so forth. This rental agency allows me to pick up a rental from one location and drop it off at another without a charge (because I’ve been with them for so long), and I even get a discount through my employer.

While so many people can’t imagine life without a car and see not owning one as a burden, I enjoy the freedom and flexibility that being car-less gives me. I don’t need to worry about finding a parking spot, and when I go to a destination, I don’t need to circle back to where my car is parked in order to return home. I don’t have to go through the white-knuckle experience of driving through snowstorms and blizzards. Riding a bus allows me to observe the various neighbourhoods of the city at a leisurely pace, and I can catch up with my reading if I wish to. I also walk a fair amount, which is excellent exercise, and which allows me further time for self-reflection. I don’t ride a bicycle.

My shopping habits have been affected by my use of public transit. I need to plan my shopping trips more carefully, as it takes me longer to do them, and I can carry only so many things. This means as well that I rarely give in to impulse shopping trips. I have heavier grocery items delivered when I need to; this helps provide some income to the local delivery persons, and gives me the freedom to get that extra large bag of potatoes.

Owning a car is a luxury and a privilege that so many people take for granted. I recognize also that I am very privileged in my choice to not own a car; so many people do not have this choice. I am fortunate also to have a very good public transit system that allows me to get around the city. Not owning a car is the second most significant way in which I reduce my carbon footprint; the first is my vegan lifestyle. Being car-less is a choice I have never regretted.

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