The Social Business

Time to give up the car?

This was my new year’s resolution on a frosty New Year’s Day in 2010:

I won’t bore you with the thinking behind wanting to use the car less – I’ve written about it before and you”ll be aware of the issues.

But I wanted to tell you about how we got to where we are today, and why I think that is relevant to how we adapt to a world  where scarcity of resources and climate change is going to shape how we live.

We didn’t just decide to give up our car.  We agreed to try, over time, to change how we travelled.  So we started to think about how we got around, to consider whether there were alternatives.  Making conscious decisions – instead of just jumping in the car, meant that over time we changed how we got from A to B.

It also helped that we ended up living in the city centre for six months when the deal to buy a house fell through.  Suddenly we didn’t have a parking space, and we had good public transport on our doorstep.  That helped to strengthen some of the changes in behaviour that were already taking place.

Two years on, and we’ve cut down our mileage from over 10000 miles a year to 6000.  We’ve also moved to a house on good bus routes, and walking distance to school.  Yes, not everyone can make those choices – but it’s also worth saying for the same price we could have moved deeper into suburbia – and further from other transport options.  How we would travel to work and school was a big factor in where we chose to live.  We didn’t want to end up living somewhere where we’d be more reliant on the car – or end up having to get a second car.

The week in the strawbale house got us thinking again about things.  The fact that the MOT and insurance are due this month also focused our minds.

We sat down and tried to consider things rationally.  The car sits on the drive nearly all of the time Monday to Friday, slowly depreciating.  It gets used for a few hours most weekends.  We estimated that it costs around £3000 a year to run – if you include depreciation at around £800 a year.

So are there better ways to get around – which might also end up cheaper than £3000?  Time will tell – but we reckon we might hire a car one weekend a month – £750 over a year.  Then we might hire a car for another two weeks over the year for holidays etc – £500.  With petrol, that might total £1500 a year.

We might also join the local Car Club.  £75 to join, with occasional use maybe adding up to £350 over the year.  Additional bus and train fares, (remember we already routinely travel on public transport so we already incur that cost) might add up to another £500.

So, let’s say we might save somewhere in the region of £750 a year (plus what we’ll get from selling the car).  A sum worth having, but also an amount of money worth weighing up against the convenience of having a car at your service 24 hours a day.  In other words, it looks like it makes financial sense, but it’s a close one.  Clearly things would be very different if we were comparing buying a new car – with credit – against hiring a car and joining a car club.

But it’s not just about the money.  It’s also about changing how we live.  I think it will help us to walk more, cycle more, do more stuff locally.  Live life at a slightly slower pace.  Not be part of a car-centred culture which I think in many ways is damaging to society.

So we’ll see.  The car goes in for its MOT next week, and we’ve got a potential buyer for the car.  We might reconsider and decide to wait until the car finally fails its MOT.  But I think we know what the right decision is.

Categories: Climate Change, Green issues, Social change

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