The Social Business

Car-free life – one month on

We gave up our car at the end of October – you can read more about why we did that here and here.

It wasn’t just about the money – although we’re hoping we will save a bit of cash – but I’m interested whether we end up spending more or less without a car sat on the drive.  So I’ve been keeping track of our transport costs in November (and the last week of October)- and here they are in summary:

  • We spent £240 on car hire and related costs (petrol, annual insurance, car club fee)
  • We spent £218 on public transport
  • So, with a  few other things (including internet shopping delivery charges) in total the cost for a family of three getting round for five weeks without owning a car was just under £480.

A few facts to put these figures into context:

  • £85 of the car hire costs are annual charges for insurance and car club membership.
  • We hired a car twice for a total of ten days
  • Around £200 of the public transport costs are costs we would have incurred if we still had a car –  as that was for work travel (mostly on the bus) and visiting family (mostly train and the odd taxi).
  • So, given that we estimated that the car cost us about £3000 to run, we’re on course to save a bit of money, but not much (based on around £240 costs over and above the public transport costs we would have incurred anyway).

Over five weeks our mileage in hire cars was 215 miles.  This compares with a monthly average of around 500 miles a month over our final twelve months with a car.  We’d got our monthly average mileage down from around 1000 miles a month in the previous 18 months.  For me this is the most significant change.

So how have things changed?

  • We’re walking more – short journeys of around a mile each way (e.g. to take my son to a weekly after-school activity) which we’d have done in the car – we’re now walking
  • We’re shopping more regularly – more locally.  We’re picking up things on the way home from work, or popping out to the shops a mile up the road.  We’ve also had a couple of online supermarket deliveries for bulky stuff.
  • I’m cycling more – it’s been fortunate that the weather’s been pretty mild – so I’ve been cycling to more work meetings.

I think the other stuff that’s interesting is how you need to be a bit more organised because you can’t always just pop out and get something that you need.  So I’ll be taking the wheelbarrow up to the Christmas Fair at the local hospice this afternoon to buy our Christmas tree. Life takes a bit more planning when you haven’t got a car sat on the drive ready to go.

Have we missed the car?  Not really – because when we’ve really needed one we’ve hired one.  I think it does change what you choose to do in your leisure time though – we’ve noticed that we’re more regularly going to places that we can get to easily on the bus – which for us means Leeds city centre or Harrogate.  Places like Wilkinson’s and Clas Ohlson – i.e. DIY stores in the city centre – come into their own when you don’t have a car to go out-of-town.

You might be thinking, “So what?”    Fair enough.  I’m not suggesting that everyone should give up their car.  We live in a city, have only one child, and have jobs which mean that with a bit of organisation we can get around without a car.  Our families live in places that we can easily get to on the train.  Not everyone’s life is like ours.

But plenty of us could drive less, or perhaps consider giving up the second car.  Or maybe share our car with other people.  And, in some cases, follow our lead and give up the car altogether.

With years of austerity ahead, many people will need to look at how to spend less.  For years it’s been a given that you learnt to drive at 17 and then as soon as you could afford it, you bought a car.  That’s changing already – and this trend is bound to get stronger as we learn to adapt to a good few years of falling incomes.

More than anything, it feels good not to be such a part of car culture any more.  In a small way we’re reducing demand for a finite resource.  We’re also making a bit of a counter-cultural statement that personal progress (better job, earning more) doesn’t mean you need to buy a nice car to sit on the drive.  And, you never know, I might finally get fit, before the midlife crisis hits……

Categories: Climate Change, Green issues, leeds, Social change, Social entrepreneurs

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  1. Good realistic blog. Although I live in rural Norfolk, I have a bus to and from the city pass my door every 30 minutes during the day. However to bus in to a meeting in Norwich takes me 30 mins longer than driving and I’m always pressed for time.

    Time is the cost you’ve not factored in – and its cost to you!

  2. Thanks Robert – you’re right there about the time. I’m fortunate that there’s a bus into town which is (usually) just about as quick as driving & parking up. And it’s easier to prep for the meeting on the bus than it is when you’re driving….

    And even better if I can cycle, think, get fit and save a bit of cash en route to the meeting too! But yes, there are times when only a car will do….


  3. For those of you who are interested, here are our stats for month 2 – December

    Total cost of getting around for family of 3 – £430.
    Total cost of car hire and car club – £159
    Other travel costs (all of which we would have incurred before getting rid of the car £271
    Miles travelled in car – 404

    Main things to note – Overall cost more or less the same as previous month. £159 car costs is significantly lower than month 1 (£274) and if it continues like that the case for giving up the car will be stronger (we’d anticipated it’ll cost £3000 in car hire and other costs over the year).

    Mileage is higher (Christmas) but still less than half of our long term average (1000 a month).

    We used the car club for the first time this month – and saved £40 on the £60 cost through refer-a-friend discounts.

    Other things I realised – Enterprise have dynamic pricing – so if they have several branches in your city, it’s worth shopping around – I’d assumed all branches would charge the same. Saved £70 over Christmas by going to another branch. We also need to get a bit smarter on how long we book the car for – taking it back at the end of the day instead of first thing next day can save a day’s rental (I know that sounds obvious but it’s not that obvious when you’re booking!)

    Overall – we’re doing fine so far!

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