I wrote last week about how we’ve got on in the two years we’ve not owned a car. I focused on the financial angle – last year we saved £1400 compared with the year before – but it’s about much more than the money.
Yet however committed we are to trying to “do our bit” from an environmental point of view, we wouldn’t have stuck with it if it’d been loads of hassle. But that’s not to say it’s all been a walk in the park (although there have been a fair few of those, now that’s our nearest leisure opportunity….) So, before I write more about why I’m glad we ditched the car, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on things that can be a bit of a pain.
Probably the main issue is that whilst we’re pretty happy with the service we get from car hire companies, there are things about the whole experience that could be better. Whilst I’m used to it now (and in two years I’ve had no problems) you do worry that you’re going to get stung for the 800 quid excess for the tiniest of scratches. As I say, I’ve had no problems, but I’ll always be the one parked miles away from anyone else in the car park, just in case someone opens their door into ours and leaves an expensive little dent. Of course, you can pay to waive the excess, but that’s expensive – although I now have an annual policy which gives me a bit more peace of mind. For the record, we hire from Avis – as they’re pretty near, their prices are good and their Avis Preferred scheme makes life a lot easier for regular customers.
One of the other main issues relates to spontaneity. Today’s been a good example – a dull Sunday morning, and then early afternoon the sun came out for a glorious winter afternoon. With a car on the drive, we may have set off to somewhere like Harlow Carr for a couple of hours. By that time, going there on the bus (which we often do) would’ve taken too long – so we didn’t go. I tidied up the garden instead…
There’s a similar issue in relation to your world shrinking a bit. We go to certain places (particularly the city centre) much more than others – because some places (for example Yorkshire Sculpture Park) aren’t easy to get to by public transport. It doesn’t really bother us that much, but it’s noticeable how we now don’t go to some places that we used to go to a lot.
Then there’s the quality of public transport in Leeds. We’re fortunate that we’re on decent bus routes – and only around 20 minutes from the centre of Leeds. But public transport in Leeds – for the city of its size – isn’t good enough. Ever since I moved here 20 years ago there’s been talk of trams – and they’ve never turned up. We might be lucky and get a trolleybus. And whilst I do stick up for public transport – the buses aren’t as bad as people would often have you believe – it’s really not good enough – and I understand why for lots of people driving is a rational choice.
Similarly, as much as I love my bike, cycling in Leeds leaves a lot to be desired. It’s getting better (at least that’s what I tell myself) but Leeds isn’t a city with a strong cycling culture – or much decent cycling infrastructure. My commute to work is 5 miles – on carefully chosen, relatively quiet roads – but it’s rare that I have a totally incident-free commute. It shouldn’t feel like I’m taking my life into my hands every morning – but that’s sometimes how it feels.
So there you go, they’re the main challenges that come from not owning a car. You might well be wondering why we bother. Just buy a bloody car. But I’ll explain over the next couple of weeks why we’re happy with the choice we’ve made – and why I think our city would be a better place if more people considered doing the same.