I signed up to participate in a 30 day challenge sponsored by Zipcar to learn to live car free. The Low-Car Diet Challenge 2009. It just started, and there’s been a couple of articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer about it already (including this one that I’m quoted in!).
My reasons for participating are varied, and I’m going to attempt to explain them a bit here.
1. Owning a car is expensive. Seriously. My insurance alone is $100 a month, plus annual tag and inspection fees (2 inspections!), plus maintenance such as oil changes, etc. Yeah. It adds up. If you average it out over a 12 month period, just owning my car, even without monthly payments since it’s paid off, costs me about $130 per month, and I’m not including tolls and gas. Add in the gas, parking fees and/or passes, and any tolls when I do drive and it just keeps climbing. I only drive once, maybe twice a month, to run errands. I’m not sure that’s the best return on investment…wouldn’t you agree?
2. Driving in and around Philadelphia is a pain in the butt. And that’s an understatement. Parking is a pain (plus the fees). Traffic is a pain. Routes tend to be convoluted rather than direct due to one-way streets, construction, etc. so navigating is a pain. Trying to drive in Center City is an exercise in breathing so I don’t lose my mind. And don’t get me started on the constant traffic present on the interstates through and around the city.
3. Environmental concerns. This reason shouldn’t surprise anyone. Not driving is better for the environment. Duh. It means less oil, less pollution, less resources used. But it’s also the ambient environment. Fewer cars means less noise (engines plus car horns from annoyed drivers), less congestion, and a safer place to live.
4. Health. Clearly by biking and/or walking I’m getting exercise. When I moved to Philly and started biking to and from work (only 2 miles in each direction), I dropped almost 20 pounds in about 10 months. Startling. But clearly the exercise is a good thing for me. Anything to help me continue to get that regular exercise is a very good thing.
But I also have some concerns about living without a car.
1. Emergencies. This is my biggest fear. My family is scattered all over the country, as are my friends. I have my cat. So I have a little worry in the back of my head about being able to get somewhere at a moment’s notice if needed. I know I have friends that do this without a problem, but the fear is still there.
2. Convenience. OK, so this one is partially laziness. Right now I don’t have to plan if I go somewhere. I don’t have to plan when to do something, or how much time I think it will take. I just get in my car and go. If I want to go away for the weekend or night I just go. If I’m using a car sharing program, I am restricted to when I can reserve a car and how long I can have it. So clearly I’m going to have to work on budgeting my time and planning.
3. What my car (and having one) means. My car = freedom, independence. On some level I associate having a car with not having to depend on people. I’ve never lived without one except when living in Argentina for three months many many years ago (and having a car there wasn’t a good idea…talk about crazy drivers!). I’m also attached to this particular vehicle emotionally. I’ve had it for over 11 years. It’s gotten me through moves, cross country trips, and countless trips through the Michigan winters to visit family. It’s reliable and I feel safe driving it. I’m not sure how I’ll be driving multiple vehicles…I’m so used to mine and the way it drives. It’s comfortable, like a broken in pair of jeans.
What I’m hoping from this experience is to see if living car free is really something I can do as I’d honestly like to be car free. It’s an exercise in thought and learning as much as anything else. It will force me to think about what I do, the choices I make. It will also allow me to explore options, to learn variable routes and other ways I can get places. Philly is a very walkable and bike-able city, and the public transit here is light-years better than most places I’ve lived. I’ve been considering going car-free for sometime now because I don’t need to use it here in Philly, but I keep stopping at taking that final step of selling my car. Clearly I need to work through some of the feelings I associate with car ownership and letting go of my car and my attachment to it.
It’s also difficult to say “I will try living without my car for x number of days” to just myself and not cheat, forget, etc. By participating in the Low-Car Diet Challenge, I can’t cheat or forget as I’ll have regular reminders. I’m giving my word that I won’t use my car, which is a huge impetus to follow through on that promise. Kind of like how it’s easier to develop the habit of going to the gym regularly if you’re partnering with someone. So I’m partnering with Zipcar to follow through and really learn how to live without my vehicle.
I may discover by the end of this that living without my car is not something I can (or want) to do. Or I could find that it’s freeing and decide to take the step of selling my car. Either way, this will be a valuable experience.
It really will be a challenge in a few ways, but I’m up for it. I’ll be blogging about it as we go along. Including my experience of using Zipcar for the first time (hopefully this weekend! if I can get my card in time).