|Photo credit- freedigitalphotos.net- Gualberto107.|
I've given this a lot of thought, to be honest, and I think that whether or not someone feels a car is a necessity is a matter of choice and lifestyle and expectations.
Because my husband and I never had a car as adults, we have gotten used to not having a car, and in many ways, we built our life around that fact. There are two ways of looking at it- either that not having a car controls our lives, day in and day out... or that we simply decide that having a car is not a priority for us and structure our lives around that fact.
Because we don't have a car, we chose a community to live in with public transportation, and not just some, but very good and frequent and affordable public transportation ($1 to the city and $1.70 to get a transfer within the city), so that we wouldn't feel stuck without a car. Our town is also only a 20 minute bus ride to the closest part of the nearest city and 45 minutes to the city center. Yes, not having a car did make our housing choices more limited, and more expensive- housing in our community is in high demand because of its location, which caused rental prices to go up exponentially- 9 years ago when we moved here, we paid $300 per month for a 960 square foot apartment with a large yard, and now we're paying double that- $600 for a 484 square foot apartment with no yard. Had we had a car, we potentially could have moved somewhere further out, with cheaper housing, but, to be honest, housing is expensive all over locally, and if we'd had a car and moved someplace an hour outside of the city, I'm not even sure we'd be able to get any cheaper than we have now (just looked up on a local real estate listing, and places with much more of a commute and no decent public transportation don't even cost any less than what we're paying now). Until I was writing up this post, I thought to myself that its a trade off- I pay more in housing to be able to manage without the expense of a car, but now I see that I'm not even paying significantly more (if at all) for my housing in my public transportation accessible location...
But not having a car does affect our lives in other ways, not just about where we choose to live.
We do structure our life around the bus route- when my husband looks for a job, he considers how close it is to public transportation, and fortunately got a job in the part of the city closest to our house, so that his commute would only be 20 minutes if there were no traffic... but with traffic (a daily occurrence, unfortunately) more like 30-45 minutes. If he were offered a better paying job in a further area of the city, it would be more difficult for him to accept it, since the commute would be so much longer, but to be honest, even if he had a car, the same issue would arise, as a car doesn't necessarily significantly shorten the length of a potential commute. (I plugged in the distance of an area in the opposite end of the city from where we live, and the difference in commute would be an hour and 16 minutes by bus and 58 minutes by car- not a significant difference even.)
When it comes to schools for the kids, if we'd consider sending them to schools instead of homeschooling, we'd only pick ones easily accessible by public transportation (which is another reason we homeschool- schools we'd potentially send to are too difficult to get to by bus, but to be honest, they'd be difficult to get to by car as well).
When it comes to trips with the family, again, we pick locations that are accessible by public transportation and don't consider places that are not.
The biggest way not having a car probably affects our lives is that it takes longer to get things done, like when I have errands to run, I can't take the shortest route from one place to the other, but rather, along existing bus routes, which are generally more circuitous in addition to being slower because of all the stops they make along the way. Because of this, I try to get as many errands done in one go as I can manage, making a list of all the places I need to go, and hitting them up all on one trip, so long as they're near-ish enough to each other. I try to walk from one place to another to save money on bus fares, and often when I need to just get one thing, instead of spending 20 minutes in the city (not counting transportation to and from) I spend a good few hours doing various things that need doing, instead of just doing them on a separate trip.
Sometimes, though, having no car doesn't mean I pack everything into one trip; sometimes I need to make more than one trip because of being car-less. I carry everything with me in my stroller and/or in a giant backpack on my back, not in a car, which means that space is more limited, and I can't be transporting as many things as I would be able to had I had a car, so sometimes a second trip is needed when, had I had a car, perhaps one trip would have sufficed.
That reminds me- another way not having a car affects my life is that, to be honest, I've gotten used to looking silly- no way around it, walking around with a giant backpack and a loaded stroller does look silly, but it's the price we pay for not having a car.
My grocery shopping is generally done in the city, in the farmer's market that is easily accessible by public transportation, but I also do shops in a nearby grocery store a short 10 minute bus ride away. I generally bring back all my groceries on the bottom of the bus (perk from living only 200 feet from the bus stop- easy enough to bring things inside), but sometimes I pay ~$6 for a delivery from the grocery store.
When I talk to friends with cars, they tell me generally how much they pay for their cars- in addition to thousands of dollars (or more like tens of thousands) on their cars, even second hand cars, every month they pay really large amounts for gasoline, insurance, parking, and other car related fees- people have told me that the minimum most people pay for their car monthly is ~$550 per month- and that is after they already spent so much on their car in the first place. I think about all that I can do with $550 per month and appreciate how much money I save without a car. Time, yes. I do need to spend more time on things because of not having a car, and since time is money for some, they find it worth it to spend the money on the car.
But for me?
If I saved all that time by driving to and from my errands with a car, would I be able to use that time to earn more money?
Another difference between cars and public transportation is that with public transportation I need to pay per person, whereas with cars its the same cost no matter how many people are traveling. Therefore, when I do my shopping in the city, if possible, I try to go only when Mike is home and he can watch the kids, so I only pay ~$3.40 for my trip to the city (there and back) instead of twice that amount if I brought my kids along. Again, this isn't even so significant, but sometimes I need to travel to a further city, and then I need figure out what is cheaper- to pay for a babysitter to watch the kids all the hours that I'm gone, or to pay for their bus fare as well. Usually it is cheaper to pay for their bus fare, but the fact that I have to calculate whether a babysitter would be cheaper than a bus ride is something that someone with a car doesn't need to do- they just take them along.
The thing about having a car?
It's a luxury.
It really is.
However, like electricity or running water or a phone line or so many other things, its a luxury that so many people have become utterly reliant on in their day to day life that they simply do not know how to function without it.
While I manage to live without a car, if you'd take away my phone line, I would not be able to manage, and yet, years ago, everyone lived without a phone line. It's because we become so used to these things, that they become part of the everyday fabric of our existence to the point at which we do not know how to function without one.
That is one of the reasons I do not want a car. I don't want to be reliant on a car the way I am on a phone. I see we manage just fine without one, but those that I know with cars really don't manage without one, really suffer from the lack of one, even though I don't really feel I suffer much, if at all. I see that people start off with one car and then become so reliant on them that they feel the need for a second one, which then just doubles the expenditures. And then people's families grow and the cars that worked for them at first no longer even fits their family, so then they need to buy a larger car, even more expensive. I find buying a car starts a cycle of reliance, because the same way I structure my life around the fact that I don't have a car, people with a car structure their life around their car, so that when their car no longer is available for whatever reason, they really are stuck, since in many ways their cars are the fabric that holds their life together. In my opinion, that's an awfully scary thing, to be so reliant on something so expensive- because what if you no longer can afford that car, even if you can right now?
I will admit, there are times that my life is affected negatively because I don't have a car.
Sometimes there are events that are in places that are far from home, and since we would have to take a bus there and back, and buses stop running by a certain time of night, our family can't get to those places as easily as those with a car, and sometimes there are places simply not accessible by public transportation whatsoever.
For me, it doesn't bother me so much if I can't get to places because there isn't public transportation there- its a choice we make by not having a car- we sometimes have to miss out on things- and that is ok with us. But when people expect us to be in certain places that aren't easily accessible by public transportation and get upset if we don't show up (like familial obligations), that's when it gets tricky.
So for times like that, I do think about a car. But not to buy one, merely to rent one.
The problem is that neither I nor my husband have a drivers license... The plan had been for my husband to get one this summer, but we had so many expenses related to buying our house that that didn't happen, but that is in the works.
So no, I don't want to be a car owner, and I can't even picture a time in the future when I'd even like to own a car, but I would like the ability to rent one, from time to time.
Do you have a car? Do you feel it is a necessity for you? Do you feel that much of your lifestyle is dependent around having a car, to the extent that you would not manage at all without one?
Do you not have a car? How do you manage without one?