Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Living Well without Owning a Car - Review

Chris Balish's How to Live Well Without Owning a Car - save money, breathe easier and get more mileage out of life - is packed with reasons to sell your car, ways to make the transistion, and substitutes for car transportation.

This is a great "Why to" and "How to" book for Peak Oil preparers living in cities who would like to reduce their dependence on cars, save more money for potential financial disruptions, prepare for a more physical life by getting more exercise, and reduce their negative impact on the environment. Hey - may as well do it now, while gas is $3.50 a gallon, rather than when gas is $6 a gallon.

Chris, a seven time Emmy-Award winning journalist, is also a former SUV driver who started feeling the pain of rising gas prices. He sold his SUV sooner than anticipated and he was left, briefly, without a car. He began taking the bus, biking around town, and hitching rides from friends. At the end of the month, he couldn't believe the excess balance left in his bank account and soon became a car-free advocate.

His primary argument is that cars and SUV's cost much more than you think they do. When you add up the cost of car payments, financing, insurance, gas, depreciation, maintenance, repairs, car washes, car tags and title, parking, speeding tickets, and so on, the True Cost of Ownership (TCO) for a car is about $8400 ($700/month), while for an SUV the TCO is nearer to $10,000 ($833/month). And that was at 2006 prices! If you saved and invested the average TCO instead of spending it on your car, at a 5% return, you would have over $100,000 in 10 years. Whoa!

Of course, a car based transportation system also causes all sorts of other problems both for individuals and society. Take a look at the following list:
  • Pain and suffering from car accidents (3 million injured in the US in 2003)
  • Deaths from car accidents (Over 46,000 in US in 2003)
  • Car accidents are the leading cause of deaths for infants and children
  • Air pollution
  • Carbon emissions contributing to global warming
  • Noise pollution
  • Stress caused by traffic
  • Time wasted in traffic
  • Health problems caused by not enough exercise
  • Dead wildlife and animals (road kill)
  • Wildlife habitat fragmentation
  • Sprawl from unchecked development enabled by cars and cheap oil
  • Use of diminishing fossil fuel resources
  • Waste trash and pollution from old tire, motor oil, and car disposal
  • The paving of America: roads, highways, driveways, and parking lots

He cites the following as the Six Keys to a Car Free Living:

  1. Can you get over your ego?
  2. Do you have a reliable way to get to work without a car (bike, car share, bus, walk)?
  3. Do you live in an urban or mixed-use development?
  4. Do you live near amenities?
  5. Do you have access to public transport?
  6. Are you flexible?

One of the keys to car free living is getting over the ingrained belief, pummelled into us by advertising and recieved wisdom, that all Americans need and desire a car. Think differently! Many people try to reduce the strain on their transportation budget by taking public transport, and this does eliminate the cost of gas, but most of the financial benefits of not owning a car only come after you sell your car.

If you have a reliable way (or two) to get to work, it's much cheaper and healthier, not to mention environmentally friendly, to release your car, embrace public transport and biking, and just RENT a car for isolated needs like vacations, moving large items, or ferrying guests around town. Chris only puts one sentence in the book in all caps, and it's this: Living within a few miles of where you work will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

He lists the following Top 10 Cities for Car Free Living (from Kathryn Keller, Women's Sport and Fitness magazine):

  1. Boston, Massachusetts
  2. Chicago, Illinois
  3. Denver, Colorado
  4. New York, New York
  5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  6. Portland, Oregon
  7. San Diego, California
  8. San Francisco, California
  9. Seattle, Washington
  10. Washington, D.C.

Having lived in Denver, I can vouch for their public transport and excellent biking trails. They also have a great downton, lower downtown, and historic mixed-use districts surrounding downtown. Even the vast, far off southern suburbs are connected via a system of high-speed Light Rail and Park n' Ride parking lots. When I lived there, I commuted to downtown via bus and really enjoyed avoiding the parking fees, sitting in traffic, and having the extra time to read a book on the way to work. My husband biked to work 2 days a week and rode the bus the other three. (I miss you Denver!) Sadly, Oklahoma City always ranks dead last on these types of lists.

So if you are intrigued by the idea of saving $8,400 a year, reducing stress from traffic and your dependence on your vehicle, and decreasing your impact on the environment, consider reading this book to get the helpful and informative details on ditching your car.


e4 said...

Great post. I do wish I lived in a situation that would let me be car-free. For now, the best I can do is live with an old beater that's paid for. Too bad it keeps breaking down!

Tara said...

Before moving to the boonies (where we barely have a grocery store, let alone PT), we lived in the Dallas metro area. While Dallas does have public transportation, I've always been amazed at how woefully inadequate it is compared to other major cities. Given the size of the area and it's population density, the mass transit system is just piss poor. To be fair, it works well, it just serves an ex tremely limited area. The area is also really unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists, both in terms of traffic/safety and air pollution. Such a bummer. I miss Chicago. And Denver, too. :)

I can't really say anything. We have two cars, a truck and three motorcycles (for two people). At least they were all bought used and only one was financed.

eatclosetohome said...

I have to say, that #1 factor to car-free living of "Get over your ego" really makes me bristle. We live out here because houses in the city cost nearly twice as much as out where we live (and taxes are triple). We did the math, and it was cheaper to have a car than to live in town.

I would love to get rid of my car, but then my only option is to bike on potholed country roads with no shoulder while cars whiz by at 60mph. My ego isn't the issue.

Hausfrau said...

eatclosetohome -
I can't lose my car either, due to the OKC sprawl, not my ego. If you read the book, the author doesn't recommend car-free living for people living in rural/outer suburban areas anyway.

A lot of people WOULD have to get over their ego to get rid of their car. Don't take it personally! :)

Verde said...

Last Monday I thought it would be good to do school shopping in Grand Junction, CO. What I thought was a one hour trip was really 2 1/2 each way (opps, now I know). But I was so surprised to see all the giant trucks and SUVs in town. There was hardly a small car in sight.

I know it's rural and not Denver.

LisaZ said...

What a great post. That book sounds wonderful, and we fit the criteria perfectly. I'm going to look it up and maybe buy/borrow the book somehow.

We are debating (and close to acting on) the idea of being a one-car family. We live in a small city in Central MN, with a decent bus system and most of our needed destinations within biking/walking distance. The only exception is that we have many friends outside of town, and we visit them often enough that renting a car would not be very feasible.

But even getting down to one car is hard to wrap my mind around. I really like my car! (And here's where the ego part comes in. I definitely think it's a factor for many people, even those of us who consider ourselves peak oil aware environmentalists!) I also like the options having a second car gives us.

But DH and I are coming to the realization that the tiny little bit of "freedom" the 2nd car gives us is not worth it. After all, as informed and concerned as we are, what kind of statement are we making by still having two cars? And what kind of statement could we make by NOT having two cars? I like the idea of making the positive statement! A personal witness, in a sense.

We'd also love to save some money to spend on more important things!

Stacie said...

When my family and I lived in London, UK, we were a one-car family because of the great public transportation and walking and cycling paths. It's wonderful to avoid a car and less stress!

In the US, however, the solution is not simple. Public transportation is limited, even in San Diego, one of the top places for car-free living. Alternative transportation options need to be viable with supporting infrastructure.

We're working on a very small electric vehicle that's considered an electric bicycle - I wonder if there will be objections to this on the road. It seems like we're having a hard time get a good answer from officials, so we're going on a 700 mile ride on public roads, bike paths, and trails, to see what the reaction really is.


Canadian said...

We live in Montreal and have lived quite well without a car for several years now. We picked where to live in the city based on proximity to public transit -- living in the suburbs was not an option. Yes, we would probably be able to get a bigger place for the same amount of money if we were willing to live out in sprawl zone, but we're happier as we are. Aside from money and the environment, not owning a car saves you a lot of hassle. For example, not having to scrape ice and snow off your car in the winter, not having to deal with repair issues, etc. Yes, there are some inconveniences, like there are places we simply stopped going because they are no longer easily accessible. (Some people I know use a car-sharing program for these things, but we don't bother.) All in all, though, I think it's wonderful going without a car. I can't imagine what a drain on our budget a car would be... and we all know that the overall trend of gas prices is going to be up, up, up.