Here the answers to some Frequently Asked Questions about life without a car.
Q: Why are you so one-sided?
A: Car ownership is supported by car manufacturers, oil companies, governments, advertisers, Clarksonistas and a massive lobbying effort pumping out “information” about cars. On top of this, everyone who owns a car knows about the advantages – essentially, you get in it when you like, and drive where you like (within reason). Owning a car (or more than one) has become the default.
Whilst car owners probably know that not owning a car supports the greater good (pollution, etc), they are a lot less knowledgeable about what owning a car might mean for them as an individual – whether it’s the health effects, the impact on their wallet, the damage to their children or other personal aspects of car ownership.
Q: Why are you so anti-car?
A: For some people, a car is necessary. For many, it’s a habit. Cars only arrived recently on the planet, and have effectively colonised us, reshaping our towns and cities, our countryside and our behaviour. In case you’re wondering, I can drive. I do have a full, clean and current driving licence. I have never had a traumatic childhood experience involving a car; I have never crashed a car; I have never been hit by one. I know that there are times when only a car will do, but that doesn’t mean you have to own one. Sometimes, you need a pint of milk but you don’t have to own a cow. There are many ways to get from A to B and the car is only one of them. As soon as you start thinking like this, a whole new world opens up.
Q: I’d like to give up my car, but have become dependent on it and don’t know how else to get around
A: If you aren’t used to travelling by train, bus or bike, or on foot, it can be hard to know where to start. Not knowing which bus to take, how to navigate an unknown city or find the cheapest train ticket can put a stop to your journey before it has started. But it’s worth the effort: there are plenty of apps which will get you onto the right train or bus, and GPS on smart phones has made wayfaring easy and intuitive, even if you are in a new area.
Q: I am a busy mother with demanding kids, who rely on me to take them to school, ballet classes, piano lessons/sleepovers etc. How can I give up my car?
A: If you really want to do your kids a favour, and make them more independent, resourceful, and socially skilled, stop taking them to school in the car. Find a walking bus, or put them together with a few other kids, or take it in turns with other mums and dads to take them to school. As for the rest, find activities that are closer to home, and that you can walk to. If you really want to be a taxi driver, start charging the kids taxi fares from their pocket money. That way they will realise that everything has a cost, including transport.
Q: I work on a business park off a major road with no public transport. How can I give up my car?
A: Have you thought about changing your job? Your employer has chosen to locate here because it’s cheap and because there are few distractions from work. And by forcing you to drive to work, your employer is effectively imposing a wage cut on you.
If you change your job to one in a more accessible location, you can walk out at lunchtime to sandwich bars, pubs, restaurants and shops and rejoin the human race. If you can’t do this, find other ways to get to work. And try talking to your employer about putting in place a non-car transport strategy – that way, they also get to use all of those expensive car parking spaces for something useful. Don’t work for an employer located where there is no easy access or public transport.
Q: How can I get to the shops without a car?
A: What kind of shopping are we talking about? The kind that involves traipsing round a glorified warehouse where you have to collect all of your own purchases, schlepp them to a checkout, and then cart them to your car. This has come about because supermarkets have made “the parking” easy. In this way, we do all their work for them. Better ways to shop, and to improve your life:
- get your milk and dairy products delivered to your door by a milkman.
- go online to buy non-perishables, staple goods and heavy stuff. Get the supermarkets to do the heavy lifting: use their delivery services.
- join your local vegetable box scheme and get tasty vegetables delivered to your door.
- then walk to your local shops to buy the fresh stuff: you can interact with real human beings who know and care about the things they sell.
Giving up the supermarket run frees up more of your time for more enjoyable shopping. And if doesn’t inevitably mean you end up paying more for your supplies. Supermarkets are not always the cheapest deal around: in December 2007 some of our biggest supermarkets were fined £116 million by the Office of Fair Trading – after admitting that they fixed prices – consumers ended up paying £270 million more than they should have for milk, cheese and butter.
Q: How am I supposed to buy the big ticket items without a car to carry them home?
A: Many shops will deliver big stuff. Why do the work for them? Did you use your car the last time you bought a fridge (why?). And when it comes to the really big stuff, it probably won’t even fit in your car. Save the money, save the struggle, and hire a van. Or if you need some help, hire A Man With A Van (sorry, it’s rare to find A Woman With A Van). Or don’t bother even going to the shops at all – just go online.
Q: I often have to move stuff around the country, delivering things. How do I do this without a car?
A: Why do it yourself? Did you really want to become a courier or a trucker? Use a service like Shiply (www.shiply.com ). This is an internet-based logistics service which arranges for pickup and delivery of items using empty space on a vehicle which is already making the journey. Nice work since, according to Shiply, 25% of the lorries on Britain’s roads are running empty.
Q: I am keen on DIY. How can I carry on DIY-ing without a car to pick up essential supplies?
A: Why let your liking for DIY extend to doing the shops’ work for them? The likes of B&Q and Homebase have set up their vast hideous sheds on the edges of many towns. This has helped kill off our High Streets, destroying the useful hardware stores where we used to buy things.
Now the Big Sheds have found that selling screws and nails does not produce the high margins that their investors require. So they are re-positioning themselves as aspirational and appealing to women. Soon they will stop selling nails and the other useful DIY stuff you need, in favour or hair dryers, microwaves and other higher margin products. So beat them at their own game and buy all the useful, albeit heavy stuff, from a mail order or online supplier. Make them do the work by delivering to you. And if you really must visit a DIY Shed, hire the right size vehicle to pick up whatever it is you intend to buy.
Q: I live a busy life and I don’t have the time. How can I give up my car?
A: The car doesn’t free you. It enslaves you and it eats your time. See the “Save Time” page on this website. And the page on the ” 40:40:20 rule”
Q: I can’t give up my car. It’s part of me, it defines who I am and it tells people what to think of me.
A: Don’t let the advertisers and other people define you as by what you buy and what you drive. Hiring cars will keep everyone guessing – one week you can be in a Ford Ka, the next an S Class Mercedes. Or even a White Van Man. Or Woman.
Q: I am a student with an active social life and loads of lectures and seminars to get to. Life without a car is not possible.
A: Are you kidding? Being a student is the time to enjoy life without the trappings of the consumer society – debt and responsibilities. Not having a car isn’t just about spending more time on sex and drugs and rock and roll – books can be pretty rewarding! Remember that it’s a real privilege to have 3 or 4 years to enjoy learning for its own sake. After all that’s why its called “Higher” Education – it serves a higher purpose (and I’m not referring to a deity).
Q: I am a senior citizen and need my car to get around.
A: Senior Citizens who are drawing their state pension can get someone else to do the driving, and do it for free – it’s called a bus pass. Since April 2006, people receiving the state pension and disabled people have enjoyed free off-peak bus travel in England. And many locations now have Ring and Ride type schemes, where you can phone for a car to take you wherever you need to go – your very own, low price taxi service.
Q: I have to use my car to get to the dump and get rid of things I no longer need.
A: Don’t just throw it away: there is no “away.” Ask yourself a few questions, starting with what is all this stuff and why do I need it in the first place? It would be better if you didn’t have to get rid of it. But sometimes we all need to clear out the clutter, so think about alternatives to the tip. If you can’t re-use it, try and find someone else who can.
You can dispose of practically anything using the power of the internet with Freecycle: http://www.freecycle.org/ – best of all, Freecyclers will come to you, pick up the things you no longer need, and then take them away. The service is easy to use, and we have Freecycled all sorts of stuff: an old kitchen table, a computer trolley, even the soil when we dug a garden pond. If it’s garden waste that you want to get rid of (assuming you have run out of composting capacity), many towns have groups that will collect your green waste for a small fee. For example Magpie, a recycling co-op in Brighton http://www.magpie.coop/.
Q: I can’t give up my car because I live miles from anywhere and there’s no public transport.
A: Tricky. But over 80% of the UK population lives in urban areas, where the public transport is usually quite good – try it, and see. If you are in the “rural” 20%, life without a car is more difficult, but still possible: have a look at the Forum pages for stories of people who live in the wilds, but still manage without a car. And since the average UK household moves every 7 years, see this as the chance to move somewhere that’s better connected.
Q: I love walking in the country, but it’s impossible to go for a walk without a car.
A: Do you enjoy walking in circles? Not using a car to go for a country walk means not having to get back to the car park. You can then do more interesting linear walks, without having to re-trace your steps. Even better, you can go via a pub and have as many refreshing draughts as you like; you don’t have to worry about what the local low life is doing to your car and its contents while it is parked in some lonely spot and you are tramping the countryside.
And when you go for a walk without using your car you are reducing parking congestion and not adding to overcrowding on narrow country lanes. Using public transport helps to create demand for local bus services and branch lines, which are often vital in rural areas. And you might even find yourself on a less well-known trail or footpath.
You would be amazed what you can do using trains and buses. We have walked the South Downs Way (101 miles), the Thames Path (184 miles) from the source to the Thames Barrier, The Ridgeway (87 miles), The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path (93 miles) and The Vanguard Way (66 miles) without needing to use a car for any of them. Public transport is a lot better than you’d imagine – sometimes you just have to dig a little to find out. To help you when you take your boots and leave the car, use http://www.carfreewalks.org/
Q: I have tried really hard, but I just cannot live without my car.
A: Sorry to hear that – you are likely to be poorer, fatter, more unfit, less happy, possibly have a shorter life and be less interesting than your friends and colleagues who given up their cars. Have a look at this site, for information on ways to help reduce your dependence: http://cuttingyourcaruse.co.uk/
And adopt the following mantra, so that you use your car less, and begin to get some of the benefits described above. And then see if you can wean yourself off it altogether. If you can, walk; if you can’t walk, cycle; if you can’t cycle, take a bus; if you can’t take a bus, take a taxi; if you can’t take a bus or taxi, take a train. Try to use the Internet for teleconferencing or video-conferencing. And if there really, really is no alternative, you can always use a car.