Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Carless at last!

It's long been a dream of mine to live again without a car. When I was single, thirty years ago, people tried to give (or lend) me cars; I always refused.

With family life came two sequential, nearly identical Volvo wagons. Le Duc babied that car for 17 years, and it ran–still runs–with stolid dependability, a Harrison Ford of a vehicle.

Long may you run

I liked its cheery cherry boxiness, tight turning radius, dog and child-accommodating bench seats. Privately, however, I bided my time. One day, I dreamed, we would go car-free.

I can't stand depreciating assets; I'm aggrieved when something costly erodes. It's not just a matter of burning fossil fuels, spewing emissions, all that environmental stuff– though I'm on board with that, too.

Cars generate stress for me. I don't enjoy driving, I don't like the expense, and who was the jerk who drove into our trunk and then took off, last month?

So, we did it. We had originally planned to sell the car when we moved to Montréal, but Le Duc wasn't ready. Then, one day he was; might have been one of those $110 fill-ups. A genial professor bought it within a few days of posting on Kijiji.

This decision is possible because of our transit-rich neighbourhood: two bus routes stop in front of our building; two subway lines are a three-minute bus ride or ten-minute walk. There are two Communauto car rentals a few blocks away, a longer-term car rental agency just down the street, a Bixi (rental bike) stand at the corner, and, if feeling flush, a cab stand across the street. Le Duc has a bike. About all we're missing is a helipad on the roof.

And, since the major expense categories for seniors are housing and transportation, reducing the transit cost by hundreds of dollars a month would free up money for other priorities.

People say, "Well, I'd do that too, but I need my car." Some who think they require one or multiple cars may find that with planning or re-orientation, they don't. (I've always chosen where I live with commuting time and transit options top of the list.)

We have friends in Toronto who went decades without a car, even with a child. Now in their sixties, they bought one. So, each person decides whether and when. We may find that we want a car; I won't say need. It won't be need; it will be for the ease, the convenience.

We'll see. We are learning as we go what's necessary and what's habit, in this stage of life.

And right now, two months into no car, I love it; Le Duc is still seeing. Cars are very deep with guys.





24 comments:

Susan said...

I am envious. As much as I would like to be carless, I live in a city with only spotty mass transit. My husband is able to take the light rail to work some days if I take him to the station, but day to day, most destinations require a car. And, once my husband gets to his office, there is no transporation to other places he needs to go if he is carless. I wish that planning for future mass transit was a priority in our society.

Déjà Pseu said...

Good for you, Duchesse! Le monsieur and I have begun discussing where we might like to retire, and walkability/accessible transit is high on my list of factors to consider. We need to think about the fact that there may come a time when we're not able to drive, and don't want to be housebound. I think about his grandparents who bought into a retirement community way out in the desert, an hour at least from any of the rest of the family, and miles from even a grocery store or pharmacy. That would be my version of hell.

Kathy said...

Virtually impossible in Los Angeles. But congratulations to you, lovely to have all that convenient public transportation near to you.

Swissy said...

Yes, yes! We chose to retire in a very small New England village, on the Common, a minute's walk to library, bank, post office, insurance, floral shop, bistro and wonderful little grocer that supplies the bistro. We still have our car, but only use it for the recycling center, a couple of runs a month to larger stores and nurseries, etc. And a few road trips a year. This is our compromise for now. We could do without a car in the future if we availed ourselves of more services. Good for you! Chic!

lagatta à montréal said...

We are very fortunate here in Montréal, not only with the métro and bus system, but also the CommunAuto carshare service (my late friend Claire Morissette was one of its founders, as well as a prominent campaigner for more and better cycle paths and lanes), lots of bicycle paths and lanes, and a degree of density that makes many destinations walkable (I have time to run some errands on foot today - too much snow and ice for most over-50s to cycle - and get some exercise).

I've never owned a car, quite deliberately, but then I've always lived in cities and have no children. I do have friends with two small children and no car, but they use the carshare system for "big" shopping and other parental needs.

It is a nice car, by the way. Hope the prof likes it.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

With retirement very much on my radar I am eagerly reading about such things...
You sound very liberated about being car-less an attitude shift that is so positive.

My Volvo wagon is still reliable although I have thought that walking to the shops will certainly be a healthy alternative, less expensive and I do have an adorable French Market basket on wheels!
Retirement seems like a great opportunity to reassess and refine ones life.

Duchesse said...

Susan: Cities are increasingly improving their public transit in light of the inevitable problems of cars; perhaps yours will, too. I have friends who gave up a suburban, 2-car existence and moved into the city, where they walk to work and use only one car rarely.

Pseu: We did not really think about becoming unable to drive (Le Duc is only 58) but yes, that day comes and it's smart to plan ahead.

Kathy: It is a result of social policy, for which I can't take credit, but am grateful.

Swissy: Your village sounds delightfu1! We're in a city of 2+ million but in a neighbourhood with everything we need day to day just steps away.

lagatta: For many in this neighbourhood, owning a car is still considered a need, and some people view cars as a pleasurable possession. I suspect most of the deep car-lovers are men.

hostess: You put it well- a time to reassess and make new choices.






Kristien62 said...

We are completely dependent on our cars in this area. Public transportation is sparse, ending early in the evening. Taxi's are iffy and no subway, of course. I grew up in a city without a car and I can't say that I felt deprived. This area is such a car dependent place that our local senior center has a class for people who must give up driving, showing them how to get along without transport and what services they can tap into for rides to appts., etc.

I envy the city people. My son, who now lives in Boston and formerly lived in D.C. and Philadelphia, gave up his car in college. He loves the freedom of not looking for parking, not paying insurance and all the other trappings of car ownership. Wish I could do the same.

Anonymous said...

I can vouch for the fact that a family of four can live in the city and remain carless. My husband and I got married just over 15 years ago and bought a condo in downtown Toronto. A few years later our first child came along, right around the time that Zipcar (and Auto Share) appeared in Toronto. I thought it was a given that we should buy a car but my husband (much to my disappointment) insisted we remain carless. A few years, and another kid later, we till live downtown and still have no car.

Now, I must say that our family and friends (though they don't say it), think we're nuts as most are suburb dwellers (though a couple are within the city suburbs if you want to consider Yonge & Eglinton that). They wonder how two people in their right mind could raise two kids DOWNTOWN and WITHOUT CAR.

If I had my choice we would live in a quaint little house somewhere in the city (good luck affording that anytime soon!) along the subway line and maybe have one car for big shopping trips such as stocking up at Costco or visiting family and friends that live in the outer burbs like Richmond Hill.

Sorry about the long, drawn our post, but I have to say that though I never planned things to be this way, it has worked out pretty good for us. I, too, hate driving and have always found it stressful. Not to mention the traffic in the GTA these days. It makes me feel better to hear from people like you even if it's just as positive reinforcement that we are doing the right thing. Helen in Toronto

Duchesse said...

Kristien62: Auto dependence is a feature of developed-world life and is not going away; still the degree of dependence can be examined by everyone and is increasingly an important topic for urban planners.

Helen in Toronto: I wouldn't consider Yonge/Eg a suburb, maybe "uptown" but hardly, say Richmond Hill; it is well-served by transit. Every family will decide for themselves.

When my twin sons were small (we lived in Leslieville for 25 years) I was happy enough to have a car though I never drove around the city, preferring transit. (Le Duc used the car, I avoided it.) At 25, only one of those boys has a license and neither owns a car.

Belle de Ville said...

While I love to be able to commute to my office by bike, like my fiance does to his office, it just isn't possible with the distance and traffic.
While retirement in a suburban environment is desirable, it doesn't offer the easy public transportation that a major metropolitan area offers.
Perhaps the answer is to keep one car that is inexpensive to operate such as a hybrid or electric car.
Wishing you a very happy New Year.

materfamilias said...

Good for you! We still need our car, although it's 12 years old, and has 78,000 kilometres, so we don't need it much! It makes our commutes to Vancouver much easier, lets me get to my far-flung Pilates class once or twice a week, and makes lugging home stacks of marking and heavy texts much easier. We pay heavily for that convenience, of course, especially since our car can't come home with us (foot passenger ferry only to our island), so we pay to park it in town. We also pay for me to park it on campus, AND we pay to park it underground at the condo.
I'm pleased that our kids manage so well without in their city lives, although some of them have ended up with a vehicle, especially to make life with little ones more manageable. Still, we all appreciate the city's transit and walkability, and I'm convinced that the urban lifestyle ends up being much healthier for that single reason. . . .Some day, I imagine we'll join you in carlessness, although we'll certainly rent occasionally and/or join a carshare. Meanwhile, you're leading the way . . . ;-)

LauraH said...

Congratulations. Living in Toronto, I have never owned a car. Sometimes it's inconvenient, especially for an avid gardener but the benefits are great. Walking to the subway when weather permits is a great way to enjoy my neighbourhood and I believe that the savings over the years were a big factor in being able to retire at 57.

I really admire you for the courage to move to a new city. How are you handling the need to find a new doctor, dentist, hairstylist, etc?

Susan said...

Having progressive social policy is so important. Unfortunately, no matter what we think is optimal and push and campaign for, there are just as many others who do not view spending dollars for the common good as something that they want to do. I live in Texas, we have a governor who most saw in action during the early Presidential campaign. We feel fortunate to have the light rail in Dallas (limited hours and coverage). Our downtown area is not family friendly (no grocery stores or other shopping within walking distance). These are things we hope for in the future, but they are not really on the horizon right now.

Duchesse said...

Belle de Ville: There are a number of options for decreasing dependence on autos, if not for going carless. North American suburbs are extremely car-intensive- they were largely designed when gas was cheap and people were not thinking as much about the environmental impact.

materfamilias: The key words are "much easier", we all have things that bring ease and though we know they are costly to both us and the environment, we keep them. For me it is air conditioning!

LauraH: I've posted about the move occasionally but in short, found hairdresser by trying a few nearby places, dr. through referral from local health centre, dentist by web search. Very happy with all!

Susan: Full disclosure, a branch of my family are Texans (Houston and Dallas) so I am well acquainted with the policies of your governor, as well as the extremely limited transit options of both cities.

Tiffany said...

I didn't learn to drive until I was 29, preferring to walk and take public transport. Kid 1 was the turning point. We're still at the stage - large grocery shopping expeditions, kid-ferrying, big dog, etc - where a car is unfortunately a necessity, but we've kept to just one while most of our friends have two. Once the kids leave home, we plan to move to an apartment even closer to the city centre, so the car will go then ...

Karen said...

I am very lucky to have lived my entire adult life in Manhattan, and have never owned a car. That is the norm here for all but the richest residents. Parking alone in my neighborhood is $500+ per month!

rubiatonta said...

Disclosure: I am one of the rare female gear-heads in the world, and I really love driving.

At the same time, I was over the moon to sell my car when I moved to Madrid. It is sometimes a pain not to be able to haul everything I need home in one shopping trip, but figuring out the logistics helps me keep my strategic thinking skills sharp. And my grocery store delivers orders over 40 euros, so when I have a lot of heavy and/or bulky stuff to buy (detergent, wine, TP), someone will bring it to me.

RebeccaNYC said...

As a New Yorker, I am very happily car free! My husband and I had one for about 5 years, but the parking, maintenance and worry was not worth it in the end. Anytime we need a car, we rent it, worry free! When we retire and move out of the city (very very far away, we are going to rural France) we will re-visit the car issue. Now? We're FREE!!

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, Duchesse. I love the freedom of traveling on foot, and wish that most of the cars on the road would just disappear. Like the Hostess of the Humble Bungalow, I have a light French wicker shopping cart I take with me as I walk around town. People I meet seem so charmed by it that I think they must be expressing an unmet hunger for the immediacy, simplicity, and slower pace of the pedestrian life. It's true, though, that mostly women admire my pretty cart; men prefer to pay a fortune for gas, get stuck in traffic, and stress over parking in order to possess the thrill of that vrooom...

C.

lagatta à montréal said...

Rebecca, it depends where you move. Ideally, you aren't too far from a town with a railway station, and charming as hills are, not in a region with such steep hills that you can't cycle to a town with shopping and services (remembering that even if fit, you will be older, and will need sturdy cycles and be carrying shopping).

I don't think carshare /car sharing is as popular in France as in Germany, Netherlands and other northern European countries, but it is on the rise and you can research it on the net.

By the way, Mary Soderstrom, who lives nearby (in Outremont) has written at length about green and walkable cities, and is definitely of an age for Duchesse's blog! marysoderstrom.blogspot.com

Duchesse said...

Tiffany: I didn't seriously consider going car-free when my children were small. By the time whey were 11 or 12 they were traveling independently by transit (but as a pair.)

Karen: I brought a car into Manhattan precisely once!

rubi: Oh, I like *driving* (open, dry road, scenic) very much, it's owing a car that I dislike! And- owned some cool cars back in the day, fun to drive- but not to service.

RebeccaNYC: I'd probably want a car in rural France too, to explore neighbouring towns or take longer jaunts. There are trains and buses but you might want the ease of a car.

C.: I'm on foot sometimes but for longer distances (this is a big city), take bus or subway, so I use a backpack- nothing special, just a basic functional one. Your carts are charming.


lagatta: Carshare is great though we've found that we usually want a car for a half-day (or more) and the classic car rentals will do that as cheaply, without a $500 membership fee.



lagatta à montréal said...

The one near us also has vans/small trucks for moving stuff - and it is so exceptionally close! That makes the major benefit of carshare schemes a bit moot. Friends just east of the Jean-Talon Market, who were doing a major reno on their multigenerational duplex, made abundant use of that resource!

Susan Partlan said...

Congratulations! I can see how it would work living in Montreal.

This has long been a dream of ours too, but not one likely to come true living in the SF Bay Area.