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Can You Really Give Up Your Car?

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Higher gas prices suck, but you’re willing to pay them. You’re willing to pay them, much like I’m willing to pay them, because you pretty have no choice but to fund the extravagant palaces of those oil rich families in the Middle East (if you think Exxon is making insane profits, it’s nothing compared to many of the ruling families over there) right? Well, if you’re like me, you’ve probably considered what it would take to surrender the keys to your car and came away with the conclusion that life would be too difficult without your car… but would it?

Mass Transportation

If you live in a major city, mass transit is your best “next alternative” to a car. For people in New York City, with an intricate subway system, this is a no brainer. In fact, very few people who live in NYC have cars because it’s simply not worth it. Why pay for a car, insurance, gas, and parking when you can easily get around the city for a subway token or cab fare? If you need to leave the city, rent a car or go with a ZipCar. If you need to move a lot of stuff, rent a truck or van.

In fact, if you live in a major metropolitan area (the full list of participating cities, surprisingly NYC isn’t on the list), Google Maps can give you a “Take Public Transit” option that includes walking. The next time you do a search between places in a city, look for a “Take Public Transit” link in the Directions section (next to the Drive There option) and it’ll explain exactly how to get there. Pretty useful!

Unfortunately, if you live in the city then you’ve already realized this. If you don’t live in the city, you can’t benefit as much from this. If you live in the city but work outside of it, again you probably can’t benefit significantly from this either. That puts you in the same boat as those people who live in the sprawling suburbs. Is it really possible to give up your car? The answer is yes, if you’re willing to do the work. Transportation comes down to figuring your options and taking advantage of the resources you have available, which oftentimes is time.

Bicycle

If you have a bicycle, you have the second best mode of transportation available to you (the first being your legs). The key here is to take advantage of it by researching how to get to different places using only your bicycle. I knew a guy (Paul G, this is you if you’re out there) who would bike a twenty minute car commute once a week (or more, I can’t remember) for the exercise. This is the same guy that one day came in with a broken thumb because he fell into a big crash at a weekend bike race! He knew all the little detours underneath highways so that he never had to cross a major highway. If you want to bike to work or to the mall or wherever, you need to find yourself a Paul G. either in person or on the internet.

Incidentally, you should never try to cross a highway. If you can’t find a way around, scrap the idea of biking into work entirely. The danger is simply not worth it.

Also, there’s a petition to Google to provide a Bike There feature like the “Take Public Transit” option mentioned earlier. If this is ever made available it would be awesome.

Walk

This option requires a little planning at the buy/rent phase, meaning you need to plan the idea of walking someplace into your decision to buy a home or rent a home/apartment/condo. We lucked out and bought a house that gives us the opportunity to walk to a library, bank, supermarket, liquor store (this is crucial!), neighborhood bar, and some random food places (that we’ve never eaten at).

When you are thinking about buying a place, keep this in mind when you’re surveying the neighborhood. How easy is it to navigate the area on foot? Are there a lot of paths? Are they well lit? While you can’t walk to work, at least you can try to find a place that is within walking distance to a lot of other places you’d frequent.

Other Modes of Transportation

I’m at a loss to think of any other modes of transportation other than by train, bike, or foot… anyone have any clever ideas? Segways are out of the question. :)

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20 Responses to “Can You Really Give Up Your Car?”

  1. Glenn Lasher says:

    I am not quite a Paul G., but I work with one.

    As for me, at present, I have a 20 mile commute, which I do by bus most of the time, bus and bike combined if the weather is nice (our local transit authority has bike racks on most of the buses). I drive very rarely. I haven’t quite got the stamina of a Paul G.

    Busing in the winter can be treacherous, though, thanks to the snowbanks that get piled up and occupy the space that is normally the sidewalks.

    Incidentally, I noticed that noplace in New York State is on the list covered by Google Transit. I think it would be amusing if CDTA (Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga counties) beat MTA to it!

  2. Curtis says:

    We gave up one of our cars over a year and a half ago after I started taking a bus to work. It has been wonderful and seldom do I wish I drove to work. Of course, it’s pretty easy for me to do like you said. We now have only 1 car for the family and since we bought a more fuel efficient car (instead of a minivan) back in December, we’ve bought only 6 gallons a week.

    Unfortunately for most, their short term economics dictate they pay the prices of gas. Car pooling is an option if you know someone nearby in the same boat. Combining errands and not taking unneccesary trips also helps reduce cost in the near term.

    Long term is really where you can change. A more fuel efficient car, motorcycle or scooter, moving closer to work, and working closer to home are possible changes. They take time, which is why the gas companies are able to raise prices and people buy just as much as they would have at a lower price.

    Good luck!

  3. I drive about 2.5 miles to a park-n-ride and take a shuttle downtown. It saves me gas and money trying to park somewhere. I guess car-pooling is another good option for saving gas too.

  4. Matt says:

    Buy a scooter — or better yet a motorcycle — and get 50 to 100 mpg. Saves a whole bunch on gas and they’re really not all that expensive. If you can get rid of one car you’d definately be coming out ahead right away.

    I own a sport bike and even that gets 50-60 mpg.

  5. salas says:

    Most major cities have car shares now, so you can pay for a car just when you need it… Usually they have a lot of hybrids in their fleets as well. Examples are FlexCar and ZipCar. I live in Philadelphia so I use PhillyCarShare

  6. Zook says:

    Use a ONE square of toilet paper, bike to work, re-use water from the sink to water the lawn and garden, turn off lights, take cold showers, bus to work, buy worn clothing, buy local foods, recycle everything….

    What is going on these days? I am literally baffled at the level folks are going to.

    If this is the way you want to live, I am honestly confused.

    We got folks who would die to live here to use all of our services, drive cool cars, shop at our stores etc…….and then we got folks who live in the US that want to live like they do in rural Azerbaijan.

    I am all for some of these ideas, but you combine a bunch and it is just the way I don’t want to live!

  7. Denise says:

    NYC may not have “Take Public Transit” from Google Maps, but we have HopStop.com. (Which also includes Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington DC.)

    It’s a little wiggly in spots. If you want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, it may tell you to exit at a point that will require a grappling hook and rope. It has no qualms about telling you to take a bus one stop to get to a subway station when the subway station is in easy walking distance from your starting point. But all in all? Not bad.

    I sold my car shortly after moving to Brooklyn. I hope I get as reliable a car the next time I buy one, but for now? It’s feet, mass transit, the occasional cab, and no regrets about not owning a car.

  8. Adam says:

    Actually the easiest thing to do is work from home. That eliminates the primary need for transportation.

    There are maybe three things I miss about having a car.
    1) an on-demand social life. Being sociable with a friend across town can take upwards of an hour or two to get there…and back.
    2) Carrying groceries in the car. Cause on your back or in a lot of sacks you carry isn’t so fun. On the other hand many supermarkets do local deliveries now.
    3) hmmm…can’t think of the third one right now. Must not be important ;)

  9. Glenn Lasher says:

    Gadzooks, Zook! No, we don’t want to revert to a third-world existence, but there are a lot of things that we do very irresponsibly that we can and should do better at.

    Some folks are using greywater tanks, yes. Some people are being very conservative with the TP, yes. Some people are buying used clothes, yes. These are admittedly extreme cases.

    As for the rest…. recycling, turning off the lights, taking short showers (I don’t advocate taking cold ones — potentially unhealthy), busing, biking, buying local foods, what’s wrong with any of that?

    Especially on the topic of buying local foods, I would point out that in doing so you are supporting the local economy, also, and maybe saving a few local jobs from being gobbled up.

  10. Zook says:

    Glenn…

    I have been doing a lot of the things you speak of for years….years before it was the “cool” thing to do because I felt like it and I saved money doing so. I didn’t need a blog or Al Gore to tell me if I take 45-minute showers, twice a day, I will pay through the nose. Just don’t tell me to do them or I am a bad guy. And that IS the implication I get from the greater media these days.

    And yes, many folks are reverting to a third-world existence if you ask me. Limit the use of toilet paper? WTF? You are making $75K a year and using one square of TP? It’s a joke. Just go poop out in the backyard and use a leaf.

    I pay for the gas and electricity to heat the hot water and if I want to take a 8-minute steaming hot shower, I shouldn’t be looked down upon. This riles my feathers as you can tell. I am not a bad guy and I am big into the environment, but the “solutions” being tossed around are PATHETIC!!!!

    Who can give up their car? Seriously? If you have a car, you obviously need one.

  11. Scott says:

    For people looking to walk or bike, you might want to look at MapMyRun.com where you can basically use Google Maps to sketch out a custom route (including any trails or shortcuts you take that are not shown on the map since it usually only shows streets).

    Hampton Roads residents can use Traffix (http://www.traffixonline.org/) to find alternative transportation modes.

  12. Look at people in Asia, they all use bikes or scooters. It’s not only more economical and ecological, but makes the traffic much better.
    If you use electric scooter, your transportation will be almost free. But that’s not an option if you have to drive for more than 20-30 km because it will need to be recharged

  13. Stephanie says:

    Google transit isn’t a perfect solution, though. I checked it out in my area because my husband and I share a car, and sometimes I may need to get to my son’s speech therapy on the bus. But it claimed the way to do it required much more walking than I think it does.

    It only seems to note the stops that are listed on the schedule on the local transit system’s website. There are a lot of unlisted stops that I drive by every time we go there.

  14. Steve B. says:

    The reason people in North America are taking drastic measures is because the economy is going down the drain. Most people have overconsumed, overspent, and are in debt beyond their means. They bought a big house in the suburbs that is a waste of space, they have to drive everywhere to purchase whatever they need. Taxes are up at every level, the government prints more money out of thin air, reducing the true purchasing power of your dollars. Money supply is growing at say, 10% but you’re not getting annual raises of 10%. People are looking at every aspect of their lives and wondering: Why do we do it this way? Why are we so wasteful? Why do Europeans use so much less water than us? North Americans have a LONG way to go before we’re living anywhere near the 3rd world. When there are people who have a half cup of rice a day to eat, is it any wonder North Americans are taking drastic measures? It’s called having a conscience. Maybe you lost yours years ago.

  15. Zook says:

    Ahhhh…Where to start. Where to start. Your post is the standard liberal weenie stuff I just can’t take anymore. The government sucks, the economy sucks, Americans are bad for buying a nice house in the suburbs and we should try to be more like…………The Europeans. That will solve everything. If we could just gain more of the wisdom from Europe, the US would be a better place to love.

    Stevie B., why don’t you simply split for on of the great and “perfect” European countries? What is holding you back? The Europeans are much better at everything including not using as much water among all of the other things not listed.

    As far as living in the third world comment. For my specific example, yes, I would suggest that person is trying to live like they do in the third world, in a faux reality where wiping your butt with ONE square piece of TP is “cool”, buying organically grown and local produce at Whole Paycheck for $300/week is “the right thing to do” and last, but not least, ranting and raving about how the US needs to become more like Europe is so “vogue”.

    Your comments about living on a cup of rice a day are odd to say the least. What are you suggesting or hinting at here? That 300+ million American’s should starve themselves? The folks in this world living on a cup of rice a day are starving sir, malnourished and are not something we should be striving for you dork.

    Notice I skip the pathetic personal insults…..Well other than you being a “dork”, which is a pretty minor insult considering I lost my conscience “years ago”. How did I manage not to insult you more sans a conscience?

  16. Michele says:

    Well I have found my life significantly changed, mostly because up until December of last year, I was blithering through life living paycheck to paycheck. But giving up the car is out of the question. However, I have been making changes.

    I have a 37 mile one way commute. I live in a rural area and I work in another rural area where there is no public transportation. Sure I could work closer to home if I wanted to take a $7 per hour paycut, or moving closer to work would entail paying rent (which I do not do presently). I have a non hybrid car that gets 34 mpg (looking into hypermiling) so I fill up 3 times every two weeks ($240 per month up $60 a month from last year) . I have considered a motorcyle, but in northeast ohio that is only good for about 5 months out of the year (if it isnt raining, and we have get a lot of rain).

    I don’t think there are any easy answers to this, but like it or not, people are going to have to make changes in the way they drive.

    A local insurance company is running a contest – $10 million to the team that can engineer a car that can get 100 miles to the gallon and be put into production in the US. Germany has been doing it for years. European cars routinely get over 50 mpg. I don’t see why we can’t either.

  17. Dook says:

    I think a sense of balance in our lifestyles is appealing and beneficial to us in this financially tight era and for our conscious towards those less fortunate. As for the main man Zooky, we certainly don’t have to listen to a glossy ad campaign or go to church to know what the right thing to do is. Sure, maybe you’ve been around for a bit and have heard the same do-good message countless times. Maybe you feel fed-up and angry that the message will never be heeded because people prefer easy comfort over hard change. Maybe you don’t wanna agree with people just to stand out and feel special. Maybe you should get in the octagon with Ken Shamrock and show the world the grit and determination that puts you on the throne above the rest. Hail King Zook! A-woo-gah! ;op p.s. my apologies for getting personal, i myself am no better even if i think i am.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I’m going to ignore Zook’s comments because he’s just acting like a little child whose conscience is being challenged. I don’t have time for that because the discussion has sooo moved beyond that foolishness.

    Anyway, I would say that making the transition for leading a greener life should be gradual and at one’s own pace within means. In other words, if you’ve been driving for decades and then up and sell your car tomorrow and then expect to start using transit for all your mobility needs the day after that, you’re fooling yourself.

    Also, when you make the transition: think long-term. When you buy clothing, particularly, everyday wear: stick with the staples and for crying out loud, purchase quality clothing. One of the reasons the quality of our clothes — and consumer items in general — have deteriorated so much is because most of us have bought into this “it can break or rip because I can replace it tomorrow” mantra. Buy quality the first time, so that it can be repaired or mended. I am a big buy: 6’3″ and 220lbs, and I use transit and my legs to move around. This means that I need quality shoes, and when they become worn out, I just have them re-soled, and I’ve saved hundreds by doing that. In regards to clothing. I buy good, quality clothing so that they can be mended without ruining the fabric and the untrained eye would never know. Thankfully, my mom taught me how to mend my own socks and pants seems, but I do understand that that isn’t typical for most guys. But, simply find a decent dry-cleaners.

    Also, eat less but more quality foods. I’ve tried it, and it works. As a matter of fact, that’s part of the reason I’ve lost so much weight (that and walking everywhere). I eat more fruit and veggies, but I buy just enough to get by, which eliminates waste because I use up everything I buy. I do not shop in bulk even when a hurricane is threatening our area. I just get enough for 72 hours, if that.

    Now, those who claim that they don’t have time to shop every few days, that’s understandable, but you’d be surprised how you find time when you give it a try. I used to say the same thing, but I’ve found that if you want something to work, it kinda does.

  19. By keeping the electric car lightweight as possible, solar power is viable. The Animas quadracycle can be recharged from just a few PV panels, but does not carry them because of the weight. That is the closest thing to a solar car we can design.. Given our grasp of superconductors and of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, that may be the best we can do right now.

    Greg Fisher
    Animas Quadracycle

  20. Margie Davis says:

    Where can I find out about the income tax deduction or adjustment?


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