Sunday, June 7, 2009

Why I Want to Get Rid of Our Car (Pat, Part 1)

(by Pat)

This is actually a post from my other blog, The Writing Life x3, that I wrote in January, but it sets the stage for what we're up to. (It's a series of 3.)

We've played around with the idea of us going car-less ever since we moved to Boston. But for various reasons, it never quite seemed practical (it was very handy to have a car while ferrying around small children and fixing up houses). However, we also recognized that if ever there was a chance for us to live without a car, this might be it--Boston is extremely walkable and has a decent public transportation system. Still, it never happened. (And still hasn't happened.)

A few things have happened since we first moved to the Boston area (in 2000) that have increased the practicality of living without a car:
  • We moved to Brookline, in a neighborhood where the kids can walk to school, and we can walk to grocery stores and other shopping.
  • The kids are older, and so can ride bikes to get places.
  • We've become increasingly aware of our carbon footprint and increasingly concerned about the effects of human generated carbon emissions on global warming. I know there are still a few people out there who are unconvinced that people are having an impact on the world's climate in a clear and negative way. I might suggest they look at it like Pascal's Wager. In this case, if we change our behavior, based on the belief that global warming is due to human impact, and it's true, then we did the right thing. If it turns out to be false, we will have made changes that pollute the environment less and might have other benefits. In fact, I think that if you are convinced that human generated carbon emissions are having a negative impact on global climate, you might even have a moral imperative to take action (stopping eating meat will have a bigger impact than buying a Prius or selling your car, by the way).
  • We live very close to several Zipcar sites, so we could easily rent a car on short notice, if we needed to. Tracy has a Zipcar membership subsidized through her workplace.
So, all these things make it easier. And, oh, it would save us money. Which is a very good thing.

One good question is, why not just drive our existing car less? That would get keep the carbon emissions down, certainly. But it wouldn't save as much money (we'd still have to pay for parking, taxes, insurance, and upkeep). And, if it's there, it tends to get used because it's awfully convenient--sometimes it's just too tempting. Getting rid of the car would force us to make conscious choices about how we get around and examine the associated costs. Driving a car costs money every time the car moves (or doesn't) but those costs tend to be hidden, whereas having to rent a car for a day or an hour reminds you right away that you're paying money to drive that vehicle.

So, what do I think would be the benefits:

  • Less emissions (especially since we would walk and bicycle more).
  • Improved health through more exercise.
  • Save money. (calculations to come)
  • See the world differently, more interactively. As a writer, this is a big one for me--though I certainly get some info from NPR when I'm driving, when I'm in the car, I don't interact much with the world, and short driving trips aren't good for paying attention to anything besides crazy Boston drivers. When I'm on foot or on the T or on my bike, I see the world closer, I hear more interesting conversations, meet new people. Input like this makes my writing life a lot richer.
  • Slows pace of life. Yes, having a car is convenient. But sometimes it allows me to cram too many errands into too small of a stretch of time. There's something to be said for slowing down a little more, and being more conscious of how and where I'm going.
  • Less stress from dealing with Boston drivers (though this is still a factor on bicycle) and finding parking, etc. (Dealing with the T can be stressful, so this might be a wash.)
  • I don't believe in the systems that have grown up around the car--suburban sprawl, car insurance companies, big petro corporations and their negative global political impact, etc. Insurance galls me in particular--I have 24 years of a clean driving record, not even a speeding ticket. I've been paying car insurance my entire life, which is many, many thousands of dollars. I was involved in a minor fender bender a year ago, which was my fault. No one was hurt. There was minor damage to the other car. As a result, my car insurance premiums have jumped by $400. So what exactly was I paying for for all those years? The increase will pay off the cost to the insurance company for the accident pretty soon, and I'll be stuck paying more for something I never want to use, and if I do use it, it'll cost me even more. It's just dumb.
  • I hate having a machine that I can't fix. Cars cost a lot of money to buy and especially to repair. I'm a decent carpenter and can handle drywall, plumbing, electric, and other parts of my house, at least to an extent. I can grow my own food and I'm a decent cook. I don't know much about how to fix cars and I don't have the time or inclination to learn. And it's hard to find a repair shop you can trust. And the repairs are expensive. We've got a couple problems on our vehicle right nowthat just keep getting put off, because they take a block of cash that we don't have handy or want to spend on other things.
  • I like the challenge of trying to go without a car. It requires some additional resourcefulness and problem solving, which has appeal to me.
So, I think we might do it. Though I coach Kira's travel soccer team this spring, and with practices and games, it's very hard to go without a car. This spring is her last season, so I'm hoping that our plan can be for us to sell the car once soccer is over, in June.

(more to come on hassles and cost)

No comments:

Post a Comment