Wednesday, 11 February 2009

One car? No car?

Have you heard about them? Those "crazy" people that sell one of their cars and opt to share or bike or walk places. Then there are the "really crazy" people that sell both cars or perhaps they never purchased a car to sell.

In 2008 we became one of those "crazy" people. I'm not going to lie, it was more than scary to even think of giving up a car. To us (Americans, yes, but J. and I in particular) cars represent freedom and independence. If you need something, just hop in your car and get it; want to visit a friend, just go. No need to plan or coordinate train schedules or worry about pedaling in the rain. Distance becomes relative and the only limiting factor seems to be the price of gas. 
The price of gas, insurance and our car payment were ultimately the reason we decided to downsize.  J. was driving a 2005 Xterra that, on a very very good day, could get 20 mpg and cost us roughly $700 a month total expenses. On one income, that was just a bit too much. Instead we decided to purchase a bicycle for me to use to get to and from work. "My" car became ours but was primarily used by J, and infrequently at that. 

Ideally, I would have purchased a used local bike, but after a fruitless search that turned up bikes with far more capabilities (and accompanying price tag) than what I needed, I bought one online. 


It came mostly assembled but still had to be taken in to my local bike shop for a final tune up. Being a small local shop, they charged me as if I bought the bike from them. I certainly appreciated that and made sure to make all future purchases through them.

Bike in hand (so to speak) we made the plunge and listed our Xterra for sale online. Despite listing it for $3,000 less than we owed, we didn't get any interest. This was right when gas prices were really high with no end in sight. The only way for us to offload the car was to sell it to Carmax for $6,000 less than we owed. I know, crazy right? The interest rate on the car was higher than we were getting in any of our short term investments so we took the plunge. 

Amazingly we never looked back. It wasn't always easy to work out who would get the car and when, but I never wished we had the Xterra back. While our Escape Hybrid may not have the power that the Xterra did it successfully towed a small trailer from Colorado to Pennsylvania and still got better gas mileage! 

Biking was a little harder to get used to... I only worked a couple miles from our apartment but I didn't really purchase the best commuter bike. I opted for a mountain bike so that we could use it on the weekends, in retrospect that was a bad idea. My big wheels and robust suspension are better suited for taking abuse, but on level pavement I tended to receive more of the abuse. Occasionally I got caught in the rain or simply didn't have the motivation to make it home so I called J. to come get me. Other days the time on my bike was a liberating experience that gave me quiet time I would not have had otherwise. I truly enjoyed it (90% of the time) and look forward to getting back on the bike now that warmer weather is headed our way. 

Giving up a car is not a decision to be made lightly and would certainly not work for all families. But just because you own a car doesn't mean you have to use it to get everywhere. Commuting by bike even one day a week would cut down on your emissions, your gasoline costs, and increase your overall health and well being. Can't do that? Then try running an errand or two on a bike. If you start slowly and build up your endurance you will soon find yourself cruising down the road farmer's market purchases resting safely in your saddle bags. 

Has anyone else opted to decrease their vehicle usage? Any bicycle commuters? If you don't think this would work for you why not?