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thoughts and ramblings of a pedal powered geek

Six Months Car Free

A little over six months ago, I sold my car.

Holy shit, right? I mean, I live in Los Angeles, the most car centric city in the world. How can I possibly survive without a car?

Pretty easily, it turns out.

Since this is the first time since I was 16 years old that I don’t own a car, I had to re-learn some things. I had to untrain some habits. I had to make some sacrifices. I had to be willing to spend money I previously would have scoffed at to do some things.

All in all, though, I’ve saved a lot of money, I’ve saved a lot of stress, and I’ve significantly reduced my environmental footprint.

Old habits die hard

One of the reasons I decided I wanted to get rid of my car in the first place is because while I have been using my bike as my primary method of commuting for many years, I felt like I was using my car too much.

Too much?

I would wake up in the morning and instead of riding to work, I’d just drive. Sit through traffic for an hour, spend $10 to park at the office, sit through another hour of traffic. And why? Because I woke up, felt lazy, and drove instead of riding. Not because it was snowing, raining, 120 degrees in the shade, 40 degrees in the sun. No. This is LA, none of those conditions exist except occasionally the 120 in the shade one, but even that’s rare.

I would ride my bike all the way home from work — about a 22 mile ride — then hop in my car and drive 3 blocks to the grocery store I passed on the way home.

I would hop in my car to run to a local restaurant to get food.

I would hop in my car to take my dog to the vet.

I would hop in my car to go buy pet supplies.

Do you see the pattern here?

Most of the time I was spending in my car was for things I didn’t actually need a car for. I wasn’t driving long distances or with large loads (frequently, anyways). I was just driving because it was convenient, and I was being lazy.

After I got rid of my car, this urge to just hop in and go do X, Y, or Z took some time to go away, and honestly for the first few days I was thinking “oh my what have I done”. Fortunately, like any conditioned behavior, it can be changed, and was, and now I rarely think about getting in a car, unless I know that’s the best or only way to go about things.

Surrogates

I had actually decided I wanted to get rid of my car quite some time back, but thought I would need to move before I could do so. In my brain, I needed to be near a ZipCar before I could get rid of my car, because when I travel I board my dog, and driving is really the only way to get to my boarder. After several months of that, I decided I was being silly and struck it from the list of blockers. They aren’t super convenient to my current location, but they aren’t impossibly far away, either, and the slightly inconvenient might actually be a plus, as it keeps me from using them constantly.

Fortunately, both Uber and Lyft have pretty good coverage in the valley, so I can use those for getting around when I don’t want to take my bike.

And of course, my trusty bicycle has since become truly my primary method of transportation. The more I ride it, the more I realize I need to put some more investment into it, like new wheels and a new saddle at the very least, but it gets me from point A to point B so I can’t complain too much!

The downsides

There are of course some downsides.

It’s a lot more time consuming for me to get large distances around the city. For instance, my friends are scattered all over the place, from Pasadena to Culver City to the Arts District, to wherever. If I want to do something after work, that’s fine, but I have to go home to take care of my dog first, and then I’m an hour to get back downtown and another hour to get home! Oof!

I turn into a pumpkin at midnight. LA Metro stops running shortly after midnight, so if I’m on the wrong side of the hill, I have a very long ride ahead of me to get home. I don’t count buses because the daytime buses are unreliable enough, especially with a bike, so I won’t bank on a bus being convenient or able to take me with my bike. This, along with the 2 hour round trip time to downtown, means that I have very little time in the evenings to actually do anything.

For both of those problems, though, I see them as simply problems with where I live, and where I want to do things, rather than problems with not having a car. If I lived closer to downtown, the round trip issue would be significantly less. If I lived in, say, Highland Park, Pasadena is only a short hop away on the Gold Line. If I lived in either of those places, then getting stuck riding home because the trains have stopped is less of a problem, because it’s a direct route home rather than having to ride around the Santa Monica Mountains.

What about money?

I was a bit worried at first that I might end up spending way more money not owning a car than owning one. Between ubers, lyfts, zipcars, and such I’d spend WAY more than I would just owning a car. This has turned out to be far from the case. I haven’t tracked it closely (I’m tracking the next 6 months closely, though, for sure), but for the past 6 months I’d say I’ve spent no more than $200/mo on average, and that’s a pretty high estimate. At first, one might scoff at a $40 uber home from Highland Park. And a $35 zipcar to take my dog to the boarder. $60 in ubers in one night just to go to a show in Hollywood!

However, add them all up and they’re still way less than my monthly payment and insurance was on my car, not even counting gas, maintenance, etc. And other than the zipcars, I’m not even the one driving! I can just kick back and check out!

This leads me to one of the other major reasons I got rid of my car: I no longer have any excuse whatsoever, at all, ever, none, zip, zilch, nada. For driving intoxicated. Which, if you factor in just the direct financial costs of a DUI, makes nearly any dollar amount spent on alternative transportation look like a drop in the bucket. Not even considering worse things than getting a DUI. But when you’ve god a $600/mo car/insurance payment, spending $80 to roundtrip to a party somewhere seems excessive, right?

In hindsight?

If I had it to do it all over again I would actually have sold my car sooner than I did. The amount of times I’ve really needed a car since I sold mine made me realize that car ownership just isn’t for me anymore. I can totally get by without a car of my own, even if I need one from time to time, I don’t need to own one. In so many ways it’s actually quite freeing to not have a car. I can get one when I need one, but when I don’t it’s not burdening me in any way!

What now?

I have to admit. I recently rented a Mercedes C250 ZipCar and it was really an overall quite pleasant experience. I miss driving, and I sure as hell miss driving a manual transmission (ZipCar doesn’t seem to have any manuals in the US, which is sad but makes sense). And I know that, while I can use a ZipCar to satisfy that “must drive” urge, the lack of manual transmission will always leave me wanting for more. After 5 years of driving a manual, driving an automatic is frustrating. It’s always in the wrong freaking gear! And those “auto stick” transmissions are mostly crap as well, especially the one I had on the C250.

What does this mean? Am I getting a car?! Probably not. I’ve had the thought several times that after I move to Portland I’ll probably get another car. So I can get out of the city and into the beautiful countryside a bit. Because in my brain, paying $80/day for a zipcar every weekend adds up really fast. But not realizing that I probably won’t use a zipcar every weekend, and then there are other options than ZipCar.

I probably will end up with another car some day. But it’s probably going to be like an old Jeep I can go offroading with, or like an older bmw convertible I can blast canyons with, or whatever. Pure pleasure car. I’ll work on it myself. I’ll pay cash for it. I’ll drive it into the ground.

We’ll see what I have to say on the matter in another 6 months, though ;)

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