We all know that cars are expensive, bad for the environment and can be crippling on the old finances. Every so often I’ll have a chat with myself about the fact that I probably could do without a car. This usually occurs to me around the time when my car has just needed some expensive repairs. I don’t really do guilt, but I have to admit that sometimes when I’m reading about people who have done away with their cars I feel like I could do so much better with my transport choices.
On the face of it my life is set up perfectly to easily manage without a car. I live just over 3 miles from work, about 1.5 miles from the nearest town, there’s plenty of buses and trains to get me wherever I might want to go. I got the opportunity recently to put this to the test. I’ve been having a few health problems and the doctor wanted me to avoid driving for a month or so. So out of the blue I went from being a car person to a bus person. I have to admit that it was a bit of a shock to the system. This was partly down to the fact that it was such a sudden change. I went from driving everywhere one minute to either bussing or walking it the next.
Has Driving Everywhere Made Me Soft?
Now I didn’t pass my driving test until I was 30, so it’s not like I’m not used to public transport. Also when I was growing up mum didn’t drive, and as she was the one taking us everywhere during the week that meant we did plenty of walking and we were on first name terms with the bus drivers. But in the last 19 years or so I’ve barely been on a bus. Getting to the airport or going through to Edinburgh for the day are pretty much the only times I go on public transport nowadays. Well, not anymore.
I have to say it’s a lot easier nowadays to plan your trip via bus than it was back in the day. There’s a bus app (of course there is) and you can pay via contactless on the bus if you haven’t already paid online. So far so good. I start work at 8.00 am so need to be there for about 7.45 to give me time to get logged on etc. I normally leave by car at 7.30 and this works like a dream. I went online to work out when I would need to leave using public transport.
There’s a bus stop just a couple of minute walk from my house which would take me to the bus station so that I could catch the bus up to work. From there the buses are frequent and quick, so as long as I was on a bus heading for work by about 7.30 I would be fine and dandy. That meant just getting to the station for 7.30. The way it worked out I would need to be at the bus stop for about 6.55 and then have about 15 minutes hanging about at the station. Not horrendous, but I decided I’d rather leave 5 minutes earlier and walk into town. That way I was getting a 30 minute walk and at least felt that I was gaining something from not having the car.
Coming home I would just wander to the bus stop right outside of work and wait ten minutes or so to get a bus into town. I didn’t even bother working out what time the bus was up to my part of town. I was happy to walk the thirty minutes home, even when it was chucking it down (I do live in Scotland after all!) Without even needing to think about it I suddenly had an hour’s exercise built into my day. I was still walking on a lunchtime as well (just as well I’d implemented that a while ago and stopped the lunchtime napping in my now non-existent car), so all in all I was walking for an hour and a half a day without needing any motivation to get myself out there.
Any Down Sides To This No Car Malarkey?
That was all really positive. Ok, so my alarm was going off fifteen minutes earlier in the morning and although I still made time for my physio exercises for my knee, my Duolingo Spanish had to wait till I got home on a night time. Also I didn’t really have much time to speak to the kids before I went out the door. One of them was up, but the other one was still in bed. I don’t normally have much time with them anyway, but I would normally be able to have a quick chat and touch base with them. No time for that on my bus schedule. So a couple of negative points, but all in all I loved the extra walking and the thinking time that it gave me.
I felt a bit like I was there observing on the bus, rather than being a part of it all. I’m sure in time it would just become business as usual for me, but so far it doesn’t feel quite natural yet. In my head I knew that lots of people took the bus, but I had almost forgotten about that world existing. It was nice to be reminded that it’s there, and that not everyone is cossetted in their own little car world.
I have to admit there have been a few times when I would have killed to have the car back in use. One Saturday after work I was stood at the bus stop waiting. I had finished work 15 minutes ago and if I’d had the car I would have already been home. I then had to stop at the shops to get some food for the weekend and then carry it up the road in the lashing rain. I should have waited for a bus, but the rain was so heavy and by the time the bus was due I would be home already if I just kept walking. That was a pretty miserable walk home.
There’s A Lot Of Good In The World
I have to say though that people have gone out of their way to help me. One of the weeks my colleague was on the same shift as me, so she altered her route to work to bring me in and then take me home afterwards. I also had one of my friends staying with me for a couple of days and she got up early to take me to work. I’m not a big one for asking for help (that’s probably the understatement of the century!) but people have been really kind in offering to help me out. My eldest has been going to Aldi once a week on his way home from school and lugging the shopping all the way home. I have to say getting the shopping is much easier with a car. When I first got a car that was the best thing for me, not having to carry heavy shopping bags on and off the bus. I think if I continued to be reliant on buses I might need to go back to online food shopping deliveries. If only Aldi delivered.
How Have The Kids Coped?
There’s been a bit of an impact on the kids as well. They’re fairly self-reliant, they walk to and from school and don’t really need me to get them too many places. One of them goes to a labour party meeting once a month and I would normally drop him off on the way to my running club. That couldn’t happen this time, but he checked out the bus timetable and got himself there and back without any problems. The other one goes to a chess club and he decided to give it a miss whilst I was out of action. I’m sure if it continued he’d start making his own way there, but for now he’s definitely missed out.
Too Lazy to Run To Running Club
I have to admit my running has definitely been impacted by the lack of driving. I would normally be at a couple of running clubs a week, and I’m sorry to say I haven’t been once since I’ve been without the car. There are a couple of reasons for this. Initially I wasn’t feeling great, so the thought of going out running wasn’t all that appealing. Also the longer days caused by a longer commute time meant I was more tired and had less time to do things in the evening. Honestly though the thought of working out how to get to the various meeting points via bus and yet more walking or running before and after a hard running session was more than I wanted to deal with. I could no doubt have got lifts from friends, but it just seemed easier to give it a miss instead. I could of course have just gone out running myself, but I took it easy and just enjoyed all the walking I was doing.
Also I was supposed to be down south this weekend visiting the folks. I was going down early on the Saturday to tick off one of the borders parkruns in my quest to become a parkrun tourist. I’m pretty sure it would have been nigh on impossible to get to the borders for a 9.30 start for parkrun. I know I could have got the train to Newcastle, but with three tickets to pay for I don’t think this would have been all that cheap. So we didn’t go. Not the end of the world, but a bit disappointing. I know if we didn’t have a car we could hire one, but would we? You’ve definitely got more flexibility with a car sitting there, and it’s easier planning trips away when you’ve got a car.
Money, Money, Money
Now to the all important aspect of all of this. How did the costs compare of public transport compared to going by car. Now clearly this is not really a fair comparison at the moment. If I didn’t have a car at all then I wouldn’t have tax, insurance, MOT, servicing, repair bills etc etc etc. As my car is actually still sitting rather sadly on my drive, I still have all those costs to pay for. For now though let’s just look at the petrol vs bus pass costs. I bought a weekly pass to cover the area that I needed on the bus. This cost me £12.70 for the week. Petrol wise I only need to fill up once a month unless I do any big trips. So it would typically cost me £60 for the month. With a very rough calculation I make that about £660 a year for the bus and £720 annually for petrol. If that was the only difference in cost then it would be a no brainer. The extra flexibility you get from having a car is well worth the £70 more in petrol.
As we well know though, petrol is only the half of it. Never mind the cost of buying the thing in the first place, the ongoing costs are not to be ignored. I budget £50 a month for car costs, and that hasn’t even come close this year. The money from the two free months on the council tax had to go towards the car, as did £500 of my bonus. When you look at it like that it seems like a bit of a no brainer for me. It’s only been a few weeks, but already I’ve got my life working pretty well without a car. I’m sure I’d get even more organised, and maybe even finally get my bike sorted out and make more use of that.
So now it comes to the crucial question. Will I ditch the car? I’m writing this on a Monday morning. I’m on holiday this week and today is the day that I’m allowed to start driving again. I don’t feel a desperate need to get back in the car immediately, but I also haven’t renewed my bus pass. I could very easily keep on with what I’ve been doing and leave the car sitting there on the drive. Or I could have car free weeks. There’s something to be said for that. I think making use of the bus has shown me how much I like the extra walking that I’m doing. It’s also really given me an appreciation of the flexibility and freedom that a car gives you.
You know what though? I just don’t want to get rid of it. Not yet anyway. I like the freedom that it gives me. Maybe when I reach FIRE and have got more time in my day it will be less of an issue. Saying that, I still want to be able to jump in the car on a Saturday morning and be a parkrun tourist. There’s places I want to go that aren’t served by public transport. If I was in a couple I think I might well think of getting rid of one of the cars. As long as I had a car for weekends and holidays I think I would be ok with that. But no car at all? I think that might be a step too far for me just now. Sometimes it’s not all about the money.