Committing to the carless life

Auckland is a city of cars. I am one of a rare breed who does not personally own a car. In fact, I don’t drive. I reluctantly sat my restricted licence (and eventually passed) only because upon acceptance into the journalism major, I received a letter informing me that I would require a valid driving licence. (Lies! I made it through the whole year without being required to get behind the wheel in the course of my, uh, course).

But seriously, this makes me some kind of freak. My pocket of friends were also late drivers. Many of us were poor and just walked everywhere. Others had parents who were happy to play chauffeur. Things are changing now, slowly. And to be honest, being able to drive properly would greatly enhance my employability. Particularly if I could drive a manual. I seem to recall last year vowing to learn to do by the end of summer. Ha! In all honesty, I’ve probably done so twice since then, and only because T had had a few too many.

I get by fine without a car, but the fact remains that I do have access to our shared car, and someone to drive me around. (Good for my stress levels, other motorists, and probably our insurance.) Essentially, I now have the best of both worlds. But just what does living the carless life for real look like?

Work

I have to admit, I don’t know what commuting to work by car would look like. Parking in town would run me at least $100 per month, to say nothing of all the other costs of driving and car ownership. Personally, I like to let bus drivers deal with the headache of traffic.

Public transport here kind of works like the solar system. Er. The CBD is the centre of everything, and buses/trains radiate outwards in various directions. So as long as you work in town – or even somewhere along the route into town – you’re set. Of course, the timetables may not work well with your schedule, and in certain areas, you might be lucky to get one bus an hour. Sigh.

For me, living in the central suburbs is non-negotiable. Better amenities, a shorter, cheaper and more convenient commute. A ten-minute walk to the nearest stop is preferable; in winter, walking in the cold and wet is best avoided for health and mental sanity.

Shopping

I’m going to specifically talk grocery runs, because lugging around bags of milk, potatoes and heavy canned food in no way compares to toting around a couple of shoe boxes and some clothes. Trust me when I say grocery shopping is the single worst thing about living the carless life. Been there, done that.

Yes, I was only shopping for one person, and it was only a 10 (maybe 15 minute walk) but things like milk and potatoes were a killer. Two of my first flatmates were a couple, and they often got a taxi from the mall back home. Other tenants in our street were also known to wheel trolleys all the way home.

Proximity to work is not the only consideration for a carless househunter. Try to find somewhere close to a supermarket. If there are butchers, grocers, dairies and more in the vicinity – even better. You may find that shopping more frequently – multiple times a week, even – will save you a lot of back and shoulder pain.

Socialising

Buses and even trains are fine…if you’re shuttling between town and back. Which I do for work. For anything else, it’s a pain in the butt.

Let’s say I go to Kingsland (pink marker) after work (blue marker) for a catchup drink with a uni buddy. I bus from the city (black route). But although Kingsland to Mt Eden/Epsom – aka home – is a pretty straightforward drive through two main arterial roads (that godawful cyan coloured route), the easiest PT route is to walk or bus back to the city fringe (blue route), then catch another bus (red route). Time consuming and uneconomical.

Or out to BHB area where most my of my friends still live. It’s the same story, except the bus trip takes close to an hour.

It pays to have mates who: live within walking distance; are generous with their rides; come to you; or just don’t like you very much.

Verdict

When you choose to buck the trend and live the carless life, you will be forced to live your life by timetables. This is where an accurate watch comes in. And planning, planning, planning!

It also pays to choose your home wisely. I once lived in a very nice, newly built house, which also happened to be a very long walk away, from, well, anything. I was constantly missing buses and running around from one place to another. Not fun.

Of course, if I was single, I’d probably have moved into the city and (reluctantly) adapted to apartment life. I’d walk to work and should I ever need to venture out of town, well, public transport would get me almost anywhere from the CBD. If I needed to get anywhere after midnight – a rare occurence these days, I’ll admit – I’d have to rely on friends or call a taxi.

In short: Life is INFINITELY easier with some kind of access to a car. I mean, relying on other means is by far cheaper, but you lose out majorly in time and convenience. And things like spontaneous trips to the beach? Just not gonna happen.

How does your city rate on public transport? Do you or could you live the carless life?

14 thoughts on “Committing to the carless life

  • Reply FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com October 28, 2010 at 00:45

    I finally got my license last year and I am in love with it (and my old car). I do find it very handy for working especially since I cannot pick an apartment close to where I work, because my work location constantly changes places and cities.

    I went a good chunk of my life without a car, and I never felt really bad waiting for the bus (45 minutes at a time) or missing transfers. I just did what I had to do because I didn’t have a car or money.

    I do find that if I use my car a lot if there is free parking. If not, I might as well walk or take the bus — it’s much cheaper.

    Right now? NO FREAKING WAY. I’m in the middle of nowhere and I calculated that it’d take me about 1.5 hours to get to work (one-way) 3 hours total, versus 15 minutes (half an hour driving) by car. I am not doing that again if I have a choice especially in the dead of winter. 3 buses is not my thing.

    In Montreal? Also a no way if I have to work in outer Montreal. (It’s an island).. you have to cross bridges, and I remember going to work took me 2 hours there and 2 hours back by train. 2 trains and 1 bus. UGH!

    In Toronto? Yes. I could do it as long as it is within Toronto proper. Going to outer Toronto by the Go Train or by TTC or bus, is not an option when it’s 2 hours there and 2 hours back each day (I did this for 9 months).

    Within Toronto itself, I can deal with an hour ride, as long as it is ONE direct subway ride or bus ride, and I don’t need to transfer and keep waiting.

  • Reply Kara October 28, 2010 at 04:47

    I don’t think I could commit to a carless life. For one, my city doesn’t have 24/7 transit, and then if you want to go somewhere other than the majorily populated areas, you can spend up to and hour waiting for the next available bus. It’s horrific.

    Plus, on several occasions I’ve needed my car for work purposes.

  • Reply Aloysa October 28, 2010 at 07:46

    Before I moved to the US I lived carless life. The worst part was taking grocery bags upto the 4th floor! What a workout that was! LOL Other than that I really liked and still like to walk and take public transportation everwhere. But where I live now we have to have a car or we won’t get to work or to some other places.

  • Reply Serendipity October 28, 2010 at 08:00

    Las Vegas public transportation sucks. I was actually staring at a double decker bus yesterday wondering if that would be cheaper than having a car but I haven’t worked it out. My guess for the way transportation routes are, probably not. I alas do live a car life.

  • Reply Fig October 28, 2010 at 09:38

    Since I moved to NZ I decided to commit to a carless life. It’s pretty easy since I can walk or catch a bus or train anywhere and I do have access to the shared car if I really need it. So far the only thing that has been difficult is the shopping.

  • Reply Newlyweds on a Budget October 28, 2010 at 09:54

    i live in southern california and our public transportation has to be one of the worst. I think we have a subway in LA, but I;ve never met anyone who’s used it. We have buses…with complicated schedules. And taxis? only if you’re at the airport or call to schedule one ahead of time…

  • Reply Amanda October 28, 2010 at 12:28

    While I live close to the train station and commute to work where possible, the nature of my work often means that I CAN’T commute.

    Running events all over the state means I often drive an hour, two hours to run an event in a hall somewhere, with my car loaded up with banners, promotional flyers, brochures, and other event supplies. This week alone I’ve had two events, and in a particular fortnight next month, I have five events from one end of the state to the other end.

    I get reimbursed for mileage from both organisations (69 cents to the kilometre, which is awesome), so it’s not too bad.

  • Reply nicoleandmaggie October 29, 2010 at 14:03

    The only way to get anywhere from our house other than the local catholic church, a dentist, and an ENT specialist is to drive. So if there’s no car, one would have to hire a cab.

    If we went car-free we’d have to sell the house and move near undergraduates and take the university bus places. It doesn’t come often on weekends. We’ve lived car-free in cities with good public transit and it wasn’t so bad except my occasional need to get out of the city and just GO.

  • Reply Maggie October 30, 2010 at 01:50

    A car-less life is good if you lived in the CBD or fringe of it. I did for a year, live in Auckland CBD, it was great, everywhere was within walking distance and if I needed to go home (west auckland) could just catch a bus (it was just downstairs from my apartment too, very handy!).

    But, now that I live at home/at my bf’s a lot and because of my weekend job, I have to use my car and also because of my uni timetable (3x days only one 1-3 hour classes a day) at times, decided it would be better to drive and because I also don’t mind spending $1 on bus that travels down Symonds st from where I can park for free.

    This turned out quite long… but yeah, also like that I can just ‘go’ to places whenever I wish 🙂

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