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?
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.
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.
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.
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?