The Great Car-Free Challenge

So my old car isn’t feeling so good these days — there is a funny clunking sound coming from underneath the car and the dashboard lights come on at random intervals. I have no idea if these are simple fixes and regular maintenance issues for an old car or if they signify a more serious “beginning of the end.”

I’ve been wanting to go car-free for a while now. I’ve been car-free for many years of my life and have previously blogged about how I’m not entirely comfortable having a car. I think I would have given up my car ages ago if my neighbourhood was a little more conducive to alternate forms of transportation. My long-term goal is to move to a more walkable neighourhood, but that isn’t something that will be happening immediately.

Now that my car is feeling a little under the weather I’ve decided to do a little experiment. I want to see how possible it is to go car-free in this part of Niagara. I’m not ruling out getting my car fixed nor am I rushing off to the mechanic’s shop. Rather, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to test the feasibility of going car-free and have decided to leave the sickly little beast parked on the driveway for the rest of the month as I make up my mind.

I really don’t know what I’ll do in the long term, but I think that this little experiment will go a long way toward helping me decide. Just for fun I looked at the cost of getting a newer used model of the same car I currently have (a Honda Accord). The prices I saw were in the ballpark of $16,000 for cars that were about 4-5 years old. $16,000?!?! I could probably take taxis for the rest of my life for that much money! I think this hits at the heart of my dilemma — spending oodles of money on a car just doesn’t fit with the rest of my values and the way I try to live my life.

All of this is well and good in theory, but how will it play out on a day-to-day basis? I’m up against some pretty real challenges. There is semi-regular transit service around here during weekdays, but in the evenings and on weekends things get a bit more challenging. There are some bike lanes, but there are also a number of very busy roads that have no bike lanes at all. Many of the streets around me don’t even have sidewalks. The flip side of this is that I can work from home many days and I often do. Further, when I weigh the cost of occasionally taking a taxi or renting a car against the money I spend on gas, insurance, repairs and my monthly parking pass I think that going car-free is still more economical.

So, as of noon today I’ve parked the car and will do my best to go car-free for the rest of August. I’ll be blogging about my car-free experiment as I attempt figure this out.

Today was the first day of the experiment and, as with all new projects, there were a few rocky moments. I had to go to campus today and taking the bus in was fairly uneventful. I have to take 2 different buses to get from my house to my office, and in the past the connections between the two routes have not been that smooth. Today, however, things went well and going in to work by bus took about 40 minutes, which is twice as long as it normally takes me to drive in. On the way home, however, I ended up waiting a long, long time for the bus leaving Brock. I am not sure what happened, but my best guess is that I misread the schedule. Another small wrinkle was that I had to dash over to my former doctor’s office (outside of town) to pick up a file this afternoon, and I quickly realized that this is not an easy destination to get to by transit. I was a bit mortified to have to ask a friend for a ride on day #1 of the great car-free challenge. The good news is that since I no longer go to this doctor I will not have to be going to this location on a regular basis.

So, over the next few weeks I’ll be doing my best to bike, walk and ride instead of drive. I know that going car-free means being a bit more organized and that I’ll have to plan my shopping and other errands so that my excursions out are as efficient as possible. I also want to think about ways to productively use that extra commuting time I have to spend on the bus — I get a little queasy when I read in a moving vehicle, but maybe I can use that time to brainstorm about my research or listen to podcasts/audiobooks. I’d be interested to hear other ideas that people have re: making a commute more productive.

[Update: seems I’m not the only one putting off car repairs these days.]

3 thoughts on “The Great Car-Free Challenge

  1. A former colleague who had a 45 minute bus commute to work called it his “thinking time”. Maybe that gives you some ideas.

    Also, we used to have an account with a local car rental agency. We’d rent a car maybe one weekend a month and then for a couple of weeks a Christmas and a couple of weeks in the summer. I had a regular payment set up because I found that easier to manage and most of hte time that worked to their advantage. If the numbers got too out of whack, they would let me know and I’d send an extra payment. Because we were regulars we often got cars with little extras though we didn’t want to be “upgraded” to a bigger car. I think we paid about £100 a month (this was when we lived in Birmingham, UK).

    It might be that the various car rental companies have plans for regular renters. Worth looking into. And might be more economical than owning (plus insurance & maintenance). IS there no car sharing scheme in Niagara? In Ottawa they have VrtuCar (

    You can probably also get an account with a taxi firm if you are taking taxis more frequently. That way you wouldn’t have to always have the cash on hand.

    Great experiment. I hope it goes well.

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