Many of us rely on our cars and use them multiple times each day with barely a second thought. Could we manage without them? Implementation Lead here at BetterPoints, Lobelia Lawson, and her family, have lived without a car for many years. Here she shares her story:
Growing up in the US, a country that not only relies on cars, but actively promotes car ownership as a rite of passage, driving was a way of life. Getting my driving license when I was 17, I owned a car for the next 15 years and drove it nearly every day. On my first trip to Europe, I was amazed at the infrastructure that enabled people to travel around without using a car. There was nothing like that back in the smallish area where I grew up - a few buses here and there, but nothing that you could rely on day to day.
Soon after my first trip to Europe I moved to Montreal where that infrastructure I longed for existed and I could travel all around the city car-free! I was glad there were alternatives, as driving in Montreal was a fast-paced, no hesitation situation. I certainly felt more comfortable leaving the driving to others for a while, but still had use of a car throughout my time there. Old habits and all. But living there I learned how to navigate public transport, when to use the bus or metro, how long it might take and giving myself enough time in case of delays. All these experiences certainly made the transition to London a few years later much easier.
Owning a car is a major expense – it costs UK motorists an average of £3,500 a year to run their cars after purchase (Source: webuyanycar.com) and the charity Sustrans maintains that if four out of five short journeys were made by foot, bike or public transport instead of by car, drivers could save £279 a year in running costs – £8.5 billion for all UK drivers. That’s before we even start to calculate the environmental benefits.
Three days before getting married in London, my partner’s car stopped running. It was going to cost a lot of money to get it fixed, money that we didn’t really have to spend. So, we decided we’d give non-car ownership a go. Ten years later and a move to Birmingham and we are still car-free!
Life has changed a lot since then, moving next to a train station and a grocery store, getting a new job working full-time from home, and having a little guy who thankfully goes to school mere minutes away from our house. These things were planned, as staying car-free is an important aspect of our lives now, and something we want to maintain. I realise that not everyone has the luxury of being able to plan these aspects of their lives, but we’ve made it a priority.
Looking back, we’re really glad the car broke down and the decision was made for us – and I know that not everyone is ready to take the decision to live car-free. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing - there are so many ways that one can cut down on car usage - travelling a different way to work on days when the weather is nice, car-sharing or joining a car club.
Over the past ten years the world has become more and more aware of health and environmental benefits of active travel – which was what led me to work with BetterPoints. I’m passionate about working for a company that wants to make a difference and enable others to do the same.
Money-wise, I’ve calculated that we’ve saved in the region of £35k in running costs, and that's without adding in the cost of purchasing a car. I’ve also been way more active than I would have if I’d driven everywhere. It’s far too easy to hop in the car to go somewhere locally, when I could have walked, cycled or taken the bus or train. At times, when I just couldn’t be bothered, I’ve called a taxi, had a lift from a friend, or just stayed home – but over the years that has only been a handful of times. I would encourage everyone to try using their car a bit less. Whether you decide to go car free one day per week, or change how you do short trips, you can really make a difference!