Friday, October 25, 2013

"Do You Even Own a Car?"

The words were like music to my ears, spoken by another mom as she wheeled her bicycle into the rack beside mine. I'm ashamed to say I didn't recognize her, but she obviously observed I'd often ridden with my son to his elementary school and now we both showed up at the middle school open house—again by bike.

Do you even own a car?

I couldn't lie, yet was nonetheless embarrassed. "Yes, and would you believe we have two cars?"

We went our separate ways, but her words stuck with me.

It's taken a long time to reconcile why we still own two automobiles. It's not something I'm proud of, so in my attempt to explore alternatives, I joined Carshare Vermont, enticed by the free introductory membership. My thinking was we would find the service could suit our needs and eventually get rid of one car. 6 months later, the Carshare option remains untested. It's inconvenient to schlep across the university campus to locate the nearest loaner vehicle, especially when we own the two sitting in our driveway. The cost of having that second vehicle is primarily gas and insurance—at least that's what I tell myself. But, of course there are the hidden costs: registration, inspection, maintenance, etc. I suspect total expenses of second-car ownership is slightly more than paid membership in Carshare.

To our credit, rarely are both automobiles on the road at the same time—rather, it's more likely one car is driven (the Honda gets 35 MPG) and half-time at that. Both are equipped with bike racks. So, why do we still have these two beastly things? Unfortunately, my husband and I work several miles from home—in opposite directions no less—plus my workplace is not on a bus line for winter commutes. (I won't ride a bike when it's dark at 5 p.m.) And, there is no guarantee that I can snag a Carshare vehicle when I truly need it.

"It's not about the number of vehicles we own," my husband said, trying to put it in perspective for me, "It's about how many miles we drive."

In the end he's right, and the more I ponder our transportation situation, it's an answer I can live with. We aren't tempted to drive more, like some folks are, because there are two vehicles available. We both pedal to work and often walk to do errands. My husband mixes riding a commuter bus to his job, 25 miles away with car/bike commutes. We insist that our children find alternatives to asking for the mom and dad taxi. One son makes two bus connections to get to high school, while our youngest boy rides his bike or takes a bus when he schleps his cello.

I've accepted our situation and no longer feel guilty. We are doing our part, helping the environment, making healthy car-free choices, and passing important lessons onto our children. If acquaintances think we don't own a car, it must mean we are doing something right!


  1. I think if I had started off with the idea of living car-free, I would live in Paris or New York City, and be set. But it didn't work out like that, and instead like most people I think instead I found myself in a combination of living location + job + family + habits which already involved cars when I decided the costs and hassles that go along with multi-car ownership and operatrion are cripplingly great compared to the alternatives. San Francisco I think I might also want to try car-free, but already feel that after all it's not that a big a city, while California is a huge state with many amazing things easy to access by driving by harder to access any other way. Similar to Arizona--an amazing state to explore, and by bicycle certainly if your life situation permits that much leisure time, but mine does not, and rather than forego or delay the wonders of the place I live in, I drive to them with my family in our family vehicle, which is a SULEV II hybrid and so eases my conscience in the ways that type of machine can. OTOH life often opens up unexpected options and opportunities, and I also feel that if one pops up which offers the chance to reduce the number of cars in the stable, in the longer run, it can pay off in many ways to make that reduction and then deal with the challenges that are going to go along with that choice.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. I was inspired when you decided to give up one of your cars. Certainly, if my husband or I work closer to home it's a no-brainer -- I'd easily get rid of one automobile.

  2. I was wondering recently if we could go completely car free. My husband takes ours to work and we use it occasionally to go to functions and when I need to buy large items at the shops, but that is about it. If he did not drive to work we could nearly be car free. It would be a freeing experience.


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