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Could You Live Without a Car?

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The car is regarded as an essential of modern life. It is a symbol of freedom and status. In fact, many families regard two or more cars as essential. But, is it really necessary to own more than one car, or even to own a car at all?

Cars are expensive. As well as the cost of purchasing a car, car owners have to pay for vehicle registration, insurance, safety and emissions tests, maintenance, and, of course, gas.

According to the Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor, the average American family owned two vehicles and spent a total of $8,758 on transportation in 2007, representing a 2.9 percent increase in expenditure when compared with 2006.

American families spent more on transportation than they did on food, healthcare or insurance in 2007. Expenditure on transportation accounted for 17.6 percent of total household expenditure and was the second highest area of spending, exceeded only by housing.

As well as being expensive, cars contribute to environmental pollution, filling the air with noxious gases from their tailpipes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cars, motorcycles and light trucks account for 87 percent of carbon monoxide emissions from all on-road mobile sources.

In addition, it could be said that cars contribute to the problem of obesity in our society. For many adults and children alike, their only exercise is walking the short distance to and from their car.

According to the annual Harris Poll, a staggering 78 percent of adults over 25 years old were overweight or obese in 2008. The future projections of this trend are more alarming, with a study carried out by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine forecasting that 86 percent of the US population will be overweight or obese by 2030.

Could you save money and help to improve the environment and the health of your family by selling one or more of your cars? There are many points to consider when making such a decision. As a starting point, make a list of all the car journeys each member of your family makes during a typical seven-day week. Add to the list any other journeys that are made less frequently.

It is a good idea to gather the family together and brainstorm alternatives to using the car for each journey. Ask for everyone’s input, because your children, for example, may know of ways in which they could travel to after-school activities that you are unaware of.

Here are some alternatives to consider.

Alternatives to the Car

Walking: Half a century ago, it was not uncommon for adults and children to walk three miles to and from work or school each day. Nowadays, one mile is often considered to be too far to walk. This shift in attitude shows just how reliant on the car our society has become.

Walking is still a viable alternative to the car for shorter journeys. Of course, you will need extra time for your journey, but that can be arranged with a little forward planning. If you walk regularly, you will become fitter and healthier and arrive at your destination feeling energized rather than sluggish.

Check out the website of the Alliance for Biking and Walking for information on the Safe Routes to School program and local organizations that promote walking and cycling.

Bicycle: Bicycling is a convenient way of traveling for longer distances. It is also an easy way of exercising, especially if you live in a rural district or an area where there are cycle tracks or cycle lanes. If your proposed cycling route is alongside a busy road, try to find a quieter, alternative route by contacting your local bicycling advocacy group. The League of American Bicyclists has a list of advocacy groups and other local resources for cyclists on its website.

If you live within five miles of public transportation, you could ride your bike to the station in the morning and ride home again in the evening. See what facilities there are for cyclists in your area by checking out the website of the local bicycling advocacy group. You may be surprised to learn that there is a viable way to use your bicycle for at least part of the regular journeys you make each week.

Public Transportation: Buses, trains, and the subway are all feasible alternatives to using a car. If you live some distance away from the nearest public transportation stop, you could walk or cycle there, or, if you are retaining one family car, your partner could take you and pick you up. If you need to use a taxi on an occasional basis, it would still be cheaper than owning a car.

Carpooling: Carpooling is a good way of reducing commuting-related transportation costs by sharing them with another commuter who travels to and from a similar area. You can find a carpool buddy by searching websites such as erideshare.com or carpoolworld.com.

If you downsize from two cars to one, carpooling could enable you to reduce the number of journeys you make using your family’s sole car. On the days on which your carpool buddy is driving, your partner could take you to the carpool meeting point and pick you up again in the evening. On the days on which you drive, your partner could use alternative methods of transportation.

Car Sharing or Community Car Schemes: Car sharing is a program whereby you book a car online, pick it up from a specified location, drive it away for the length of time you have booked, and return it to a certain location at the end of your rental. You can book a car for just a few hours or for a whole week. It is a cost-effective alternative to owning your own car if you only use it for occasional journeys.

Find out if there is a car sharing scheme in your area by going to carsharing.net. At the beginning of 2009, there were 24 car sharing programs in different locations across the USA. A list of these programs can be found on carsharing.net.

Car sharing is a good alternative to owning a car for those times when there is absolutely no alternative to a car for certain journeys.

Car Rental: If you take a regular trip each month or less frequently to visit relatives or friends or to go on vacation, renting a car for these trips is likely to be less expensive than owning a car for the whole year.

Sharing Car Journeys with Friends, Colleagues, or Relatives: There are many ways in which some of your regular car journeys could be replaced by rides with family members, friends or colleagues. You could “swap journeys” so that you drive your family’s only car half of the time, taking along your friend, relative or colleague, and this person uses their car with you as a passenger the other half of the time. This is especially useful for regular journeys, such as travel to and from work or travel to and from children’s activities.

If you do not have your own car, you could offer to pay a friend, colleague or relative to take you as a passenger. In some cases, this could be less expensive than taking public transportation. Alternatively, you could offer a service in return for transportation, such as babysitting, cleaning or ironing.

Motorcycle, Scooter or Moped: Although it still costs money to buy, maintain and run a motorcycle, scooter or moped, it is usually less expensive than owning a car. If you really can’t find any other way to make a regular journey, replacing your first or second car with a motorcycle, scooter, or moped is a possibility that you could consider.

Other Novel Modes of Transportation: In recent years, some new, environment-friendly alternatives to the car have been developed. For example, the Segway Personal Transporter is a lithium-ion battery-operated vehicle with two wheels. You simply stand up on it and control it with your body movements. It is a very economical and environment-friendly alternative to the car for commuting as you can travel up to 24 miles before the battery needs to be recharged. More information can be found at segway.com.

Once you have considered all of the alternatives to using your own car, draw up a new weekly timetable in which each member of your family uses alternatives to the car for each journey he or she makes. Try out these new ways of traveling for at least two weeks and make a note of any problems. You can then call a new family meeting and brainstorm ways to resolve these problems.

It is likely that you will encounter resistance to change from one or more members of the family. Here are some arguments that may be aired and ways in which alternatives could be agreed upon.

I need a car for my work. Do you need a car to go to and from work each day or do you need it for travel during the course of your work? If you only require a car for commuting, could you travel to and from work by public transportation, or, if you work fairly close to home, could you walk or ride a bicycle?

Another possibility is to ride to and from work with a colleague or a neighbor who works in the same area as you. You could pay your neighbor or colleague a certain amount each week and you could even offer to share the driving, if the insurance will allow that.

Your neighbor or colleague will be happy to have a contribution to the cost of running his or her car and be glad of the company on the journeys to and from work. At the same time, you will be paying less than the cost of keeping a car on the road and it may even cost you less than commuting to work by public transportation.

If you don’t have a colleague or neighbor with a similar journey to work, you could find a carpool buddy on the Internet. In this case, you would need to retain one family car but, as you would only use it for half of the week, other family members could use it for the rest of the time. You would therefore gain more value from owning one family car than two, especially if you currently use your second car almost exclusively for commuting.

I need a car to take the children to and from school. So many parents drive their children to school unnecessarily. If the children left home a little earlier, would they have time to walk or cycle to school? Is there a school bus that could pick them up and drop them off? Could you share the school run with another family, so that your family is able to manage with one car, which is used to take the children to and from school for half of the week?

I need a car to take the children to their after-school and weekend activities. Look for alternatives. Are some activities close enough to home or school that your children could walk or ride a bicycle? Could they go to and from their activities by public transportation? Perhaps a child could ride with one of his or her friends and you could pay the parent an agreed amount or even offer a service in exchange, such as babysitting.

If you downsize from two cars to one, perhaps you could share trips with another parent whose children do similar activities. For example, the other parent could take the children to after-school activities during the week and you could take them at weekends.

I need a car to take my grocery shopping home. Could you order your groceries online and have them delivered directly to your door each week? Could you visit the grocery store more often than once a week and bring smaller quantities of groceries home with you on public transportation or even by bicycle or on foot?

If you were to have only one family car, could you do the whole of your grocery shopping in the evening, at the weekend, or at another time when your partner and children do not need to use the car for another purpose?

There is a lack of good public transportation in the area where I live. Do you know this for sure? Have you checked the bus and train timetables? Sometimes, when there is a limited service, it is at convenient times of the day, such as in the early morning and in the evening, enabling you to travel to and from work.

Even if there is no public transportation in your area, you could still use other more cost-effective and environment-friendly alternatives to the car, such as a bicycle, scooter, or even a Segway Personal Transporter.

Once you have found and successfully tested viable alternatives to all of the journeys made by each family member, it is time to sell your car and reap the benefits. You will undoubtedly save money because your family’s transportation expenses will be much lower than the total cost of keeping a car on the road.

Your children will not learn to become dependent on a car at an early age. The fitness of each member of your family will improve as they walk or cycle more often. As a result, those who are overweight will lose weight and become healthier.

Last but by no means least, the environment will benefit. Removing even one car from the road reduces air pollution and makes the world a more pleasant place for our children to grow up in.