The Joys of Getting Around Without a Damn Car

The Joys of Getting Around Without a Damn Car

Loyal citizens of Bitch Nation, I have a confession to make.

I fucking hate driving.

It’s tedious and boring. It takes up time I could spend in other ways. It raises my blood pressure because everyone else is a really fucking bad driver but definitely not me I’m perfect. Cars are noisy, dirty, and expensive. And I’m expected to follow the rules of the road when I just wanna be all

So yeah. Me and cars? We don’t get a long.

And I’m not alone. Haunt the halls of lifestyle blogs and personal finance advice long enough and you’ll run into people who have gone to great lengths to go without driving.

Living a carless lifestyle is entirely possible for a lot of us, and the joys and benefits are many. Getting around without a car saves you a trunkload of cash (see what I did there?), it’s better for your health, and it’s better for the environment. It can even save you time, in certain circumstances.

Below I examine the joys and practicalities of carless modes of transportation. It’s by no means a complete list, so I encourage class participation! Tell me all about your car-free mobility in a comment.

The wonders of the human body

The cool thing about being a bipedal humanoid is that we have all kinds of ways of harnessing our own kinetic energy to get from point A to point B.

Exactly what I meant.

Walking is a great way to get around. It’s an incredibly easy form of exercise, it costs absolutely nothing, and it gives you time to finish an audiobook or three. Plus you get the added smugness of lapping drivers during rush hour. And let’s be real: financial independence is entirely fueled by delicious, delicious smugness.

And while the extreme bikevangelism of Mr. Money Mustache can be… well, extreme… he’s not wrong. More and more American cities are prioritizing cycling, making it easier than ever to share the roads. Cycling is great exercise, it’s fast, and it enables you to carry more cargo than you can while walking.

Now that I work from home, I’ve realized just how little I need a car. Almost everything I need—grocery store, library, post office, hospital, husband’s office, drug store, breweries, restaurants, parks, pet store—is within two miles of my house. Even when I’m feeling lazy, that’s pretty fucking doable on my bike.

So I’m trying an experiment. I’ve parked my car in the driveway. And I’m going to see how long I can go without using it to go anywhere.

I hope it gathers dust and dies of neglect.

The wonders of public transportation

Affordable! Accessible! Paid for by your taxes so you might as well use it, you fool!

Public transit is one of the best ideas humanity ever had. From the trolleys of San Francisco to the Washington D.C. metro, public transportation makes it possible for bajillions of people to travel around more safely, efficiently, cheaply, in better health, and with a lower impact on the environment than they could if they were all driving cars.

Trains and buses

When I was in college I lived in a city with excellent public transportation… though I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I focused on the corgi-sized rats, the airborne crud that coated my skin, clothes, and hair after any amount of time in a subway station. I got all salty when the trains were crowded or late, and I rarely enjoyed the free entertainment provided by my inebriated brethren of the subway.

But guys. Do you understand how amazing public buses and trains are?

For about $1.25, I got to go wherever I wanted within the city. A monthly train pass was pennies compared to what I would’ve spent during the same month on an auto loan, car insurance, gas, parking, and maintenance. I could travel to the suburbs half a state away on the commuter rail, or go to my parents’ rural town on the bus. I didn’t own a car, but my mobility was virtually uninhibited.

The city had a free van service for the elderly, disabled, or injured. Many schools and colleges ran their own shuttles at night. There were subsidized commuter passes for trains and buses alike.

And while I sat, trusting train conductors to navigate gloomy underground tunnels without being hijacked by cannibalistic mole people, I could read. In four years of literature classes I did more homework in the tunnels between the classroom and my apartment than anywhere else.

I now live in a city with mediocre public transit at best and I rue what I lost by moving. I can still get around by bus within the city, but leaving the city is another matter.

Increasing access to and the reach of public transportation could help reduce car usage in numerous cities. So keep that in mind on voting day.

Less conventional (and less expensive) modes of transportation

My dog and I do not “go for a walk.” We go on reconnaissance missions. This is at least 86% because he has learned the words walk, stroll, evening constitutional, perambulate, mosey, reconnoiter, jaunt, trek, traverse, cambiar, and sally forth.

The other 64% is because we like to check out what’s going on in the neighborhood.

There’s a guy who gets around on a penny farthing, I shit you not! He always wears hilarious spandex biking clothes and a waxed gray mustache and he’s basically my hero.

The other day we were nearly sideswiped by a guy riding one of these things. These Onewheels retail for about $1,500 and can go five to eight miles on a single charge. Which, compared to the cost of a moped, let alone a car, is pretty good return on investment.

And I know it’s bougie as fuck to keep extolling the virtues of something owned exclusively by San Franciscan tech bros, but… it’s so compact and speedy! Like a skateboard and BB8 had a baby!

The point is, a less conventional form of transportation than a car is a great way to broadcast your rebellious, bohemian lifestyle to the world. Kitty and her husband love their little orange moped (sorry I outed you gurl). And if it’s good enough for a Bitch, it’s good enough for you sweet yet ambitious land sharks.

Car shares have their place

Even for the most car averse among us, sometimes a car is just useful. But if you find yourself in this situation fewer than three times a month, you might not be able to justify the cost of owning a car.

Enter the car share. Companies like Car2Go are popping up like daisies in urban and suburban areas, making it super easy to borrow a car for your monthly Costco run.

Then of course there are the empires of Uber and Lyft and the beleaguered taxi companies scrabbling to hold onto their piece of the market. Getting a ride is easier than ever thanks to these companies’ mobile apps, and you don’t even have to drive yourself!

Now if we could just find a way to keep drivers from speaking

In defense of cars

It’s still really ok to own a car

I used to commute forty miles a day to work and literally the best way for me to do it was by car (hold your lectures, bikevangelists).

When my car died and I needed to save up money for a new one, I spent four and a half hours and $10 a day getting to and from work on the bus. It was miserable and an enormous waste of time. And if I missed any of my transfers, I was basically screwed.

For those of you who are like “If it’s that hard to get to work without being a car clown, just get a different job closer to home!” I say a) easier said than done, motherfuckers, and b) I did.

The point of this story is that we live in a country with a cultural, infrastructural bias for cars. Our towns are designed for car ownership, with most homes and businesses accessible by paved roads.

We have a long way to go before carlessness is accessible and affordable for everyone, no matter their location, needs, and physical ability.

No excuses necessary

Sometimes owning a car really is just the easiest, most practical thing for your situation. And that’s ok!

Maybe you live in a rural area with dirt roads where things are spread out and there’s no public transportation to speak of. Or maybe you have a chronic disease or a disability that makes it impossible for you to walk or bike. Maybe you’re one of the elderly and disabled people who are sick and fucking tired of the inefficiency and abuse of Access-A-Ride. Maybe driving a car is an essential part of your job.

Whatever the reason, I’m not here to judge. I get it. Cars fucking suck as an institution, but sometimes they can be really, really useful.

Above I’ve shared a number of ways you can enjoy avoiding pouring your earnings into a car. And I’d love to hear about more ways to avoid car ownership in the comments!

But what I don’t want to hear are your excuses for owning a car. Because they’re not necessary. I get it! Sometimes you need a car. Let’s not belabor the point. Instead, let’s just share some ideas for lessening our car usage.


38 thoughts to “The Joys of Getting Around Without a Damn Car”

  1. Oh God I hate driving! I didn’t get my license till I was 26!! It shocks me how expensive car ownership is now that I partake. This is the reason I go to all my town hall meetings. It’s me, and 800 old white men, and I’m like ” BIKE LANES” and they are like “We are discussing grid sewage” and I’m like ” BIKE LANES”

    1. Jesus, just imagine what we could get done if we gave those 800 old white men something more productive to do than go to town hall meetings.

      My big pet peeve with the bike lanes in my city is… people are allowed to park in them? So you’ll be riding down a busy street in a residential area and have to weave around parked cars into traffic. Kinda defeats the purpose of a bike lane, but uh… baby steps I guess.

  2. I’ve been trying to pull the trigger on selling my car since the New Year. I recently moved to a small-ish Midwest town with a fantastic bus infrastructure that is connected by train to Chicago and STL, so it’s fairly easy to get anywhere without driving. You can even get groceries delivered here. I still owe about $5,000 on my car though and I just don’t really know what to do with it, so instead I’m just kinda floating along with it until I have the brain capacity to figure out how to sell it. It is nice to have it, but since the beginning of January, I’ve been making a list of every single car trip and I’ve only used my car 16 times in almost a month a half and most of those trips were unnecessary fluff like getting pizza or something.

    I’m from Texas where not owning a car is crazy talk because everything is so spread out, so I’m not used to the dense Midwest experience yet and I don’t think I’m quite ready to have my car taken away even though I acknowledge it is a privilege not a necessity up here.

    1. I feel you! Especially if you’re so close to paying off the loan. Why don’t you see if you can decrease car usage over the next few months? Give yourself a goal for maximum number of drives every month, and slowly decrease. If you find by the end of the year that you don’t use it at all… sell, baby, sell!

  3. Since moving to the city I use my car less and less. In the ‘burbs it would take me roughly an hour by public transport to get what would take 15 mins by car! And walking in 95°F heat with no shower facility at work was a no-no.
    BUT! Now that I live with a bus and train network that is only late 80-90% of the time, I can get around without the use of a car.
    As for ideas to getting around without a car, I like the idea of weaning off the car- drive part of the way to work or wherever and walk the rest. This could cut down on your petrol and parking costs, plus it shows you that you can survive without a car for a distance at least.

    1. Oooo, I like the idea of parking farther away to save money on parking costs. I’m one of those park-in-the-back-of-the-Target-lot types, but you’re right–this is a great tactic for those who commute to paid parking.
      Also, I feel you on the no shower at work issue. When I was commuting forty miles a day, the cycling mafia didn’t seem to understand that showing up sweaty and having nowhere to wash up before changing into business attire was… not realistic.

  4. #NotAllUberDrivers, says the former driver who now only accepts scheduled airport rides from trusted clients.
    Now the Urban Planner in me is dying to scream out “Look into the General Motors streetcar conspiracy” for additional reading related to the subject. Apologies in advance for all of the scorn you will feel at the mega-corps who screwed up our land use patterns for generations!!

    1. When I DO feel like talking to my Lyft driver, I ask them about their terrible clients. Always an interesting story. But usually… I prefer to ride in silence.
      And brb googling the GM streetcar conspiracy. Is this going to make me shiver with impotent rage about one more way The System (TM) has been designed to screw over consumers?

      1. Oh yes, I always get the excited “tell me about your weirdest ride” and I usually just tell a couple of the more memorable, or ones that will make people laugh. I also try to start with a friendly “hello ___” and can usually gauge their interest in continuing to talk.
        Yes, The System was rigged to be anti-transit, pro-car-and-everything-they-entail. It started the de-centralization of American cities and kicked off our wasteful, ugly sprawl.

  5. I’ve been trying to measure if having a car is worth it to me. On one hand, I hate spending money. On the other, freedom is so tempting.

    I sit on $3000 of repairs for my car so the decision is even harder. Fix the car I love, get a new car, or do without?

    As always y’all post things that make me think hard about what I’m doing in life.

  6. I hate having car! Nashville is so slow in the race on getting public transport that is actually worth a damn. A bus ride to work is 2 hrs and 20 mins. To get home it’s 2 hrs, and I only live 12 miles from my office!
    Having a car is definitely an evil necessity here. 🙁

  7. It’s OK to have cars, it is. But I don’t know why one would need it all to themselves. Most of the drivers on the road are singletons (or double at best) and those make up 80% of the road. It’s incredibly insufficient. I love me car-sharings though. What a perfect concept! I wish it would take off like Airbnb did 🙂

    1. Co-signed! I wish I could’ve carpooled more with coworkers when I had the commute from hell. What’s that app that helps you find carpool buddies in your neighborhood? I can’t find it, which makes me feel like I’m making it up…

  8. First, that one wheel is pretty sweet. I don’t know that I’d buy one but, man, I sure wish my neighbor would so I could try it out.

    I work from home and, up until recently, barely drove it. But after my surgery, I stopped riding my bike or scooter cold turkey and am now fully back in the habit of driving the car. We still fill it up just once a month, but still. I’m excited for the next few weeks when I can try pedaling or riding the scooter again.

    1. Recovery takes a while! I for one am glad you used the car instead of pushing your body to ride the bike before you were ready.

      And yeah I totally want to try a OneWheel.

  9. I travel a lot for work and Denver’s (relatively) new light rail line to the airport is pretty solid. In traffic the airport can be an hour+ from our house, although it’s usually more like 40 minutes. The light rail takes 1hr10min… So sure slightly slower, but $9 for the RTD compared to $45 Lyft ride ($100 with surge pricing if there’s an ice storm and it’s 6am on a Monday…)

    Two issues still bind me to the automobile though:

    1) The light rail is only a mile from our house, which is totally walkable, and we do when we’re going to baseball games or whatever. But I’m not walking a mile in my dress clothes, schlepping my suitcase at 4:30 in the morning when it’s 15 degrees out. Actually…check that…I’m not schlepping a suitcase in my dress clothes for a mile. Period. Don’t care what the weather is. So I still get a ride to the light rail station which might be considered a cop-out by some militant anti-carists. Oh well.

    2) When Mrs. Wizard drops me off on Monday mornings, we can time it so I get to the station just in time for the train. So the trip to the airport really is just 1hr10min. But coming home who knows when I’ll get in and get my bags etc. There’s a train every 15 minutes until 7pm, but after that it turns into one every half hour. If I finally get my bag at 7:26 and there’s a 7:27 and then 7:57 train…I’m taking a Lyft. I could stand around the station for a half and hour or be 75% of the way home. No brainer.

    So I take the train going outbound and will take it home if the timing works out, but that’s kinda rare. And I get a ride to and from the train station even though it’s only a mile.

    The whole system still relies pretty heavily on automobiles but, like, not as much?

    Of course then I end up renting a car for the week for wherever I’m going…so I’m probably not the poster child for the car-free lifestyle. But I get it. I’m hip.

  10. I have a love/hate relationship with my car. I love it for the freedom. I actually do love driving – but not in cities. Fuck that. I grew up in the sticks and we never had a traffic jam on our 30-mile drive to town (there were also only two stoplights between us and the city). I also hate riding my bike in the city. Maybe it’s because I never got used to cars whisking by me on the road, or maybe it was because I fell off my bike and bruised my entire leg in front of a bunch of Nanas at a safe-city-biking class. Could be that.
    Now I live in a city and I love the public transport, but I fucking HATE living in the city. My master plan is to save up a boatload of cash, buy a nice house and a beater car back out in the sticks, and let my car whisk me away to the forests and occasionally the grocery store.
    As far as money-saving tips for car dorks like me: I’m considering an electric or hybrid car for my next vehicle. Also, plan car trips well: don’t just hop in and jaunt off whenever you get the urge. Consolidate your trips and errands so you’re not wasting gas. Keep your tires inflated, and get your mechanical checks/oil changes done on schedule.

  11. A penny farthing, are you serious?!?!?!

    I hate driving. I hate parking. I hate it hate it hate it. And so I do not own a car of my own. We are just fine as a one car household and I do probably 0.005% of the driving. Even if we have kids I hope to maintain this.

    1. Good for you! I’m considering going down to a one-car household. No kids for us, and I can easily bike to my husband’s office if I need to borrow his truck.

      And yeah, penny farthing guy is amazing. He has a perfectly groomed mustache and beard, and if you wave at him, he’ll act like he’s tipping his bike helmet at you. The pride of the neighborhood!

  12. Just got back from our 4 day honeymoon in LA and WE DID NOT DRIVE! It was actually pretty great. While I didn’t find the bus system there to be especially intuitive and you are working with multiple systems (we stayed in Santa Monica and then went as far as Pasadena by bus and back to our hotel in reverse on trains!), it saved us easily $200 if not more. My husband and I walked a lot, carried our stuff with us, and saw sooooo much of the LA area. We took buses to our destinations and buses just for the hell of it. And the first year we lived here in Austin we only took the bus which majorly helped me learn the geography. My husband still takes the bus regularly (his car is a gas guzzler and old as hell) and doesn’t mind it at all.

    So yay for public transportation! My own car commute is only about 15 minutes and not miserable actually.

  13. I was nodding along, thinking, “Yeah, that’s fine in a big city, but I live in the middle of nowhere”…then you mentioned rural areas and everything being spread out and I said “Yep, that’s me!”

    I’m not particularly averse to driving (except in bad weather, or if I feel extremely cruddy). But my hometown where I still live is fairly rural and spread out, with NO public transportation. And since my house is actually about 8 miles outside of town, that compounds the issue.

    I will say this about my car: it gets hella great gas mileage! I replaced my old car when it was finally ready to die (after putting more money in it to keep it running than I paid for the damn thing) with a 2013 Nissan Altima, which was a MAJOR step up for me. I drove to Nashville for a Supernatural convention last April, which was roughly 450 miles…on HALF A TANK OF GAS. Seriously, I filled up before hitting the road, and when I hit rush hour in Nashville upon arriving, the needle was just a hair under the half-tank mark.

    Some people might have preferred flying when faced with that distance, but I was glad I drove. For one, airplane tickets are crazy expensive. Then, there would be the issue of trying to get around Nashville once I got there. Sure, there’s Uber and whatnot, but we’re talking about a bitch that was pretty strapped for cash after all was said and done, so paying for every single ride on top of that would’ve been pretty freaking emotionally traumatizing. So for both my sanity AND my wallet, driving was the much better choice.*

    *Everyone’s experience with long-distance trips is different. Issues about vehicle reliability, anxiety levels, and financial situations are unique. Your mileage may vary. (Jeez, I couldn’t help the pun…)

  14. I have way too many modes of transportation. Like, a Razor scooter, a cruiser bike, and I use the bus and occasionally Uber. My parents still drive me some places due to me not having my license yet, but I am working on practicing driving so I can have it if I need it. Also really wanting roller skates for Christmas. They’re much more fun, light, and compact for getting around than a scooter or bike.

  15. I don’t own a car. So, here’s the connection: I’ve done the math. I spend roughly 9.5 hours a week in a car. Some people spend more time in their cars each week. I don’t really have to drive to work, but I have to go to meetings. Assuming that the average person spends 40 hours a week working, I am gaining 10.5 work weeks more than my competition. In essence, I am able to work more hours each year than my competition can, because I don’t drive, while they do.

  16. I used to fly into the San Diego airport when I was returning from business trips; Mike would pick me up in his Lambo, turning heads. Women would actually run-up to the car to give Mike their phone numbers. But, as for me, I didn’t like his car! My suitcase didn’t fit in the trunk! I had to cradle my luggage in my lap on the way home, and I couldn’t see out the window! That’s why I’d rather Mike pick me up in his Mazda. Don’t misread what I’m saying: There’s nothing wrong with nice cars. I know a lot of successful people who have really nice cars.

  17. I parked my car over a year ago, I keep it around just to enjoy seeing how much dirt and rust collect on it. When you realize how little you need a car the less you find reasons to use one. Once this car rusts into nothing I might turn my driveway into a garden!

      1. Thank you. I keep getting people wanting to buy it but the answer is a big NO! That cars life ends with me. I’ve taken to scratching it everytime I walk past it and damn it feels good.

  18. Im with you! I live on the East Coast right near a city with such reliable and multiple avenues of public transport- I really didnt know that other areas were so structured for cars until Adulthood. My new job is in the city and my employer pays 50% cost for my monthly passes for transit. I still have a car to drive the 10 minutes to the train station and back, but its so relieving not to be in traffic or on the highway for any amount of time in my day. Im planning to move into the city itself soon, cost of living is fairly reasonable, and then I can say goodbye to car insurance, car payments, checkups, and gas bills.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *