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Giving up the car

With the rain and winds and cold here, we have converted from a biking/mass transit family to a driving family.  Obsessed with how much direct and other social costs we were now incurring, I found the website The True Cost of Driving, which estimates that it costs about $1.19 per mile in a whole host of direct driver expenses as well as societal costs, such as costs of infrastructure or accidents.  For our 3.5 mile commute, this cost equates to just a little over two 2-zone TriMet tickets.  And, with our daughter now at 7 years of age, she also has to pay her bus fare, therefore making it cheaper to all drive together.  I suppose I am trying to rationalize that driving, in some cases, could cost about the same as taking mass transit?

Mardi is a mama who is not deterred by the thought of going car-free this winter.  She recently emailed:

I am currently obsessed about selling our two cars and am extremely interested in other families that have done so.

My husband wants to keep one car - just in case. I'm pregnant with my second child and I'd love to hear how families manage to go carless with kids. What do they do if they need a car, say if a child gets sick. Renting a car isn't really all that cheap, neither is Flexcar at $10 an hour.  Is bicycling around really practical in Portland when it rains so much?


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We've been effectively carless for three or four months, due to some events too complicated to explain here. But it's been interesting to see how we've adapted. I'll be frank about the downsides and upsides.

I've biked a lot, and my wife and mother in law have bussed and walked to work. I've noticed we've all gotten a little bit fitter. But traveling with our 2 year old is a challenge. He loves going on the bus, but he just doesn't understand waiting for the bus. 5 minutes is okay, but 20 -- no way. We use a jogging stroller and an ergo baby carrier a lot, but there is no real equivalent to that parenting thing you can do if you have a car -- which is retreat to the safe and soundproofed confines of the car to take a little break with your kid (or give the public a little break from your kid :) . And the truth is, on Sundays or for some locations, there are just some places you can't really go on the bus.

On the other hand, traveling is an experience that we are really sharing with our son, and that's fun. And we've saved a lot of money.

I think we'll go back to a car when we can -- the inconvenience of certain tasks and trips will be a motivator -- but I will be glad we had this time.

A lot depends on where you live, what you have access to, and where you need to get to most of the time.

We got ourselves down to one car. I think that Sarah went down to none and has done some posts on it.

We use the bus a lot - in a typical week you may see one of us on the 75,72,8,9,10,4,17, or 70. We use transit tracker and TriMet.org for trip planning. Mila's school is only a bus ride away (no transfers) and the bus stop is 1 1/2 blocks from the house.

We also walk quite a bit and benefit from having a lot of things within walking or biking distance - including a choice of grocery stores AND our own store.

We are members of FlexCar - there is a car 6 1/2 blocks from our house. We opted for a plan that they don't seem to be offering anymore, where we pay $10 a month and receive 3 hours of time.

If you want to join FlexCar, go to a member appreciate meeting to sign-up and get the membership fee waived while also enjoying some freebies. Here are the next ones:

- December 13 @ Concordia Ale House

Join us on Thursday from 5 – 7 pm at Concordia Ale House (3276 NE Killingsworth).

- December 19 @ McMenamins Chapel Pub
Come hang with us on Wednesday from 1 – 3 pm at McMenamins (430 N. Killingsworth St.).

- December 21 @ Lucky Lab NW
Meet us on Friday from 1-3 pm at Lucky Lab NW (1945 NW Quimby St).

We have rented cars for a day or a weekend three times in the past month from Enterprise. They have a non-stop promo where cars are 1/2 off on weekends and they have locations all over town. They will pick you up to get the car and drop you off when your rental is over.

At this point, we have been a one car family for 6 months and there hasn't been any time when we have felt - oh! if only we had another car!...

HOWEVER, oh! if only we had a car built in the 21st century has come up time to time....

Good luck!

Two kids and one car. One full time job. Two parents.

It would be a big leap to go car free at this time. The logistics of life seems overwhelming(swimming, music, hiking, grandparents in Eugene...etc) without a car. As I type this I realize how much simpler life would be without the car.

I am huge fan of Flex Car and yes it is expensive if you are going to use it all the time but anyway you cut it, it is much, much cheaper than owning a car. Living in NoPO it is ideal with so many drop spots.

Now here is a topic that comes up in our house just about everyday. I am a member of Portland's only all female minibike dance troupe. We promote bicycle use among many other things. My partner is also THE bike blogger in Portland. I stay at home with 2 small girls. You'd think we are the perfect fit for being car free. So does my partner. I am not 100% sold-yet. Perhaps it is the fact that I grew up in California. Perhaps it may be that I can't give up the comfort of a quick, comfortable trip somewhere on a whim and getting back in time for nap. Perhaps I feel that if we give up the car (despite it's hidden costs) we wouldn't have the disposable income for things like flexcar. I try to combine many trips in one outing and limit the car to a very few times a week. This is rather tricky at times and I often find myself compromising the needs of the kids to do this. We usually bike and I have a pretty cool set up with an xtracycle. Still, I am a wimp when the weather is treacherous. My partner being solo most of the time thinks it shouldn't be a problem, but his day to day life is much different than our own. Finally, our circle is pretty small on bad weather days when I don't feel like getting on the bike, it doesn't make sense to pay for the bus-we just don't go anywhere. This of course is not always possible.
I'd love to read more about this discussion as there are a variety of "solutions". Right now I just don't know what the benefit of being completely carfree would be to our family-except to say that we are.

Of course, all situations are different and if we had a car payment I'd feel much differently.

..just an edit to my comment. We have rented car 3 times in the past SIX months, not the last month...so basically we rent a car once every 2 months....

I think there are lots of families including ours who would like to go car-free or as carless as possible. I think if the city could ever make bus travel free or less expensive, that would help. Unfortunately my husband and I have jobs on the West side and can't change that at this time - gotta pay the bills. We did trade in our traditional care for an older biodiesel one and we are hoping to eventually make our own veggie oil fuel. I was just thinking this morning about how in the heck I can convert my current typical mama bicycle into something that can get myself, my soon-to-be 8-year-old and his soon-to-be 5-year old sister to school together. Our boy isn't strong enough to ride his bike all the way on his own ... any thoughts are welcome. I'd love to bus more often but it is currently cost prohibitive.

We sold our SUV and went car-free just over a year ago. Our kids are now 6 and 4. Overall it's been great, less stressful, cheaper and it's helped us be more organized and punctual.

I do not, however, think I would have enjoyed being 100% car-free with a baby. Hauling a stroller on Tri-Met sucks and even investing in good rain gear will not save you from getting soaked some days.

Flexcar is great, though we now find renting a car generally cheaper or we take taxis.

We sold both of our cars when we moved here from NY, about five months ago. We live on NE 30th and Ainsworth, so we are in walking distance of New Seasons, Faubian Elem (where my 5 yr old goes), some decent restaurants, etc., which helped us to decide to go completely car-free. If only the Post Office and a bank were a little closer...

We mostly rely on the bus and FlexCar. My husband works full-time, and takes the bus to work ($65/month for the bus pass). I work extremely part-time, and only when my husband is not at work, so I use his bus pass when I have to go in. Our 3 yr old goes to a playgroup twice a week, at different houses in the NE--on Mondays, we take the 75 to get him there (Dad drops him off in the am, I plunk down the $1.75 to pick him up in the afternoon), and on Fridays we walk the 17 blocks to the other home (although I think Dad takes him on the 72 on the way there). We usually take a hybrid FlexCar ($9/hour--although if you are a frequent user, you can sign up at a different level and get cheaper hourly rates, I think, and they pay for gas, etc.) to Fred Meyers once a week, as well as to run any miscellaneous errands (hello, bank and post office), which usually averages about 3 hours a week. Our total necessary transportation expenses (bus pass, bus tickets, FlexCar) averages about $180/month. With our two cars in NY (where I worked full-time and had a 16 mile commute to work which took over 2 hours), including gas, insurance, maintenance, car payments, registration, etc., we were paying about $700/month (and, one of the cars was even paid off). Not to mention the inconvenience of when, say, I had to get my brakes fixed and my husband (who worked in the opposite direction from me), would have to drive me to work, with the two boys in the car. That was fun. We are flat out saving about $500/month by not having the cars (minus whatever "fun" driving we do with the FlexCar).

There are times we get in the FlexCar and drive somewhere, and I'm amazed at how close it is, just because I'm so used to bussing it. There are times when I say to myself, "Well, if I had a car, I'd just throw Gideon in the back and run out to Target." But then I really think about it, and I don't want to pay for the FlexCar just to run out to Target (or where ever), and spend money on things I don't even really and truly need. So, I'm even kinda saving money that way. I think what dissuades me from getting a car again, is knowing that most of the time I am paying for it just to sit in the driveway.

An interesting aside...Long Island is not a very walkable place (ie. there are no sidewalks). When we got here in July, we started walking everywhere. I dropped a pant size by September. Although, in the ironic world I live in, I also found out I was pregnant in October and have since gained that pant size back (except it is all in my tummy; my thighs are definitely slimmer.) The boys (5 and 3) love walking and bussing, and on the days we walk, they are much less cranky--it's easier to incorporate exercise into our daily routine when walking is one of our prime forms of transportation. My 3 year old is also a little tri-met schedule now--he knows the routes for the 10, 72 and 75, which is funny when you think he can tell you where the buses go, but can't tell you where he lives.

I'd like to mention that FlexCar is merging with ZipCar in January in the Portland area. The companies seem very much alike, although FlexCar throws in more freebies (ie. if you use a FlexCar more than twice in a year, they waive the next year's $35 membership fee, something Zip Car doesn't do). ZipCar is going to honor any FlexCar perks if you sign up before the merger takes place, so if you're thinking about joining, do it now at one of the events--you'll get this year's membership free, and ZipCar will waive next year's membership if you use the car more than twice.

We will likely never be a car-free family and it's not a goal we're striving for either. However, we have become much less dependant on our cars since moving here...thank you Portland for your good influence on us! My husband works in Hillsboro and unless he gets a job in town, he'll always need a car to get to work. Taking MAX all the way out there would add too much time to his commute and greatly affect our quality of life at home. If he were to get a job in the city however, we could very easily be a one car family. He's an avid cyclist and would love to have a bike commute. I also tend to stay pretty close to home and do not need to drive my car daily so we could manage with one car.

We had our second baby in July and the little bugger HATES to be in the car...so for all of our sanity, we often choose to walk or take MAX when we can and he's happy to be toted in the sling or stroller. When the weather was consistently nicer, there were stretches when I went well over a week at a time without even pulling my car out of the driveway. I agree--everyone does better with a little more fresh air and exercise in the day. However, now that the weather is turning colder, we are beginning to become fair weather friends. Getting two small children out the door is hard enough, but when you're walking it's just that much harder when the weather is cold and wet.

So we do what we can, and I'm of the mindset that every little bit helps. I dont feel guilty about driving when I need/choose to, because I know that on the days when the weather is nice and we've got our act together we are able to very easily skip the car. I bought a brand new car 2 years ago and it has just over 12,000 miles on it, and that includes a long road trip to UT last summer so I think we're doing pretty well here. And when my boys are bigger it'll be easier to get them out on their bikes on their own--right now, pushing/carrying nearly 50 pounds of kid is something I only want to do when I'm not getting rained on!

My family (two adults juggling school and work, plus one 3-year-old) has been carless for 8 years, in Boston, Oakland, and now Portland. My husband bikes, but I do not (long story), so I bus everywhere.

It's really hard. Everything takes forever, we never get out of the city, and I feel like I'm always toting an apartment's worth of stuff with me everywhere I go. We've had some awful awful trips involving long wait+ tantruming child+exhausted parent. Don't even get me started about last winter's "blizzard."

However, my daughter is not only accustomed to walking and waiting (important and increasingly unusual skills!), but she also sees the world around her, including people who look and behave differently from her, every day. She is never isolated in the bubble of a car, and I think that has a powerful effect on the way she experiences life. This is not something I've heard other come up in discussions of the benefits of carlessness, but I think it's really important.

I also get very valuable time with her when we ride transit together. Like the one-on-one time you get in a car, except we can physically interact as well as chat. I really appreciate that time, when neither of us is occupied with other activities.

It is a bit scary, being carless with kids. Just this week we had our first emergency-room visit with her. We were lucky enough to catch a kind, mobile friend who was nearby and able to drive us to the ER, and it all turned out fine.

It was actually easier when she was a baby - she was more portable, and finding her a bathroom or food wasn't an issue. (I would never take a stroller on the bus. Ergo...)

Carlessness has really changed the way that all of us experience the world, actually. It keeps us from over-scheduling and it keeps us from filtering out everything that we don't want to see. I think everyone should try it. If you have friends with cars with whom you are close, it's MUCH easier. However, the U.S. is not set up to support carlessness, and if you ever want to go for a hike, visit friends who don't live in your neighborhood or downtown, or get somewhere quickly in a minor emergency, you're out of luck. And grocery shopping with no car and no money is really truly the pits.

Oh, and when I was pregnant, we hired a doula who promised to drive us to the hospital, and my husband walked the baby home while I got a ride from a friend. Next time around, we'll have a homebirth.

Good luck! I think it's terrific that you're considering this!

I just hopped on to add something to my last comment, and saw that Sara said alot of what I was thinking of adding, especially the parts about better quality-time with your children (so much easier/safer to give a kid your full attention on the bus or walking, as opposed to being the driver).

I am guaranteed about 30 minutes a day of pure, uninterrupted kid-time when I walk my son to and from school. Not thinking about the dishes, or noticing the new stain on the couch or the phone ringing, or any matter of distractions that come up when we're hanging out at home, just walking with the boy(s). Sure it would take us 25 minutes less a day if we drove to school, and yes, my pile of laundry attests that I could actually make good use of that extra time, but I'd so much rather hear what went on in school. (Except for those few cranky days where the boys fight about which route to take home, and the little guy plops himself down in the middle of the sidewalk--in a puddle--and refuses to move, even when you pretend you're going to leave him there and hide behind a nearby tree causing the guy who's raking his leaves to almost have a heart attack he's laughing so hard and the older one is experiencing a "potty emergency", well, on those days a car would be nice.)

I just hopped on to add something to my last comment, and saw that Sara said a lot of what I was thinking of adding, especially the parts about better quality-time with your children (so much easier/safer to give a kid your full attention on the bus or walking, as opposed to being the driver).

I am guaranteed about 30 minutes a day of pure, uninterrupted kid-time when I walk my son to and from school. Not thinking about the dishes, or noticing the new stain on the couch or the phone ringing, or any matter of distractions that come up when we're hanging out at home, just walking with the boy(s). Sure it would take us 25 minutes less a day if we drove to school, and yes, my pile of laundry attests that I could actually make good use of that extra time, but I'd so much rather hear what went on in school. (Except for those few cranky days where the boys fight about which route to take home, and the little guy plops himself down in the middle of the sidewalk--in a puddle--and refuses to move, even when you pretend you're going to leave him there and hide behind a nearby tree causing the guy who's raking his leaves to almost have a heart attack he's laughing so hard and the older one is experiencing a "potty emergency", well, on those days a car would be nice.)

I was carless until my daughter was four. And was a signle parents working and living in San Francis and then living in Alameda and commuting to SF for work/childcare/preschool.

I know TriMet isn't as good as BART/AC Transit/Muni, but many folks are carless and get around. It was scary when the baby had a fever and I couldn't get a cab, but a neighbor would drive me in that type of a situation.

Many folks are carfree, some by choice, some by circumstance. I didn't have a license until I was 25, which wasn't particularly unusual. My best friend is 41 and doesn't drive with a nearly 5 year old, and her husband commutes to work so she does the major child and household duties carfree.

Moving to Portland, I am totally a car person now. Little ones are so much more portable, bus-wise.

We were carfree for the our older daughter's first two years. It was great. No worries about carseats and such. She was always in a sling or backpack. Life with no car felt simpler in many ways.

Now, here in Portland, we have two cars, one of which is a minivan that we use only when we have out-of-town guests, when friends are moving, or when two families are going for an outing far away. We consider ourselves a one-car family, even though we have another that sits out in our alley.

Ever since we participated in the Low-Car Diet last summer and gave up the car for the month, our family has really decreased our reliance on our family car. We question really hard whether we *need* to drive. Some errands or trips now are routine on foot or bike, when we used to never think twice about jumping into the car.

What I do love being outside of the car bubble (like that image) is the different perspective. On the bus, we can read and knit and draw and chat. On the bike or foot, we can look around and watch birds flying or just gaze across the river as we pedal over. We see lights and hear sounds that we would never pick up on in the car. It is really quite fun.

As for the practicality, we limit our choices to things within the same geography. Our workplaces are within 4 miles of the house and our pre-/schools are within 1 mile of our workplaces. In the rainy months, we find it easier to take transit and walk. But, even in the pouring rain, we have found ways to continue biking, with the right gear. The kids are always able to be dry, either under an umbrella that they hold or in the trailer that is completely cozy.

I don't think we will ever be a car-free family (we also enjoy weekend getaways), but we strive for lower-car every day. For us, it has been baby steps. One day of no car is better than none. And two days is better than one. With each day of the past four years living in Portland, we became more comfortable and acquired more gear to make sure that we can walk and bike throughout the year. It is quite liberating and fun.

I will say, however, that this may be the first week of the entire school year that we have driven to work/school every single day. I miss the fresh air of our morning commute.

MamaZuzi, we have a 7 and 4 year old. We converted a bike and ride them on an Xtracycle. So, one parent can bike the two (and 3 kids if one of them have a friend in the mix). In the neighborhood, we let our older daughter bike on her own, and she's riden up to 6 miles (RT) with us riding alongside.

There was a recent article in the Daily News in LA, "Commuter kicks car habit", about a family man who gave up the car and lives to tell: http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_7636604

It's inspiring.

I was thinking this morning about what I like about being car-free, aside from the financial aspect, then I checked the site and saw that Sara explained it all superbly.

Without a car, the quality of time I spend with the boys has definitely improved. Not as much rushing around, no over scheduling, we're even on time more often.

I am guaranteed at least 30 min a day of uninterrupted time with my boys during the walk to/from school--no worrying about the dishes/ringing telephone/new stain on the couch when I'm trying to play with them at home. Yeah, that giant pile of laundry attests to the fact that I probably could use the extra time for housework, but I'd so much rather hear about kindergarten (it probably also helps that I got rid of my cell phone, too).

One of Eli's classmates was so excited this morning. She just had to tell him that she saw him walking to school when she drove by with her mom. I told her, "Yep, we walk everyday. It helps Eli wake up for school." To which she replied, "Even in the rain?!" "Yes. He's waterproof," I said.

We also cut down on after-school activities--no more soccer across town, but Eli does do two SUN classes at his school. He has met wonderful kids through soccer, etc., but they end up living miles away--even when we had a car it was hard to organize a get-together. I feel Eli is building stronger connections with his classmates by participating in SUN--friends he will hopefully have through out elementary school.

That's not to say every walk to school is a walk in the park. The day my 3 year old decided he didn't like the route we were taking home, and plopped himself down in the middle of the sidewalk, for example. Gideon sat there for so long--even after his brother and I pretended to leave and hid behind a tree--to the point where the neighbor raking his leaves laughed so hard I thought he was going to fall over--well, that day I would have liked a car. :)

We probably wouldn't give up our car, but we do make a conscious effort to take alternative modes of transportation. I'm a terrible driver especially when I am completely distracted with two kids in the back of the car. I'll admit that I've peeled oranges while driving so that I can keep them quiet.

I just wanted to point out that in the original scenario of a family of 4 driving 3.5 miles is cheaper than transit commute comparison is only true if the assumption is that you are all commuting at the same time. That is, the entire family leaves for work/school and from work/school at the same time. Otherwise you would have to factor in the cost of driving two cars, right? If it's a true driving vs. transit situation how else would one parent get to or from work/home?

I really like the nifty cost of driving tool. Based on commuting alone, if you drive as little as 3 miles/day 5 days/week, the cost is $929.76 versus $715 for a TriMet 2-zone pass. For my situation, it's as easy as weighing the cost of monthly parking downtown versus a monthly bus pass which makes the decision to ride transit much easier.

I am trying to go to one car as a family. I've enjoyed all of the comments. We moved from Tennessee this November. I plan to go to one of the FlexCar meetings posted on the comments. My husband does sometimes work out of town, so those times I would absolutely be without a car. However, rent is so much higher here than Nashville that giving up one car would help reduce our monthly expenditures. I just need to take that leap of faith...

we are a one-car family, due to the fact that i am unable to drive (vision issues). i am very adept at tri-met when traveling solo, and think it's one of the better, if not best, systems in the country. (i came here from baltimore, where mass transit was horribly-designed.)

with a toddler, however, it's rough, logistically. that was hands-down THE hardest thing about being home, when i was a stay-at-home mom. many days, especially winter ones, i stayed home even when i desperately wanted to get out, just because the thought of hauling child, stroller, and stuff on the bus in raw weather was so exhausting. i quickly found that what, for me alone, is an easy trip with a good book handy, is two-plus hours of "just not worth it" with a little person. i think the efficacy of being carless really depends on what routes you take on a daily basis (straight shot in and out of downtown on MAX is actually less stressful than fighting traffic on 26, for example), and on how "neighborhood-y" your neighborhood is in terms of what amenities you have close by.

i desperately wish i could drive, just for basic things like grocery shopping or emergencies, and many times feel vulnerable and frustrated by my limitations and their potential impact on my daughter. (i can't tell you how many times i've had to turn down playdates or jettison signing up for a community center class due to accessiblity isssues.) that having been said, i'm still a staunch public transit supporter, and am always encouraged when people who normally drive make an effort to explore alternative options. it benefits everyone -- especially those of us who depend upon ridership figures to keep the routes we need open.

(also ... i really appreciated the comments about the positive aspects for children of not always being in the car "bubble." they encourage me to look at my situation in a different light ...)

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