J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

No Car Month 4 — The New Normal?

Just another commute.

Just another commute.

May was the fourth month our family went about our business without owning or leasing a car. We still used a few cars, including the CityCarShare car-sharing service and the occasional Uber or Lyft ride, but we also got around more by foot, bicycle, skateboard, and scooter.

The experiment started in February, with the end of our Fiat 500 lease. I’ve posted a short update each month since (here’s March, and April, if you want the whole story to date). In May we started to get the feeling that not owning a car is the new normal. It just didn’t feel like a big deal to run errands on foot or via self-propelled means. A few things that spring to mind:

  • This month we made an extra effort to make sure we were pulling our weight in terms of dropping off/picking up our daughter from cross-town playdates, either with her grandparents or friends. This meant heavier CityCarShare use. Also, we reimbursed some friends and family for extra driving they did on our behalf during the first three months of the experiment. Basically, we’re trying to not be those people who congratulate themselves for not owning a car but then bum rides all the time, or assume other people will happily do all the driving (and absorb the related costs).
  • I got some more upgrades to my bicycle, including thicker tires for a smoother ride, and switching from fixie mode to single-speed (with the option to coast). On my Critical Cycle this was just a matter of flipping the back wheel, but I had the guys at the bike shop do it so as not to find myself inadvertently and unexpectedly riding a unicycle at some point.
  • In the process of exploring new ways to get to a client in South Berkeley I ended up having one of the most epic longboard rides of my life. I took BART to the North Berkeley station, then rode the longboard all the way down Virginia to 4th Street. Smooth pavement, gentle slope, no traffic, all the way. Slalomed all the way down, fast enough to be fun but not so fast to get the wobbles and crash. So fun!

Total transportation costs for May, including amortized expenses:

  • CityCarShare — $142
  • Lyft (including in-app tips) — $51
  • Uber (including cash tips) — $20
  • car expense cash to family and friends — $30
  • amortized bike upgrades — $25
  • additional public transportation spending — $10

Total: $278. By comparison, total transportation expenses were $289 in April, $290 in March, and $225 in February. I would predict that if we continue our “no mooching” policy, in addition to our “no declining social invitations because we can’t easily get there” policy, our expenses will average out at $275-300/month.

Looking at available leases that we would seriously consider, we could get a 36-month deal on an eGolf for $219/month and $2349 due at signing. Other car leaser approximate costs would include:

  • $75/month for State Farm insurance, including loyalty and good driver discounts
  • $80/month for gas, bridge tolls, and parking
  • $50/month average cost of repairs and maintenance
  • $15/month amortized DMV registration

So that comes to $504 a month. So even at the upper end of the no-car lifestyle costs, we’re saving $200/month.

After 4 months, I’m starting to get a feel for the overall pros and cons. Here’s how we would characterize them at the moment.

JD’s Cons

  • Cross-town transportation requires a little more planning (though the CityCarShare app is very easy to use, and almost always we can pick up a car within a 5-minute walk).
  • I still don’t love using Uber or Lyft. Most of the drivers are really nice and completely competent, but we had one “Crazy Taxi” style driver, and one guy who got completely lost. Getting in a car with a stranger is always a bit of a crapshoot, now matter how you slice it.
  • I sat in a CityCarShare Prius (my first time driving one) button mashing for several minutes before I managed to turn the damn thing on.

JD’s Pros

  • Better fitness from biking (now more comfortable with my high-end seat and fatter tires and coast-mode), skateboarding, and walking.
  • Transportation is generally more relaxed — it’s nice to be out and about on sunny days, and not stuck in traffic.
  • It’s great not having to worry about your car (where’s it’s parked, if it’s OK, if someone has stolen it or broken into it).
  • We’ve probably lightened our environmental impact, at least somewhat. Less CO2 emissions, less fine particulate pollution, less noise pollution.
  • Save $200/mo. on average.

8-Year Old Daughter’s Pros

  • “I like that we don’t have to go get gas anywhere, because CityCarShare usually takes care of the gas”
  • “I like that I can play in the driveway when we don’t have a car there.”
  • “I usually like the cars that they give us.”

8-Year Old Daughter’s Cons

  • “I don’t like that we have to walk to get a car.”

Kia’s Pros

  • Kia has discovered that walking/biking is often just as fast as driving, for short trips.
  • She really enjoys walking family outings.
  • She likes the “car shopping” aspect of CityCarShare (get to know a particular model, and know that if you don’t like a feature you don’t have to live with it for a long time — for example finicky seatbelts, beeping while backing up [Prius], odd button placement).

Kia’s Cons

  • “I mostly really like it.”

Moving Forward

The fact that our neighborhood is highly walkable (close to schools, close to stores) influenced our decision to buy the house we did, but this feels like the first time we’re fully taking advantage of it. I realize that not everyone has it so easy, but for us it makes sense to at least try out the no-car-ownership lifestyle.

Maybe we’ll eventually lease or buy a car, but I could see us continuing the experiment indefinitely. I’ll provide an update at least a few times a year, but this will be my last monthly post on the topic.

If you’re currently on the fence, what’s preventing you from making the leap? Many of what I considered to be insurmountable problems turned out to be relatively easy to solve.

If you have any questions about how we’re making it work, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. Or just share your own thoughts and experiences.

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6 Comments

  1. Pete

    J.D. – Good to see that you’re keeping up the experiment. My family and I went car-less in Boston about 10 years ago (and that was with 2 kids, who are now 15 and 19), and we’re still car-less. We use Zip Car and Enterprise Car Share. We definitely miss having a car during the summer for those impromptu road trips, but we don’t miss the costs and headaches of ownership. I would say, looking back over the 10 years, that we probably stick closer to home on the weekends than when we owned cars. I have also had my share of “button mashing” in an unfamiliar vehicle.

  2. At the age of 74, with funky hip pain, major mid-distance self-propelled is getting to be impractical. As the local grandfather of your 8-year-old daughter, I appreciate your efforts to reimburse and pull your weight in terms of rides, but living 3.5 miles away from your house and her school, my wonderful twice-weekly pickups to grandpa’s house wouldn’t happen without a car.

    • Maybe no skateboarding for you, but there is a City Car Share spot at Allston & Jefferson should you ever give up the Golf.

  3. BP

    JD, curious as to why you have leased rather than saving up and buying a car which would be far more cost-effective?

    • In my experience leasing has been the less expensive option, and also I like driving new/newish cars, with fewer maintenance issues.

      For many people I realize that owning is the more cost effective option, especially if you have the skills, time, and desire to do some maintenance and repair yourself.

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