Life without a vehicle & how we get around without it

People are always amazed when I say, “we don’t own a car”.  They look at us sideways, not quite grasping the concept.  I typically follow this statement up by clarifying that I can actually drive, however.  This week I thought I would talk about why we don’t have a car and how we make do without one. 

In 2007 I left my hometown of Napier and moved to Auckland, leaving behind my first and only ever car. Not thinking I needed it, and not having a place to park it, I decided to sell it. Simon, already living in Auckland, sent his car to a scrap yard before we meet. Living right in the city centre, it didn’t get used much and cost more to keep running that he got use out of it. 

Simon and I have always made sure we live within easy access to public transport, trying not to be more than 1 stage on the bus or train from the city centre. In the early days of living in Auckland, we would often walk as public transport was not always the most reliable option. When we moved to London, where public transport was fast and efficient, we found that not owning a car was the norm, rather than the exception. And it was liberating. When a city is set up for public transport and people, rather than cars, everything seems to just work that much better. If we ever wanted to take a weekend trip away, we’d just hire a car. It wasn’t a hassle and overall was a lot more cost-effective than owning a car in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
The Eco Society Life Without a car Walking New Zealand Picton Family

Auckland City bus

After moving back to Auckland from London, we moved into the city centre. Our apartment is at most a 5min walk from the Britomart train station, bus interchanges, supermarkets and bars, restaurants and cafes. This was a lifestyle choice to be close to the public amenities we knew we’d need access to, as we had no intention of buying a car. Even three years on from when we last lived in Auckland, the public transport system still left a lot to be desired, however, there were signs of positive change, and by living close to a public transport hub and other public amenities, we have been able to get by pretty easily without owning a car. 

We often get asked why we choose to not own a car, and there are two main reasons - sustainability and cost. If you ask my husband, he’ll also tell you that cities should be built around people, not cars.

Transport accounts for a significant portion of most people’s personal CO2 emissions. Reducing the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere is critical if we are to address climate change and the environmental havoc it is causing. A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, and it turns out that Auckland cars carry an average of 1.5 people per trip (a bus, by comparison, can carry 40-80 people per trip). A recent study by MRCagney estimated that public transport buses use 3.65 litres of fuel per 100 passenger kilometres, or 9.8 kg of CO2-equivalent emissions. This is around 36% lower than that of a car in Auckland. It was also found that cars create about 4 times the greenhouse gas emissions of Auckland’s (old) diesel trains, per passenger kilometre - we now have electric trains!!.

The Eco Society Life Without a car Walking Road Trip

 Road Trip in a hire car | Greece 2017

Cost can be a bit hard to measure, as it really depends on the age and quality of your car. Typically, newer cars have lower running costs, but also depreciate at a much higher rate (which is a cost to account for). Older cars, which have typically already depreciated, generally have a higher running and maintenance cost. The AA estimates that when you combine the cost of depreciation, fixed costs (like vehicle insurance, Warrant of Fitness, vehicle licensing and interest accrued if under finance) and flexible running costs (fuel, tyres, repairs and maintenance etc), your typical car will cost around $21 per day, or $7,665 per year, to own.

So, what do our transport costs look like in comparison? Well, when we take into account public transport, taxis and

ubers

, hiring the odd car for the weekend and using CityHop (see below), we spend on average $230 each month on transport (this is based on our last 9 months combined spend), or $2760 per year. This accounts for all of our public transport, taxi and uber costs, which even car owners have from time to time. We also don’t have to pay for parking.

The next question we always get is “what if you want to go to the beach or away for the weekend, what do you do”? That is easy, we hire a car. It is more affordable for us to hire a car when we need to than for us to own one. We also carpool with friends if we are heading away together and chip in for petrol money. 

The Eco Society Life Without a car Walking New Zealand Cityhop Car Shear

City Hop car share | Auckland

We also use a car-sharing service called ‘City Hop’, there are 2 on our street, which we hire out for short periods of time. We typically use this to do large grocery and bulk buying shops, or when we have a number of places to go to. 

We will often use Uber/Zoomy (NZ’s answer to Uber) every now and then when public transport is limited or its late at night (for safety reasons), especially when I am alone. Most of the time we walk as Simon works in the city and I work at home. Other times we bus or train depending on where we are going. 

It’s all about a mindset change and making choices that enable you to live like this – for us, having to walk, bus or train is a way of life. It’s something we are used to, we both prefer not to drive these days, even if we have the option, as its less stressful and you can actually enjoy the environment you’re in. I can’t see us buying a car anytime soon and I’m sure that if we ever do it will, of course, be electric. 

Before trying to live more sustainably, not owning a car was because we simply didn’t need it and we saved money. But now the decision is as much about the environment as it is those other factors, it makes sense as part of a more sustainable way of living. 

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