Is There Life Without a Car?

I’m “weird,” and proud of it. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not weird in the way many people use that word: I am socially capable, generally interesting to talk with, sometimes funny and respected in some circles.

  What makes me “weird” is that I don’t own a car. I don’t have an “identity”.

cycling  I can’t tell you how many times people have encouraged me to buy a car. If I had received a dollar for each time this option was hinted at, outright suggested and even more (one car was even given to me!) then I would be in a much better financial position. Unless, of course, I had sunk that money into operating a motor vehicle.

  I’ve owned quite a few cars and one large truck. I didn’t like knowing that I was adding pollution to the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. Yet many times I needed a car for work, and sometimes still do. The trouble in having a car sitting in the driveway, though, is that I am too tempted to jump in it, rather than onto my bicycle, bus, train, or arrange a car pool ride. 

  Of course having one’s own car is convenient. It takes less time, opens up quite a few more options socially and other-wise. It makes living life so much easier!

  Yes, “easy” is our culture’s “normal.” But here’s the catch: “normal” is costly to both my pocketbook and the planet. And there are more sacrifices involved in being normal. “Normal” also means being more isolated from others (ever notice how many cars contain only the driver?). “Normal” often means being in poorer physical condition, more illness and disease, decreased ability to think from the lack of sufficient exercise, and more. Even those who usually ride buses are in better condition.

  Is owning a car really necessary? Evidently 70% of greenhouse gases come from transportation, yet about half of us live within 5 KM’s of our work-places. Food can be delivered. Vehicles can be rented when needed, or the car-share co-op cars can be booked. The occasional cab is cheap. Rides can be coordinated and the amount of visiting increased. Un-normal lives are usually slower, more conscious and far richer.

  What did I have to do in order to make this “weird” way of living possible? I changed some vital priorities. I had to slow down and reorganize my life (working near where I live, for one). I set new financial priorities. The average Canadian vehicle costs its owner(s) about $10,000 per year (remember to include financing costs and depreciation). This works out to about the same as a minimum wage job, after taxes. The time I “waste” getting around by bicycle or public transportation is actually money in the bank. My debt load fell, including the ability to pay my house off faster, even though I earn less.

  Now that’s a ‘weird’ I can really dig.

  So, go ahead. Call me “weird.” My friends still love me.


Ian Gartshore is an renewable energy coach, cyclist, and otherwise normal human being.