When going car free stacks up

I last owned a car in 2018. When circumstances left me without a vehicle, I decided not to replace it.

When I had my car, I only used it once or twice a week for household shopping and to visit friends and family. It helped me reach the backcountry for tramping and biking trips and was used once or twice a year for longer road trips. But largely it wallowed in the driveway slowly depreciating, leaving me out of pocket for insurance, registration, and servicing costs which, in my mind, exceeded the value I got from it. I calculated that I could take several Uber rides a week and hire a rental car for longer trips, and still be financially better off than the cost of owning a car.

I live in Papanui, in a medium-density neighbourhood about four kilometres from the Christchurch central city, as the crow flies. Within a 5–8-minute walk I can get to Northlands Mall, a library, a cinema, a swimming pool and recreation centre, as well as many tempting eateries along Papanui Road, Main North Road and at Langdons Quarter.

I can access several cross-town bus services nearby, including the Orbiter, a high frequency service to the central city and a lower frequency, direct service to the airport. The Papanui Parallel and Northern Line cycleways are nearby, providing safe and convenient cycle connections across town, enabling my daughter to bike to school (almost) independently. Biking the school run saves me a lot of time. From the office I can race up Papanui Road and pull up at the school gate in just over ten minutes, while other parents remain stuck in traffic or are circling the block trying to find a carpark.

world car free day

However being ‘car free’ does not make me ‘car-less’. If I need a ride, I use Uber. I can hire a Zilch EV car from the library hub a short walk away. I’ll rent cars on holiday or for longer trips away. Conveniently friends and family leave their vehicles with me in return for dropping them to the airport, and I have people I can rely on to loan me a car or give me a ride in an emergency.

The downside to being ‘car-less’ is primarily the lack of convenience. No more ‘on a whim’ trips, like driving to a favourite shop across town, or taking a trip to the beach or the hills on a warm evening. While local trips are easy on foot or by bike, longer trips are time-consuming, and hence I do less cross-town travel now. Every trip needs to be planned carefully – reviewing the weather forecast, consulting bus timetables, or factoring in biking options. It also means my daughter misses out on after-school activities outside our local area – it’s too difficult to make those regular, longer trips without a car.

Secondly, bad weather sucks. My daughter and I bike, to school and work respectively, in all conditions – rain, hail, sleet, or wind. We’ll ride home in the dark from after-school care during winter. However I’ve invested in the best rainwear and lighting available, and with Christchurch weather it’s usually possible to predict and avoid biking in the worst of it. Recently my daughter told me ‘biking home together’ is one of her favourite activities, so it doesn’t seem to be doing her any harm!

Finally, it’s difficult to string together shopping trips when travelling by bus or bike. As the purchases stack up, you carry them with you while visiting other stores, when ordinarily you’d place those items in your car and continue shopping. This is where online shopping comes in handy, or I’ll try to coordinate trips with a friend or family member who has a car instead.

I’m lucky to have the option of going car free. I don’t need a car to get to work, and I live in a near-perfect example of the “15-minute neighbourhood”. I’m able-bodied and my transport needs are simple – no young children to wrangle, and no large family with complex transport needs. It won’t work for everyone, but it works for me!

Wednesday 22 September is World Car Free Day 2021. Why not join me, my Abley colleagues and others around the globe by leaving your car at home and giving walking, cycling or public transport a go. As we head into the longer, warmer days of spring there’s no better time than now to kick-start a healthy new habit!

If you’re interested in finding about more about what makes a “15-minute city”, read our recent blogs:

Dale car free day