With or without you: do you need to own a car?

Take a look around you during the rush hour or when hundreds of people are heading towards a popular weekend destination and you could easily believe that the car was the only mode of transport available. Of course, for many people that’s exactly what it is because of inadequate public transport, mobility issues, or simply lack of local services. Yet many others have allowed themselves to become dependent on the car and interpret convenience as necessity. One day we just can’t imagine going shopping, doing school runs or even visiting friends without driving. But what is the price of that convenience? The rising cost of living combined with the recent recession, air and noise pollution, and the ever-worsening congestion have made many to look for alternative modes of travel.

Often the main reason for someone to own a car is commuting as few of us live around the corner from work. You don’t need to share your space with anyone else or spend a small fortune on a ticket on public transport. But taking fuel, parking, and maintenance into consideration, what is the cost of your annual commute? How would it compare with a season ticket, which you could possibly use for leisure travel, too?

  • Yes, an annual season ticket is what any regular commuters should always consider and, when relevant, compare the different options for the same route. Some employers offer a loan towards the purchase and give you the option to repay it in 12 monthly installments (salary deductions). If you live and work in London, CommuterClub offers a monthly payment plan so you can spread the cost of your Annual Travelcard. 
  • Can you walk or cycle to the station or even all  the way to your workplace – as long as the distance is reasonable of course? Not only will you save money but you’ll also get fresh air and free exercise. Cycling is also often faster than driving in rush hour traffic – how about putting it to the test one morning?

  

  • Car sharing. Ok, this is not for everyone, especially if you are not a morning person! However, if you live in the same area as a colleague or work close to a neighbour’s workplace, it would make financial sense and give a break from driving. You can split the fuel cost or take turns driving.
  •  Trains and buses offer various ticket types for leisure travellers, too, including group tickets and discounts for railcard holders. If you are used to spontaneous trips in a car, planning your journeys around timetables and transport connections can seem like hard work. However, once you are familiar with the options you can often bag real bargains and then just sit back and relax. (You can see my favourite money-saving rail travel tips in one of the earlier blog posts, Railcards and split tickets.) I have lost count on the number of books I’ve read on trains and times I’ve fallen asleep during a late night journey. Not something you can do when driving!

bus with border A car club car ready for a pick up.

  • Car clubs, ‘a flexible kind of car hire’, are great for those who only need a car for occasional use.  The main club in our area is a social enterprise with about a dozen vehicles within short walking distance. Registered members can book a car online or over the phone, pick it up from its designated space using a smartcard and, once finished, return it to the same place. Insurance and fuel costs are covered but you pay mileage as well hourly or daily/overnight rates depending on the usage.
  • Instead of doing grocery shopping in an out-of-town hypermarket, could you use local shops and markets? Do the supermarkets in your area offer home delivery, which would allow you to order what you need online and avoid any in-store temptations?

I feel lucky I don’t need a car as everything I need to access on a daily basis is within walking distance. On those really rainy (or lazy) days I can use the city’s exceptionally good bus service, even late at night. I realize that car-free life is not possible for everyone and many people simply enjoy driving and the freedom car ownership can give. However, if you can reduce the miles you drive or the hours spent behind the wheel even slightly, it can make a huge difference to your finances and even quality of life.

(Photography © William Mankelow, Shot @ an Angle)

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