Sunday, June 28, 2009

learning new bus routes

(by Tracy)

It's been a very busy weekend where normally I would use a car for several events and errands. I really wanted to try and do it all without resorting to a zipcar, partly because I'm cheap, and partly because I really want to do as much as possible without requiring a car.

On Saturday Kira and I needed to go to her hairdresser in Somerville for her hair to be touched up. We had an 11:30am appointment. Before leaving, I mapped out a couple of possible routes on the MBTA trip planner. Armed with printed itineraries and maps we set out at 10:10am. Our original plan was to take the Green Line E branch train to Lechmere and catch a bus that would get us within a quarter mile of the appointment. The train came right away, which was a good thing, and it looked like it was scheduled to go all the way to Lechmere. Sadly - the green line doesn't always do what you might want and the train ended up ending service at North Station. We had to get off and wait for another train. We only had about 15 minutes to catch our bus connection. We waited about 5 minutes for another green line train, but it didn't come and we ended up going down to the orange line (our 2nd possible itinerary). This route also had a bus connection that would have gotten us to within a block of our destination - but we unfortunately missed it and ended up walking about 1.2 miles to the appointment and arrived about 5 minutes late.

Because we were already on that side of town, we decided to combine trips and made our way over to the Cambridgeside Galleria to shop for some summer clothes for both Kira and Noah. All public transportation worked out perfectly for this set - I had a bus schedule on me that showed me how to get from somerville to lechmere very easily.

Today we went to our garden in Roxbury by bike. I finally did it! I'd been fearing this trip because of the uphill part and knew that I'd just have to bite the bullet and try it. Indeed there are quite a few hills along the way, but we made it in about 18 minutes. I ended up walking up the last hill (for about a block) - it was such a steep one at the end! We stayed at the garden for about two hours - harvesting, weeding, transplanting and picking some awesome, tiny, sweet blackberries - Yum! Then we began home by a different route. It took about 15 minutes or so. Not bad!

I was tired out from the biking/gardening, so I chose to take public transportation to my friend's house in Watertown for an afternoon of Mah Jongg. I caught the first bus at Kenmore Square and it was a few minutes late getting started, which made me miss my 2nd bus which was to take me the last mile or so. Thankfully I knew another friend would be driving by in a few minutes, so I called her up and got a ride for that last little bit.

So, all in all, I was able to do everything I wanted to this weekend without a car. Some observations:
  • planning tight bus connections is a problem - particularly on weekends when buses run less frequently.
  • an iphone(or it's equivalent) would be really nice for getting real-time bus schedule information so I can change plans on the fly.
  • frankly, with a little advance planning, an iphone isn't really necessary :-)
  • if I keep this up, I'm going to get a lot of reading time on public transportation!
  • I'd like to work up my bike endurance so that a trip to the garden (3 miles round trip) and a bike trip to Watertown (9 miles round trip) wouldn't be a big deal in the same day - but I'm not there yet.
  • This whole experience is still new, so missing bus connections and having to wait for transportation didn't seem a big burden to me. I suspect that this could change - so more reason to keep up with biking.

Friday, June 26, 2009

RMV Rocks

(by Pat)

We haven't really missed the car yet, though Tracy and Kira might wish they had it tomorrow--because Kira has a hair appointment in Somerville. I think they're planning to take the T (2 trains and a bus).

I rode my bike downtown this afternoon (it actually stopped raining!) to the Registry of Motor Vehicles to turn in the license plates on our car. I brought the plates, all the copies of the title and bill of sale, and a book, since when I left, the web site said waits were running up to half an hour.

I know people like to pick on the RMV for poor service, but I've always had good experiences there (this is the Boston branch). The greeter jnew right where to send me. I only got to sit for about ten second before they called my number. The woman at the counter took my plates and didn't need the other paperwork. She quickly printed out the receipt, with multiple copies for our insurance company and to get a rebate on our excise tax, and she also gave me a rebate form for the registration fee that we'd recently paid. It took about 60 seconds. Kudos to them!

Getting downtown by bike is definitely the fastest option. Driving a car would have taken longer and cost too much to park. It's pretty far to walk. And the RMV is totally accessible by T, but it would have cost me almost $5 and been a lot slower.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

We Sold the Car

(by Pat)

We sold the car tonight. I wasn't even sure we'd have anyone to look at it until dinnertime. I'd responded to a bunch of e-mails earlier today (all from was a bust), which was good, then one of the potential buyers called while we were eating dinner and said they'd be over around 7. He said if they were interested, he'd close the deal in cash tonight.

A little after seven, a married couple and their 11-year-old son showed up to take a look at the car. Turns out they have three boys, all hockey players, and their old minivan has died, so they need a replacement. The husband took our car for a short test drive, and then the wife took her turn (she was shy about it, even though she's the one who will be driving it). My son bounced out of the house and quickly made friends with the visiting son, and they rode together in the back seat, as we tooled around the neighborhood.

Apparently it passed the test, and they offered $3,200, citing tires that need replacing soon (valid point) and the original battery that might need replacing in the near future. We weren't in this purely to maximize our return, so we didn't plan to bargain too hard. Plus, now that we'd made the mental commitment to going without a car, the vehicle seemed like a heavy weight holding us back from taking the step. So we took the offer and finalized the deal. (Signed the title, bill of sale, scraped off parking stickers, took out toll transponder, removed license plates.)

And that was it. They drove off into the drizzle, and suddenly we no longer owned a car. It felt pretty weird, a little bit of nervous butterflies. At a recent screening of the movie "Fresh", the director remarked that a Pakistani friend of hers said, "Americans are wonderful, so brave. The only thing they fear is inconvenience." Well, I guess we're facing inconvenience right in the face, and we'll see how it works out. Up until now, the whole car-free idea has been pretty theoretical. If you have it, you can say that you're not going to use it, but you always know it's there (and you end up using it). That's no longer an option anymore.

We celebrated with ice cream. Of course, we couldn't pop in the car to get it, so I had to ride my bike. Which was great.

Oh, and we also celebrated by going online and purchasing bicycling rain gear. The rest of the money we need to save for now (if the car fails the emissions test when they register it, they can return the car. Though that's unlikely, since it was just in the shop. But still...) but we've got a long list of transportation stuff we want (bike repair classes).

Tomorrow is a new day. And one without a car.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tryinf to Sell the Car: Round 2

(by Pat)

Well, last week saw a couple showings of the car, but no takers. We decided to try listing the car on, which cost $15 for a two-week ad. We put the ad up on Sunday, but so far not even a nibble.

Our Craigslist ad expired on Monday, so I reposted it tonight, though it's not showing up yet in the main search.

I'm seeing prices all over the place, but for the mileage on our car, it still seems like we're in a pretty good range, and we're still a couple hundred dollars below Blue Book value. Hm. On, we're at least $2,000 below what the dealers are asking for a 2003 Dodge Caravan.

I hope we'll see some more potential buyers this week (and that the rain will stop). I had to take my daughter and bunch of her friends to a soccer tournament on Saturday, so I need to get back in there and clean it out again so that it still sparkles.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The rest of the grocery shopping

(by Tracy)

While Pat went to Haymarket by bike, I worked on the rest of the grocery shopping. First Noah and I went to Trader Joe's where we got four bags of groceries. Noah carried one in his backpack (very light) and I put two in baskets on my bike and one in my backpack. Later, after I dropped him off at a playdate, I rode to Whole Foods (uphill for two miles), got another bag of groceries, and then coasted downhill for two miles to Stop and Shop where I finished up with three more bags. Not bad, two trips, eight bags of groceries. It took a total of an hour and 45 minutes. It was a hot, muggy day, so I was hot and tired when I returned, but it definitely felt like an accomplishment and a good workout. I think the total distance was equivalent to a round trip to work for me about six miles.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Haymarket by Bike

(by Pat)

Today, we're doing our grocery shopping as if we had no car (for practice). The rain's giving us a little bit of a break this morning, so I biked to Haymarket for our produce. Haymarket is a terrific outdoor produce market that offers fruit and veggies that didn't sell to restaurants that week (it's sort of like the discount outlet of produce). Today I paid $25 for 30 pounds of fruit and veggies. It took me 25 minutes to get there, 20 minutes to get home (the whole trip, including shopping was 80 minutes), which is much faster than I would have gotten by T. It's not feasible to shop at Haymarket by car, since there's no parking, or if I paid to park, it'd eat up the savings. Google Maps says that it's 3.7 miles one way to Haymarket (the walking directions feature of Google Maps is really helpful for look up bike routes, BTW). On an early Saturday morning, traffic is no problem, and it's a pretty fun ride. If I go with my son, I go a longer route that takes us via the Charles River (beautiful but longer).

It's nice to save money and get exercise at the same time, no doubt about it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

NYTimes article on high speed trains

(by Pat)

Last week's Sunday New York Times Magazine featured this article on high speed trains, which have been highly successful in Japan and Europe, but have struggled to catch on in the U.S. Much of the article is a look at plans to build a super speedy train between L.A. and San Francisco. I dearly wish that they could get an affordable high speed train between Boston and New York. Right now, Amtrak is never on time and wildly expensive. I can take a bus to NYC for $15 one way. Sounds like if California gets their train right, it might positively impact the rest of the country's plans. (Or if it fails...)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No luck yet (and a scam?)

(by Pat)

Showed the car to another prospect today--a brother and sister (immigrants again--interesting class and frugality issues showing up in the for sale by owner used car scenario). He said his brother-in-law is a mechanic and they may come back. No one has been ready to go for a spin yet. Three maybes so far, but I don't have a sense whether they'll actually come back or not. I'll follow up tomorrow. I had one appointment cancel today, but he said he'd get back to me this weekend.

Got one response today that I suspect is a scam. He only left a phone number, and when I called, he said he lived in New York. But he was very interested in buying a van, right away. He wanted me to resend the link with a photo. Then he called me back and said he'd be interested in driving up to buy the car, but only if I could sell it for $3,000. I told him that I had enough interest in the car already that I didn't need to drop the price yet. And I hated to see him drive 5 hours to get here and then not like the car. (I'd also read some strong warnings on Craigslist to beware of out-of-state buyers trying to run a scam, so my radar was on alert.)

He called me back a little later, and said he really wanted a van right away, and could pay $3,200. I said no again, but that I'd call him back if I couldn't sell it. But it just doesn't feel right. I think we're going to make a little house rule that we're only going to sell to local buyers (now that we've reread the scam warnings on Craigslist). It's odd to have someone be in such a rush--the other prospective buyers are definitely taking their time. And weird to have someone want to buy a car without even having seen it in person or having driven it, and when there are other similar cars listed on Craigslist much closer to NYC than Boston. Odd.

a few nibbles, hoping for bites

(by Pat)

We've had five people from Craigslist ask to see the car so far, which feels good, since it was only posted on Monday. Two people stopped by on Tuesday, and I'm hoping for two more today.

The first guy came with his wife and small daughter, looking to move into a larger car for their growing family. They were Hispanic immigrants--she didn't speak much English, but he was fluent and we hit it off pretty well. He seemed to like the car, but she was disappointed it doesn't have electric windows. (It's a pretty basic car, but I figure that's just less stuff to break.) They didn't have time to take it for a drive, but said they might come back for another look. We'll see.

The second guy was a mechanic, I'm guessing he was from India, and brought along his aged father. He looked it over and didn't turn his nose up at the car, which is a good sign. Turns out he's looking for a car for his wife, so he said he'd have to come back with her, maybe on Friday.

My experience selling other things on Craigslist is that half the time people never show up, so I was glad these folks actually came to look at the car. I'm curious to see how many viewings it'll take. Ten?

So far, we've only listed it on Craigslist, but we might try pretty soon, as well as other sites. It's been a busy week around here with other life stuff, so this has been about all the traffic I can handle at the moment.

At the moment, the idea of having this extra cash from the sale of car gives us a perpetual list of stuff we plan to do with the money--buy a new light for my bike, sign up for a bike repair class, frame a picture, go out for pizza, etc. We have a growing list that would require us to sell several cars, but it's fun to think about anyway.

We're still using the car a little bit, while it's here, but are trying to do a lot more by bike and T (though there's a soccer tournament this weekend, where I'm supposed to bring five players, and it might not be so bad if the car isn't sold quite yet...)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tips and Notes on selling the used car

(by Pat)

I found a few helpful web sites with info on selling a used car. The Car Guys have a few pages that break it down, step by step, that was particularly helpful. Also the Rocket Lawyer has a place where you can get a free Bill of Sale document.

The Car Guys reminded me that I should call the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, just to make sure I'm clear on what needs to happen. They have a ton of info on the web site, but I just couldn't find the answers I needed, so I tried by phone. I had to wait on hold for about 20 minutes, after twice getting lost in the phone maze (calling it a tree seems too kind), but I finally did get to talk to a human. She was both friendly and helpful and confirmed what the Car Guys had written, that once we make the sale happen, getting signatures and copies of the Bill of Sale and signed Title, we need to keep the license plates (I'd forgotten about that part) and then turn them in at an RMV office. They'll give us a Plate Return Receipt, which we will then give to our insurance company, and we can also use it to get back a refund of the excise tax we paid this year on the car.

Now we just need to get it to happen.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Starting to feel real

(by Pat)

Washed the car today, and Tracy listed it for sale on Craig's List tonight. Which made it start to feel a little real--this might actually happen.

Within two hours, we had our first response by someone who might come by tomorrow. This makes it seem a lot more real and makes me feel a lot more nervous.

We're so conditioned to feeling the importance of owning a car. Learning to drive is an American rite of passage, as is buying that first car. I've owned cars for the past 21 years. Buying and owning a car makes me feel like a grown up. Which, now that I think about it, sort of pisses me off, because I don't want my adult identity defined by something that someone wants me to buy.

I'm curious to see how this goes tomorrow.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Almost Ready to sell the minivan

(by Pat)

I spent a couple hours hours emptying the car of all the crap that had accumulated and cleaning every possible inch. It's amazing how much junk falls in a minivan courtesy of two kids (food and pencils, mostly). Sometimes I wonder if empty water bottles actually have the ability to breed in minivan captivity. And blue marker really does come out of the backs of the driver seats (yay). I'm a bit puzzled as to why car washes are not open at 8pm on Sunday nights, but I assume it's some odd Boston Blue Law, dating back to the Pilgrims (they were very strict about drinking, public lewdness, and the washing of cars).

According to the Kelly Blue Book online, we could expect to get as much as $3,985 for our car. It's a 2003 Dodge Caravan with 75,000 miles. Runs pretty good, but has a dent in the back from some idiot who didn't realize he didn't know how to parallel park. It's a sturdy, reliable car. Since we're ready to move ahead and sell this thing, I think we'll probably try to sell it for $3,400- $3,500, which seems to make it competitive with other cars for sale.

It's been 10 years since I last sold a car, so I'm curious to see how things have changed. I figure we'll list it on Craigslist and see what happens, and maybe try a couple other web sites, if necessary.

Now that I've got it all cleaned, I don't really want to let any children back inside. Tracy says we should just basically act like it's already been sold and start living our lives as if we don't have the car. Which makes a certain amount of sense (especially since we had another little car binge day today, with a visit to the garden and 3 grocery stores and Target (we stocked up on kitty litter for a while--very hard to get home on a bicycle)).

I'm a little nervous about all of this. In a way, it feels almost like moving. Once this happens, we'll have a different sense of geography for a while, just like when you move to a new house--our patterns of movement around the Boston area will definitely change.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

the weirdness of transportation costs

(by Tracy)

No wonder our economy is so messed up. The costs of things don't really match the energy or effort required to provide them.

Lately I've had to price a few trips. Here's the summary:
  • one-way Amtrak train trip to New Haven, CT, regular, not Acela - $74
  • weekend car rental (2.5 days) from Enterprise Rent-a-Car, pick up at Logan Airport, which I used to drive to New Haven and back - $89
  • one-way flight to Chicago on American Airlines - $89
So on a per mile basis the train ride is the most expensive option here. That just seems wrong.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back in the Saddle

(by Pat)

Actually rode my bike to a doctor's appointment today, rather than taking the car, despite some light drizzle on the way out. 6-7 mile round trip (when you add on some errands to the end). It only takes an extra 5-minutes each way to go by bike vs. car (though it's faster by bike at rush hour), and I really liked getting some exercise. (And very glad that my bike didn't get stolen, despite having forgotten my lock. That's a big advantage of having a $65 Craig's List special rather than a fancy bike.)

The thing I love about riding is how alert I am when I get someplace. My mind is always super sharp after dodging cars in Boston traffic.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Auto Bingeing

(by Pat)

As we're getting closer to the day of actually getting rid of the car, you'd think we'd sort of ease into it, right? Start the month using it two or three times a week, and then wind down to almost zero. Instead, we've been doing the opposite, taking part in a frenzy of internal combustion (which sounds vaguely unseemly).

On Sunday, we went on a little road trip to visit small farms and farm stands in Concord and Bedford and went to the mall. Grocery shopped by car. Visited the garden by car. Yesterday, I picked up some films I'd had transferred to DVD, by car. And drove to the garden again. Today, I drove an hour each way to a play reading at a high school in Littleton, MA (the kids were great), then off to coach soccer practice in the drizzle.

Maybe we're just trying to make the most of having the car around while it's still here. Or else it's subliminal denial, or something. Tomorrow the rain is supposed to let up, so maybe I'll take my bike to my appointments instead of the car. This is a particularly busy time of year, and the car is a tool I use when I try to cram too much into too little time.

I wonder if this little pre-disappearance surge is how it works for everyone who tries this.

Monday, June 8, 2009

another reason to get rid of the car: parking in Brookline

(by Pat)

For some reason (probably at one point, it was to keep out the riff-raff, and now it's probably because people make money renting spaces and can't afford to give up the income) there is no overnight parking on the street in Brookline. This means that you have to have a parking space for your car, and if you don't own one, you need to rent one.

It also means that when your backyard neighbor is having her building repointed and you r car can't stay in its regular spot,you need to move it every morning and every night. That's what's up right now--at 6am, I have to move the car out of our backyard space and find a space on the street, and every night, I need to put the car back. I should say cars, actually, because I have to move our neighbor's car, too, because they're out of town, and it's a pretty intricate puzzle in the little lot behind our house.

We pay $75-$100/month for parking, plus $25/year to be able to park more than 2 hours in front of your own house.

Soon, none of these will be anything I have to deal with. I won't miss it.

my biggest worry about a car-free life

(by Tracy)
My biggest worry about getting rid of our car is taking care of our garden. Since we have no yard to speak of, we depend on a community garden plot to care for our green thumbs. It's only a mile and half away - so it shouldn't be a big deal, right? I should be able to bike it but I'm a little worried because it's all up hill going there and in the hot summer months I anticipate that it will be unpleasant to make that trek.

The fact that this is my biggest worry is kind of funny. It's only a mile and a half and there is even a bus that goes frequently along the route to get there. Jeez - it's even possible to walk it. I guess my concern is that the extra time that it takes will become just a big enough obstacle that we'll go less and less.

I need to fight this worry with action - I just need to get out there and bike the route and see how it is. Maybe getting a downhill route the whole way home will be such a joy, I'll look forward to going just for the thrill. :-) Pat's already done it - It took him about 20 minutes there and about 10 minutes back. No biggie. I'll have to report back when I've done it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The day is getting closer (we think)--June 14

(by Pat)

Right now, our tentative date for actually starting to try to sell the car is June 14. On June 13th, Kira has her last travel soccer game, which also means it'll be the last travel soccer game that I'm coaching. Travel soccer has been the biggest reason we've needed to keep the car, because of two practices every week and a game every Saturday (and lots of gear to haul back and forth). But next year, Kira will be in high school and I won't be coaching, so that excuse will be gone.

So, on June 14th, we'll clean up the minivan and try to figure out how best to sell it.

Why I Want to Get Rid of Our Car. (Pat, part 3) Money

(by Pat)

This is part 3 of the series that I wrote in January, on The Writing Life x3 blog.

Okay, this is the last bit about getting rid our car for now (really), at least until we finally do it.

I thought I'd lay out what it costs for us to own a car, how much it'll cost to get around without one (since we still do have to get around), and see if we'll save money.

Monthly Costs of owning a car for us:

Ownership/Purchase. . . . $150*

Insurance. . . . $75

Gas. . . . . $120**

Repairs and Maintenance. . . . . $100

Parking. . . . $100

Tolls and taxes: $25

Total: $570 per month

So, a bit of explanation. For cost of ownership, I used what we paid for our car, spread out over ten years. Now, we paid off the car a while ago, but I think it's important to keep this in the calculation, because if we're in a cycle of car ownership we should always be setting aside money for the next purchase (borrowing money to buy a fast-depreciating car is not a smart financial move). For us, we tend to buy a new car and drive it until the repair costs rise too high. (We currently have a 2003 Dodge Caravan with 75,000 miles on it.)

Repairs and maintenance are an expected average over that time period. The figure I used for gas is a little less than our average for 2008, but prices were unusually high in 2008, though I think prices won't stay as low as they are now, and likely will spike again over the next few years, as worldwide demand recovers.

So, $570 a month for the ready use of our car. But of course, even if we got rid of it, we'd still have to get around, which won't be entirely free.

What it might cost to get around (per month):

Car rental: $90 (0ne weekend, every other month)
Zipcar: $60 (costs $10/hour or so)
T pass: $60
Bike stuff: $40
Total: $250

These are guesses, of course. Maybe we'll need Zipcar and rentals a lot more than I think. I'm not sure about the T pass, because Tracy already gets a monthly pass through work, and we tend to just share that one between the two of us.

I've put in $40 for bike stuff, which includes tune-ups and ownership costs. (The purchase costs on our current four bikes comes out to $3.85/month.) Repairs will need to happen if we use them more, but to be honest, Tracy already commutes by bike to work, so her current costs shouldn't be factored in to this setup, since we'd have to pay that anyway. I'd like to take a bike repair class, so I can maintain them myself and keep costs low. I bought my used bike for $65 on Craigs List and it does fine.

Maybe I should put in money for extra shoes (I already walk 4-6 miles per day, even with a car) and umbrellas.

With all these assumptions, it would appear that we would save about $320 per month by giving up our car. (This wouldn't all show up in our cash flow, since the car is paid off. The cash flow bump would be $170.) All this comes while helping us get more excercise, know our neighbors and community better, and have less negative impact environmentally.

Seems like it's definitely worth a try. And if it doesn't work, we can always go out and buy a car (Detroit would be happy to sell us one real cheap right now).

Why I Want to Get Rid of Our Car (Pat,Part 2)

(by Pat)
This is part 2 in a series of blog posts that I wrote on The Writing Life x3, back in January.

We live in a car culture, and I'm definitely a part of that, even if I don't really see the type of car I own as defining my identity. So the idea of not owning up a car ends up bringing up a bunch of concerns (and people voice these to me, if they've always had cars in their families).

What about in an emergency, especially something medical? This one's not that tough, actually. We live about 400 yards away from an emergency room. I could crawl there if I needed to. And I could easily call a cab to take one of us to our regular doctor's office, which is about 3 miles away.

What if the dog or cats get sick? Not quite so sure about this one. Zipcar (even though you're not supposed to have pets in the car) or maybe a cab?

What about grocery shopping? That's easy. We have a little cart, backpacks, and lots of baskets on our bikes. Plus they'll deliver. As will the hardware store and office supply store.

What about when the kids are old enough to learn to drive? Driver's ed, or borrow a car. They'll grumble, but that's life in the city, kids. This way they certainly won't expect us to buy them a car, right?

Maybe it'll make me crazy, because sometimes it'll take so long to get to places by bus or train. Yeah, but let's just say patience is something I need to work on anyway. Doing things faster and even getting places faster isn't always as much the ideal solution as it seems. This will not be easy for me to accept.

It'll be hard to visit my favorite grocery store, Russo's in Watertown. True. Just have to live with it, or use zipcar (I could get there by bus, but I'm not sure I have that much patience.)

It'll be harder to go to meetings/events in suburbs. True. Maybe it'll make me work even harder at building/joining groups and organizations in my own back yard. If they're important enough, I'll spend the money to rent a car. Or I'll keep getting in better shape for longer bike rides. Or maybe I'll join bike advocacy groups, to make regional bike travel safer and more convenient.

What about when the weather stinks? One of my first investments if/when we do this is going to be to get a rain suit for bicycling. Bikes aren't much good in slick ice like we had in Boston this morning, but to be honest, neither were cars or feet. And it's hard to get around in Boston when there's a foot of snow, whether it's on foot, bus, or in a car. And if you drive your car, there's nowhere to park.

When I look at them, they're all things that we can handle. And I know that I missed a bunch of benefits yesterday (one of them was that I think buying less gas takes money out of the hands of people with whom I disagree with politically (especially internationally).

Why I Want to Get Rid of Our Car (Pat, Part 1)

(by Pat)

This is actually a post from my other blog, The Writing Life x3, that I wrote in January, but it sets the stage for what we're up to. (It's a series of 3.)

We've played around with the idea of us going car-less ever since we moved to Boston. But for various reasons, it never quite seemed practical (it was very handy to have a car while ferrying around small children and fixing up houses). However, we also recognized that if ever there was a chance for us to live without a car, this might be it--Boston is extremely walkable and has a decent public transportation system. Still, it never happened. (And still hasn't happened.)

A few things have happened since we first moved to the Boston area (in 2000) that have increased the practicality of living without a car:
  • We moved to Brookline, in a neighborhood where the kids can walk to school, and we can walk to grocery stores and other shopping.
  • The kids are older, and so can ride bikes to get places.
  • We've become increasingly aware of our carbon footprint and increasingly concerned about the effects of human generated carbon emissions on global warming. I know there are still a few people out there who are unconvinced that people are having an impact on the world's climate in a clear and negative way. I might suggest they look at it like Pascal's Wager. In this case, if we change our behavior, based on the belief that global warming is due to human impact, and it's true, then we did the right thing. If it turns out to be false, we will have made changes that pollute the environment less and might have other benefits. In fact, I think that if you are convinced that human generated carbon emissions are having a negative impact on global climate, you might even have a moral imperative to take action (stopping eating meat will have a bigger impact than buying a Prius or selling your car, by the way).
  • We live very close to several Zipcar sites, so we could easily rent a car on short notice, if we needed to. Tracy has a Zipcar membership subsidized through her workplace.
So, all these things make it easier. And, oh, it would save us money. Which is a very good thing.

One good question is, why not just drive our existing car less? That would get keep the carbon emissions down, certainly. But it wouldn't save as much money (we'd still have to pay for parking, taxes, insurance, and upkeep). And, if it's there, it tends to get used because it's awfully convenient--sometimes it's just too tempting. Getting rid of the car would force us to make conscious choices about how we get around and examine the associated costs. Driving a car costs money every time the car moves (or doesn't) but those costs tend to be hidden, whereas having to rent a car for a day or an hour reminds you right away that you're paying money to drive that vehicle.

So, what do I think would be the benefits:

  • Less emissions (especially since we would walk and bicycle more).
  • Improved health through more exercise.
  • Save money. (calculations to come)
  • See the world differently, more interactively. As a writer, this is a big one for me--though I certainly get some info from NPR when I'm driving, when I'm in the car, I don't interact much with the world, and short driving trips aren't good for paying attention to anything besides crazy Boston drivers. When I'm on foot or on the T or on my bike, I see the world closer, I hear more interesting conversations, meet new people. Input like this makes my writing life a lot richer.
  • Slows pace of life. Yes, having a car is convenient. But sometimes it allows me to cram too many errands into too small of a stretch of time. There's something to be said for slowing down a little more, and being more conscious of how and where I'm going.
  • Less stress from dealing with Boston drivers (though this is still a factor on bicycle) and finding parking, etc. (Dealing with the T can be stressful, so this might be a wash.)
  • I don't believe in the systems that have grown up around the car--suburban sprawl, car insurance companies, big petro corporations and their negative global political impact, etc. Insurance galls me in particular--I have 24 years of a clean driving record, not even a speeding ticket. I've been paying car insurance my entire life, which is many, many thousands of dollars. I was involved in a minor fender bender a year ago, which was my fault. No one was hurt. There was minor damage to the other car. As a result, my car insurance premiums have jumped by $400. So what exactly was I paying for for all those years? The increase will pay off the cost to the insurance company for the accident pretty soon, and I'll be stuck paying more for something I never want to use, and if I do use it, it'll cost me even more. It's just dumb.
  • I hate having a machine that I can't fix. Cars cost a lot of money to buy and especially to repair. I'm a decent carpenter and can handle drywall, plumbing, electric, and other parts of my house, at least to an extent. I can grow my own food and I'm a decent cook. I don't know much about how to fix cars and I don't have the time or inclination to learn. And it's hard to find a repair shop you can trust. And the repairs are expensive. We've got a couple problems on our vehicle right nowthat just keep getting put off, because they take a block of cash that we don't have handy or want to spend on other things.
  • I like the challenge of trying to go without a car. It requires some additional resourcefulness and problem solving, which has appeal to me.
So, I think we might do it. Though I coach Kira's travel soccer team this spring, and with practices and games, it's very hard to go without a car. This spring is her last season, so I'm hoping that our plan can be for us to sell the car once soccer is over, in June.

(more to come on hassles and cost)

Choosing No Car - What We're Thinking

We're a family of four living in the Boston area (Brookline actually, just a few feet over the Boston line) and we're planning to get rid of our car. Lots of people in Brookline and Boston live just fine without cars, but it's taken us a while to get serious about getting rid of ours.

For a while, the main excuse was the the kids were too little. But now they're 14 and 9 and perfectly able to get around by bicycle, and we live close enough to school and their friends for them to walk to whdre they need to go.

Gas prices rising to $4 a gallon gave us a good excuse to run the numbers again on what it would mean to get rid of our car. It turns out that getting rid of it will probably save us quite a bit of money (even with gas at $2/gallon). And it'll be good for the environment for us to be driving less, and we'll get in better shape.

Since Christmas, we've been telling people (it was even in our Christmas letter) that we're going to get rid of our car. Well, now it's time to actually make it happen. This blog will probably just run for a little while, long enough to detail actually unloading the car itself and talking about the subsequent changes to our lives. Our hope is that it might provide some insight for other people who decide to give up their cars and start using alternative forms of transportation.

For this blog, we'll both (and maybe the kids, too) be posting about our experiences around the transition, and we'll also be sharing all kinds of information about articles and organizations that focus on life in America (or at least Boston) without a car.