14 Months Without a Car
without a car since last December. The "anniversary" of this date was so unremarkable, that it came and went unnoticed. But I've had some requests to post a 1-year report about what it has been like, which made me realise it's already been longer than that. I want to make it clear that being without a car is not a political statement for us and is not wrapped up in our sense of identity. For that reason I do not use words such as "car-free" or "car-light," or any of the related terminology. We simply do not have a car, for the time being.
We used the shared car mainly to travel out of town and for trips that involved transporting or purchasing bulky items. The majority of everyday transportation we did by bike, simply because both of us found it more convenient. When the car broke down in late November 2010, we realised that we did not really feel like getting it fixed and preferred to make do without it instead. So that is what we did.
Once that winter was over, everything else was a piece of cake. Owning a car in Boston now seemed like a burden and inconvenience. How did we ever manage with all those fees and maintenance responsibilities? Not owning a car was so much easier, not to mention that we now magically had more money. And that's really all there was to it, as far as everyday stuff was concerned.
That is not to say that we never used a car. We still occasionally needed to travel to remote out of town locations and to transport bulky items. And, ironically, I occasionally had to transport bikes in various states of assembly for Lovely Bicycle related projects. But the key word here is "occasionally." Once we got the hang of zipcar and car rental, using these services in addition to the occasional taxi proved to be sufficient for us to not feel that we needed to actually own a car. The main limitation of zipcar, is that you cannot always get one on the spot, and we tend to do things spontaneously rather than plan everything out carefully. But over time we got better at planning and also became more savvy/psychic about zipcar rental. After a couple of initial glitches, it has mostly been okay. I even moved into my art studio with the help of a zipcar pickup truck, which went very well with fairly minimal planning.
Our only frustration so far has been with the public transportation system. Without exaggeration, the T (subway) has gotten stuck between stations most of the times I've taken it over the past year, making me late for appointments. The buses are habitually late by as much as 20 minutes, to the point that the bus timetable is not meaningful. The buses are also very full and taking fragile items on board is not practical. The commuter rail runs infrequently and not at the times we seem to need it, so that going somewhere via commuter rail can mean having to spend an entire day at the destination instead of the 1.5 hours we need to spend there. Also, many of the commuter rail stops are not handicap-accessible - which also means not bike-friendly, since they have these super long and narrow staircases leading down to the platform from overpasses. Whenever I criticise the MBTA, inevitably someone gets angry, as if public transportation is some holy thing no matter how good or bad it is and I should be thankful for it. But with all due respect, having used public transportation successfully in cities where it works, the MBTA is a disgrace in comparison. I cannot pretend to be thankful for the frustration and wasted time it causes me nearly every time I attempt to use it, and I am certain that it is the reason why more people in the greater Boston area do not feel comfortable without a car.
MBTA frustrations aside, we did manage to go on a 2-week vacation via bike plus commuter rail over the summer, and it was a lot more fun than renting a car would have been. No traffic jams, no gas station stops, no looking for parking - just the freedom of bikes. We brought all the stuff we would normally have taken with us too, including two weeks worth of clothing, books, laptops, and basic camera equipment. It's amazing how much you can stuff into heavy-duty bicycle luggage if you try.
When we first discussed the idea of giving up the car, it was important for both of us not to feel as if being without it would be a struggle, or would limit our freedom. And over a year later, I can say that at no point did we feel that way. At this stage of our lives not having a car gives us more freedom, not less. We do not miss the responsibilities and the spendings that come with owning, parking, fueling and maintaining a vehicle in the Boston Metro area. We also simply never talk about it anymore. We neither lament our carless state, nor do we congratulate ourselves for it; it's just become one less issue to worry about.