Moral Low Ground

Economy

Can Your Family Live Without a Car? Why Not?

bikeGas prices have skyrocketed over the past 10 years, which has put a major pinch on the pocketbooks of middle class families. Transportation is one of the first expenses families try to cut back on. Becoming a zero-car family is a dramatic solution for reducing money spent at the pump and your carbon footprint. Although dramatic, it’s possible.

Pros

  • Lower transportation costs. In September 2013, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline was $3.40, which makes each trip to the pump a costly one. Without a car, you’ll save that money to use toward more affordable bus fares, groceries and other family expenses.
  • Reduced environmental burden. Eco-conscious families are turning away from cars and recognizing that driving significantly increases pollution and carbon emissions. Driving a 2011 Toyota Camry for 12,000 miles per year releases over 9,300 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere, according to TerraPass. Walk or take the bus to significantly reduce your environmental impact and cushion your wallet — it’s a win win.
  • Improved physical fitness. If you live in a city, you could drive four blocks to the store to buy a single bag of groceries. Improve your physical fitness by relying on walking and biking to get around town.

Cons

  • No more road trips. Traveling long distances to visit family in a different city without a car is challenging. You’ll have to create an alternative method including train or bus to travel long distances without a car.
  • Everyday logistics. Running errands and getting your kids to sports practice and after school activities can be stressful enough, even with a vehicle at your fingertips. You’ll have to coordinate public transportation and stick to a strict schedule.
  • It’s best for city dwellers. A car-free lifestyle is nearly impossible for families in suburbs and rural areas. Cities with trains, subways, buses, and other public transportation infrastructure make a zero-car lifestyle viable. You don’t have to live in New York City or Chicago to make it work. Most mid-sized cities have bus routes and alternative transportation options.

Zero-Car Lifestyle Alternatives

  • Go greener. Cut down on prices at the pump by investing in a car with great fuel economy. A 2010 Hyundai Accent gets 30 miles per gallon, according to a Hyundai Phoenix dealership. Look for a car that gets 30 or more mpg as a smart money-saving investment.
  • Investigate car sharing. Car-less families can participate in car-sharing options such as ZipCar or GetAround’s peer-to-peer sharing network. If you only occasionally need a car to get around, car sharing can keep your costs low. It’s an affordable option that’s also flexible for your family’s everyday needs.
  • Hop on your bike. In 2009, Americans made over 4.08 billion trips by bicycle, according to Bicycling.com. Increase your bike usage by going green, even if you can’t commit to ridding your life of a car entirely. Use an app such as My Tracks to record your speed, distances and path on your commute.
  • Commit to lower car usage. So you’re not completely ready to ditch your car? Even if you don’t want to become a zero-car family, committing to using your car less often still has an impact. Start by making one trip to the store per week, carpooling with other families in the neighborhood and dropping your spouse off at work. Simple lifestyle changes result in major savings as you fill up at the pump less often.

Sam Brown is a high school shop teacher who writes about cars and the auto industry on the weekends.

 

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