No Car for 9 Months
Last December I had gear change issues on the Subaru Legacy. So, in light of finances, the environment and a great excuse to "give it a go" I gave up the car.
I let the tax disc expire, declared Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) because, if you don't declare, it gives the DVLA an easy opportunity to squeeze revenue from lazy/unsuspecting motorists. I also cancelled the insurance and then left the car on the drive.
Nine months later, what's it been like without a car?
Well, at first there was the noticeable issue of not being able to simply go to the shops at any time and do a "big shop". Not having the car limits the amount of shopping you can carry. Being restricted from the boot of an estate car to either a couple of bags, if waking, to a rucksack, if cycling, is quite a downsize in terms of capacity. Carrying a crate of beer is out of the question.
And then there's the times you can go shopping - If it's chucking down with rain, it's probably best to stay in. Snow? Again, if it's treacherous in a car then it's insane to go out on a bicycle. As for night or day - the quickest way to one of the local stores is across meadows by the Blackwater River - at night it's extremely dark down there - I wouldn't advise the Mrs or my kid to travel that way at that time of night.
Other than that shopping is restricted to what can be carried so it has to be very efficient. Get only what you need and no more. Necessities in, luxuries out. The further one has to travel to get specialist items, the greater this applies so most essentials tend to be purchased closer to home.
Strangely enough, when the car was taken off the road England was then hit by snowstorms. Cycling in the snow can be fun but is ultimately pretty tough and an insane pursuit when the snow has turned to ice. Getting to work then had to be done on foot. The first day back at work in the new year took over an hour (it's a 40 minute walk) and there was nobody in the building - NOBODY. 20 offices and not a soul in sight!
Cycling to work is quicker than walking but slower than driving, that is IF the roads are clear for the car. On a clear road it's a 10 minute car journey but with traffic it can take anything up to an hour. Cycling however takes around 20 minutes plus it keeps you fit too.
Carrying kit to work is also limited to a rucksack so in the summer it's OK but winter cycling means cramming a change of clothes, waterproofs etc into the rucksack. Your bag's heavier & bulkier and you don't want to be breaking anything by forcing it into there.
Of course, you have to either carry a change of clothes or have spares at work - working in a sweaty t-shirt is a no-no as is sitting there soaked from the rain or caked in mud (If you took the off-road route)
Leisure pursuits have been impacted greatly by not having a car. Getting to far-away places has been tough so the spare time activities have had a more local flavour for the last nine months.
Last summer it was straight to Stonhenge, park up, walk around, enjoy the summer solstice. This year it all had to be cancelled due to the lack of transport. Getting a bus to Salisbury on a Sunday night to travel via whatever means necessary to see the sun up and then get back in time for work was an impossibility.
So far this year has centred around Farnborough (Not much to do other than a couple of nice pubs), Guildford, an evening in Basingstoke, a trip to Reading and one day in London. The places to visit have been limited by the lack of a car but at least knowledge of the rail network is improved.
One afternoon was spent in the wonderful old town of Aldershot, home of the British Army; the taxi fare there was £15 but the return journey by bus was just £2.20
So, Can You Live Without a Car?
Yes you can but it's tough, especially for someone who absolutely loves cars.
It's also hard work in the bad weather, difficult if you have a small family, if you have to be smart, wear a suit etc.
The trains are expensive, impromptu journeys are expensive, getting direct from A to B often involves a convoluted route, you can't carry much and you're often at the mercy of the weather.
The positives are that you save on insurance, road tax, fuel and maintenance. That may well be a saving of many hundreds of pounds a year but when you look at the prices train operators charge you're robbing Peter to pay Paul.
However, one big saving is CO2; your emissions are negligible. Public transport can be fun, especially with a big group of people. You get to see things locally that you didn't see before, you get to know your local routes better, all the short cuts etc.
Travelling to the local train stations (there are three within a 20 minute bike ride/40 minute walk) is better by bike but you worry that your expensive ride is locked up at the station and could get stolen. Walking is better then but takes longer.
So it all depends on your circumstances, where you live, how far away the shops, schools, work is, how far away your friends live, what the roads are like etc.
It has been good fun and public transport is definitely on the travel agenda from now onwards. Trains can be expensive (especially long distance), buses can be relatively expensive and having one bus & rail company's director in The Times Rich List every year shows that they're making a pretty penny out of people who have to use their services.
Cycling is great when the weather's good as is walking and, best of all, it keeps you fit and healthy.
But there are times when I feel I need a car; I'd love to visit some of my relatives with my family and travel door-to-door without the expenses incurred from train, bus and taxi journeys.
If oil was so expensive that everybody had to give up driving there'd be a time of tough change in people's lifestyles. But if the public transport companies (that are owned and operated by private companies - ironic, I know) could facilitate cheaper travel then more people would use buses and trains and economies of scale would kick in.
I still want to drive but during the summer I'll cycle to work and back thank you :)