This is a new series of KAAV LIVING posts providing tips from city dwellers about how to best enjoy urban life. Contributing authors are welcome. Our first is Faith Seekings of Rapport. She lived, went to school and worked right downtown for many years, and recently moved to the Beach neighbourhood in Toronto enjoying a car-free urban life.
Buying alone, plus renovating or rebuilding downtown can be expensive. An urban lifestyle has many great benefits, but you may be looking for ways to adjust your budget so you can afford it. You might even be struggling to find a house with parking. One great way to solve these problems is to reduce your family cars to one or even zero.
What, no car? Seriously?
Many of us grew up in homes with a car. It’s part of Canadian life, of being an adult, a marker of success, a right of passage. The car’s make is a status symbol and personal statement. I grew up downtown, and even though my Dad walked to work we always had a car. It did get used a surprising amount, so I got one. Later I found it didn’t make sense for me.
I continue to live and work in the city, but gave up car ownership in 2004. I do enjoy driving but the negatives of ownership outweighed any benefits. Once I sold my car, gone were car loan and insurance payments, maintenance and parking. I no longer had to deal with driving and parking in the city, or worry about rising gas prices. Instead, I travelled by public transit and cabs, rental cars and Enterprise Car Share when I wanted wheels. Today it’s even easier with Uber and Car2Go – even with my toddler in tow.
If you are rethinking car ownership and wondering what that would be like, here are some things I discovered about enjoying a car-free life.
I have more available cash.
The individual costs of a taxi ($10-20/ride), deliveries (variable), car rental for a day ($90/day), etc may seem high or a luxury, but I don’t also have car payments. In 2014 the average Canadian spent $437/month on a car for payments, gas, insurance and maintenance. At my peak using Autoshare for meetings, a heavy month was $200, maybe another $10-20/week on taxis and public transit (TTC). Imagine if you could walk/bike/TTC to work and didn’t need to travel during the day. That savings really increases one’s budget for housing.
Figure out what you would replace car trips with and do the math. My Beach neighbour found driving a Car2Go downtown every day was cheaper than parking downtown. I use more than one kind of carshare service, depending on what I need.
I spend less money.
Because it’s not easy to go to a shopping centre, I buy online a lot and at smaller local stores. I don’t mind spending a bit more (and supporting my community) in local shops for convenience because I’m not also tanking up with gas. I’m also more likely to shop for what I need, which limits impulse buys that tend to happen at the mall. Have you ever driven to a big box mall for one thing, then ended up in other stores and coming home with more than you intended? It also helps me keep the clutter down. I do like to hit the stores every once in a while, mostly for recon, but am always glad when it’s over.
I’m fitter and less stressed.
Here’s where the unexpected benefits come in. Looking for easy ways to get large groceries home led me to discover Grocery Gateway. Delivery costs $11, the same as a taxi home from Loblaws, only I don’t have to spend an hour in the store with my cranky toddler. I’ve also discovered from an experience with a rental car that walking certain routes is much faster than driving. It’s also a great way to process your day and unwind. I’d bet dollars to donuts I’m less stressed than anyone who commutes by driving. I’m also fitter… fitbit step goals… pish!
What is Convenient, Really?
It can be really convenient having a car to jump into on impulse. But, it can be even more convenient to leap on and off transit, or jump out of an Uber without fussing with payment. You can also use a phone app to locate the Car2Gos in the area, which you can drive and then abandon at your destination for the next user. I often find a Car2Go right outside my door.
Some may argue that giving up car ownership only leads to inconvenience. It may be less convenient to pick up a rental or carshare vehicle than to jump in your own. It is inconvenient to wait for delayed transit, but you can make more productive use of your time, versus stressing out in a traffic delay. What about the inconveniences that come with driving your own car? Do you struggle to find affordable parking and time to gas up, clean and maintain your car? Transit, Uber and car share services eliminate these inconveniences. The subway can eliminate traffic delay for trips in the city core.
Now bordering on suburban, still no car.
When we moved to the Beach to start a family we thought let’s see whether life without a car is still possible. Three years later, we still don’t need one. It’s actually better than downtown: we are surrounded by shops, various family care practices, transit, Car2Go, Enterprise Carshare options and Uber vehicles. All our daily travel is easier on TTC. Urban Toronto is full of villages with lots of amenities. You might find you make better use of your community with no car. You might teach your kids to live a more sustainable life!
If you grew up with a car, this would be a big shift in thinking about daily life and what a car means to you. But, one less or no car, might make an urban home more attainable.
I challenge you to try it. Start by figuring out how you would do your current car errands without a car. Then, maybe, pretend you don’t have a car for a couple of weeks and see how it goes! Maybe getting rid of the car would not turn out to be much of a sacrifice at all.