When Mike’s high-tech job moved from a location 5 kms away out to Kanata in 2001, we had to buy a car for him to commute with. It was too far for him to bike out there on a regular basis, and the transit system just didn’t have much in the way of buses in that direction. However, a few years ago he quit that job and got one in a building on a bike path closer to our house. We held onto the car for a few years after that, using it mostly on weekends for shopping errands and the occasional trip out to the Gatineaus for skiing or hiking. Last December we decided to get rid of it.As the car sat around and aged, the cost of keeping it for shopping trips and escapes out of town became ridiculously high. Let me lay out the math for you:
- We bought the car for $17,000 in 2001 and sold it for $5,000. Spreading that $12,000 out over the 5 years we owned it, we paid $2400 per year in amortization.
- In our last year of owning the car we paid more than $1600 in repairs and $800 for insurance. Giving a total of $2400
- Adding those two costs together, we get a figure of $4800. Dividing that by 52 weeks, we get a final figure of $92 a week plus gas and parking.
Given rising gas prices, we estimated it cost us over $100 a week to own and run the car. The choice to get rid of the car was an easy one.
As I’ve already written, we weren’t using the car for commuting. That was and still is mostly done by bike and bus. So no change there. The best news for us has been that in getting rid of our car we actually run fewer errands. In fact, although we now run most of our errands by foot or bike, we spend less total time on errands. An amazing number of errands actually cease to be important when there is no car in the driveway to hop into. We usually find that we can make do with what we already have or with what’s within walking distance. And by taking our dog with us on these walking errands, we get him and ourselves exercise at the same time. In terms of hiking, etc., we carpool with friends to the Gatineaus or just spend time on paths closer into town. There is an an amazing amount of parkland and greenspace within easy walking distance our house.
However, we have not given up cars entirely. We signed up with Vrtucar, a car share program that has over 30 cars for members to use at various locations around Ottawa. The nearest Vrtucar is a 20 minute walk and there are three others only slightly further away. We’re at the outer edge of the program, for those living closer to downtown there are many more cars available. Vrtucar lets Mike keep his insurance coverage (at no cost to us), which will prevent him from being considered a “new driver” if we ever buy another car (I’m not registered as a driver with Vrtucar).
While Vrtucar is great for periodic 2 to 5 hour bouts of car usage, we have found that renting a car is more cost-effective for longer periods of time. At Christmas we rented a car for a few days to do the rounds of family visits. We also stored up on car-requiring errands, and rented a car for 24 hours just to drive around town.
So, now that 6 months have gone by with us in a happy car-free state, here’s a tally of the carless costs. I haven’t included bus or bicycle related costs as these haven’t changed since we got rid of the car.
- Vrtucar. A one-year basic membership is $120 (so $60 for 6 months). We use it once or twice a month for a total use cost over the last 6 months of $355. One of the nice things about Vrtucar is that the cost of gas is included in their fees. Total $414.
- Pet Taxi $26
- We probably use regular people taxis slightly more now that we don’t have a car. So let’s throw in an extra $60.
- Car rental, including gas and all related expenses, $300
So, the grand total costs for the first 6 months of being a carless household (drum roll please) have been $800, or less than one third of the $2600+ associated with car ownership.
So there you have it. At absolutely no hardship to ourselves, we have cut down on our environmental impact and increased our exercise and free time while saving bags of money. Going car-free was a good choice for us.