Car-free Living in Ottawa: 6 month tally

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.

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6 thoughts on “Car-free Living in Ottawa: 6 month tally

  • I just found your blog when searching for the toothpaste made in Hawkesbury.

    I am very excited! I had to read all your archives and several things you blogged about took me a lot of detective work to find on my own. Now it’s all in one place.

    On the topic of your post: We became car-free last year when I returned to work after my last mat leave. For us, freeing that money allowed my husband to stay home with our kids. We haven’t suffered one bit either. Being car-free with children is very possible in Ottawa.

  • When our car died 10 years ago my husband said lets see if we can do without it. I thought he’d last two weeks, but it was surprisingly easy. We live downtown which helps immensely. Many of our youngest child’s friends had asthma and since we had already 2 children 15 years older than him who as children had had no friends with asthma,we were quite shocked to notice this change in childhood allergies and asthma. It was easy to make a commitment to staying carless because of one of his friends affliction which necessitated a puffer. We did not want to feel we were contributing to these childhood health problems. We made a commitment also to not joining any sport activities that we could not walk to, bike or bus to. This meant our children knew the neighborhood very well on their own terms by the time they were nine years old. It also meant that none of them became overweight. We found a surprising range of activities right in our own neighbourhood. There was a piano teacher around the corner, a juggler, a bicycle repair shop, a small library (and library online) a skating rink within walking distance and a pool near enough to plan a trip to. Groceries could be delivered and we got onto an organics club that also delivered a weeks supply of fruit and veggies. We would rent a car for a weekend whenever there was a need.When vrtu-car came along it was the perfect addition. There is one parked only a five minute walk away at the local groceteria. By the time vrtu-car happened we had saved enough through not owning a car that we had enough for the downpayment on a house. $5,000 per year over seven years- you do the math! It’s an enormous saving even if you rent a car every other weekend. It’s amazing how things would happen, or we’d learn something that would enable us to stay carless a bit longer.
    We live our lives differently now and save up errands to be done all at once. We have friends who leave their car with us when they are out of town. There is more interdependence between ourselves, friends and neighbours, and we have met others in our part of town who are also committed to being carless. Living “downwardly mobile” feels solid. We do not feel that we are constantly chasing our tails, -and looking for parking. Big box malls are out of the question and our lives have been saved from the suburban malaise and of having to get in the car to get somewhere, even for a loaf of bread. Our children are street savvy, know where they are going and how to get there on their own steam. The city is theirs and they feel a measure of independence from us that is fantastic.

  • According to the fabulous web-site Worldchanging, half of the total energy used by a car is in its manufacture and disposal. Which means by getting rid of your car and joining a car-share program like Vrtucar, your ecological footprint is dramatically reduced even if you continue to use Vrtucar as much as you did your own car. Alex Steffen reports that the American equivalent of Vrtucar, Zipcar, has found one of their shared-cars replaces up to 20 private cars. So each Zipcar driver uses only 5% of what a private-car owner uses in terms of the energy used to manufacture and dispose of vehicles. This means that a driver who doesn’t cut back on car usage but shifts to a shared vehicle uses only 55% of the energy he or she did as a private car owner.

  • For all those Ottawa residents who are on the cusp of adopting a car free lifestyle the question of what to do with an unwanted vehicle can be difficult.

    What environmentally responsible options exist?

    The answer is one that may surprise you and the benefits to your environment and community health are many. The Kidney Foundation of Canada’s Kidney Car Program is a car donation program which works to fund research and living assistance programs to help those suffering from kidney disease.

    This program partners with auto recycling firms throughout the province and in Ottawa has partnered with Cohen & Cohen. All of our partners must adhere to the strictest environmental standards with regards to the disposal and management of hazardous chemicals and materials such as oils, transmission fluid, or mercury switches found in vehicles.

    On top of being an environmentally responsible solution to disposing of an unwanted vehicle our program is also one of the strongest and most depended upon fundraising initiatives of the KFOC.

    Donors receive a valuable tax receipt in appreciation for their donation and newer models in roadworthy condition may qualify for a substantially higher tax receipt.

    I encourage all Ottawa residents considering adopting a car free lifestyle to think of the estimated 2 million Canadians at risk or suffering from kidney disease. Doing so can not only reduce emissions and encourage responsible environmental practices but also help fund important medical breakthroughs

  • Hi
    My wife and I are in year two of living without owning a car in Ottawa. We live in Westboro and both can walk to work. My wife walks 30 minutes one way and I routinely walk to meet her. We can safely report that all we have lost is weight. We have saved money each month and tons of frustration with traffic.

    Vrtucar is excellent and our average cost per month has been well under 200 dollars. This is with two teenagers at home.

    No car and no chauffeur system. Our boys are independent and use the bus system with confidence.

    We gave up owning and car and are fortunate to have a great neighborhood to enjoy our new lifestyle. Never thought we would live without a car in the lane way but its way easier than you would think

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