Going carless
May 22, 2015 1:57 PM   Subscribe

I would like to go car-free eventually, but I can't bike and live in a city with subpar public transportation. Is this feasible?

The reason that I would like to do this is that I hate cars, I hate driving, I hate what they're doing to the planet, I hate having the expense, and I would like more financial freedom to leave my crappy job that I hate. So this is a desire born of hatred.

Right now, I live six miles from my job. Feasibly, I could walk there and back if I had an extra four hours a day. This is actually something I would consider doing (I like walking) but seems like it wouldn't be reasonable to do it every day. I can't bike due to reasons (trust me on this). But eventually, of course, I'd like to quit that job or find something closer. I don't want to move closer to my job.

The public transportation in my city consists of buses that may or may not be running on time. I also get immediately and horribly carsick on buses. We do have a carsharing program, which makes me hopeful.

My partner has a car, but sharing that one car is simply not feasible due to us living halfway between our jobs and having completely opposing schedules, and his frequently needing to take trips in it.

I'd love to work from home and have been trying to do that for years but it doesn't seem like it's going to happen.

I do live within walking distance of a grocery store, if that helps.

Is this going carless just a fantasy without making a major overhaul of my life?
posted by whistle pig to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Could the commute by bus or car sharing be made more bearable by treating it as a great opportunity to lose yourself in audiobooks? (or podcasts, or music, whatever you prefer) I find that I don't mind waiting for buses as long as I don't feel like I'm wasting my time (since I'm listening to something interesting.) I'm not sure if it would help with your carsickness, but staring out the window into the far distance while listening to something is about the best thing you can do to prevent it. (Rather than reading or using your phone.) Personally, I'm far more likely to get carsick in cars than buses, so I'd prefer that option.

I'm lucky that I live in a city with excellent public transport, but listening to podcasts is still essential to ease the waits. I haven't owned a car in 15 years and I hope to never own a car again in my life, for all the reasons you mention.
posted by snarfois at 2:08 PM on May 22, 2015

What about a scooter? Cheaper to buy, cheaper to insure, very fuel efficient. Get a rack on the back for grocery store runs.

If you don't want to drive even that... running? Skateboarding?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:10 PM on May 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Can you trike?
posted by Thella at 2:11 PM on May 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

It seems that you're writing off a lot of options that are essential for going careless. Have you spent a significant amount of time riding the bus system (as in, for two weeks straight) to see if it really is as bad as your perceive?

Could carpooling with a coworker be an option, or maybe someone who works similar hours in the same area as you?

If bikes are out, would you consider something like a motorscooter which is both relatively cheap (compared to a car) to purchase and gets great mileage?
posted by Karaage at 2:12 PM on May 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

Is this going carless just a fantasy without making a major overhaul of my life?

I think it's less than a fantasy. A fantasy is something you picture and imagine. From your description you have a list of things that being car-free would not/could not include (walking to work, biking to work, bussing anywhere), but no picture of what your car-free life would look like.

Come up with an actual realistic picture of how your car-free life would work (most likely you would have to suck it up and take the bus, unless you're willing to consider some kind of alternative transportation -- segway, skateboard, push scooter, those weird wheels that you stand on). Maybe an alternative to the bus would be car-pooling. Once you've actually fantasized it, decide if it's better or worse than your current situation.

As for working from home, getting a new job, etc: Yes, if your life were different, then your situation would be different. If that's what you want, work on making those things happen first and then re-think your car situation.

Another alternative is to just use your car only when necessary. Having a car doesn't have to mean it's your default mode of transportation. You can already walk to the grocery store if you want. Do you? Start. You can already take other means to get to the mall, the movies, etc. etc. Do you? You can start if you want. If you hate the car, less car may not be as good as no car, but it's better than all car.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:13 PM on May 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I should also mention that my other problem with the bus is that it runs at times that would require my arriving at work an hour early and leaving an hour late. But that may be part of the overall picture for me to consider. I would love to get a scooter but can you ride them in the rain/snow?
posted by whistle pig at 2:18 PM on May 22, 2015

Electric bicycle?
posted by Tom-B at 2:18 PM on May 22, 2015

Does your city have real-time bus info that could be scraped by, e.g., Nextbus? That can make an unreliable bus commute somewhat more tolerable.

You may be able to handle the work trip by joining a car pool, which would allow you to walk the rest of the time since you're close to the grocery store. Some larger workplaces actually have programs designed to encourage car-pooling, so that might be something to look into; alternatively, you could post flyers or send a couple of e-mails to co-workers. On preview, you could use the bus as a backup. Also, this depends heavily on your workplace, but do you have any flexibility in your hours such that you could work longer hours some days and shorter hours on other days?

Definitely don't read on buses if you can help it since that is a big trigger for carsickness in basically everyone; audiobooks and podcasts are good substitutes. Bringing some ginger chews could also help.

Six miles is probably a little long for a kick-scooter or skateboard commute. Is the no-biking a fitness thing or a not-being-able-to-ride thing? You can get electric assists for a bike and, well, extra wheels for the second problem (i.e., trike). Apparently from googling around you can get both (i.e., a trike w/ electric assist), but I have zero experience with those. You can definitely bike in the rain and snow (you can actually get special studded tires to help deal with ice) but I don't know how extra wheels change the calculus.

But yeah, as a person who has never owned a car, it often does require some adjustments to the rest of your life, including things like "adjusting" where you live and run errands, etc. Amazon Prime is pretty great if you don't have a car and there isn't a neighborhood hardware store, for example.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:22 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

It seems like you could make a mixed-travel package if you think of it as two one-ways instead of a round-trip - some bus, some walking, some carpooling. Say you walk to work, get there an hour later than normal and stay an hour later, then take the bus home. Or do a one-way carpool if one of your commute times matches your partner's on a given day. I have a friend who lives too far to bike commute but loves biking, so she'll do a 2-day cycle in which she drives her bike in, rides it home, rides it in, and drives home. (I know biking's not for you, it's the flexibility that I'm suggesting.)
posted by aimedwander at 2:25 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Could you move closer to your work?

I think you'd need to move -- or possibly pay someone at your work to drive you every morning (kind of like carpooling, but without you ever reciprocating). Then, however, you run the risk of that person being unavailable someday.

If they were unavailable just one or two times per month, you might be able to take a taxi.

*** new idea: see if you can find 1-2 other people who live near you and work in your building. Maybe the 2-3 of you could, together, hire a taxi to drive you every morning and evening.
posted by amtho at 2:26 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your range is actually pretty ideal for a fully electric vehicle, if you have the cash for something like a Nissan Leaf or Smart ForTwo, or are willing to ride a 2/3-wheeled vehicle. Of course, electric cars only solve the problem with gas-guzzling, not the disliking driving and the expense, and I'm not sure you'd find riding a 2/3-wheeled electric vehicle (like an electric moped/scooter) much less stressful than driving, especially since they do leave you a lot more vulnerable to traffic accidents (though the expense would definitely be lower!).
posted by en forme de poire at 2:32 PM on May 22, 2015

Based on your limitations and preferences, yes, this sounds like a fantasy. Basically, to go car-less you need to live in a city with great public transportation or you need to live in a walkable, urban-ish area. It sounds like neither of these things apply to you (in part because you are unwilling to ride the bus). If you don't want to live closer to where you work now, you either need to work somewhere else, or move to a new city altogether.

Going car-less is great, but there are select few cities that make this really easy or feasible to do. In my mind, that list would be cities like: NYC, SF, DC, Chicago, Boston, Philly. A city like Portland OR makes it surprisingly easy with an extensive public transportation network. There may be other smaller cities where this can work, depending. If you are willing to be an occasional car person, meaning maybe you can walk for your everyday needs, but it's still necessary to have a car to go to a mall to shop or to run certain errands, then that may open up your city options even more because you could use Zip Car or taxis/Uber for that. But right now, doing day-to-day without a car sounds impossible for you.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:37 PM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Since you can ride a bike in all weather, I would assume you can also ride a scooter in all weather, though I don't suppose I've ever actually ridden a scooter.

Given that it sounds like the alternative is showing up for work an hour early and leaving an hour late, walking sounds like a pretty great alternative! Here's what works for me (I don't have kids): When I go on longer commuting walks like that, I often have a smart phone in my pocket. I find I enjoy the time to think about things, and occasionally I'll pull out the phone and look up a question that I have, or send an email or do another internet chore. I really enjoy those walks, but sometimes I do ride the bus one way. I think the trick is not to think of the walks as taking up time that could be better spent, but rather to appreciate the ability to have the time to go for these nice walks. They feel shorter after a few weeks, too.

Remember: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Try out what could work for you some of the time (walking, busing, carshare etc.) and drive your car the other 1-2 days a week. Wean thyself.
posted by aniola at 3:01 PM on May 22, 2015

You're getting good ideas; carpooling and an electric bike (if that would solve your mysterious bike trouble) would be particularly worth looking into. But from a practical perspective to see if you could do it and how it would change your life, just try it! Get to work without a car three days a week for the next two weeks, figure out what would make things easier, and use that to do it five days a week for the rest of the month. (You might learn you want to leave extra clothes and baby wipes at the office, walk partway home and bus the rest, wear different shoes, download podcasts, etc.) Give yourself a sense of how viable it is and what you'll need to change to make it work with your life.
posted by metasarah at 3:23 PM on May 22, 2015

Hi, non-biker, former carfree person here. You are seriously going to have to reconfigure your life if you want to be carfree. You would need to either have a job that is closer to your home or closer to feasible public transportation--and super late busses don't count as feasible public transportation. And if you straight up vomit on busses, that's not doable. If you're not willing to move and can't get another job any time soon...and six miles? Yeah, walking is only going to be doable in nice weather AND if you want to spend 2 hours hiking in the heat with no shower at work.

Yeah, you can't do this unless you make some major changes.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:33 PM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

You've effectively ruled out any reasonable option that people would recommend here so I'm not sure what solutions you would find acceptable. By your criteria, it sounds like pretty much only NYC would work. Scooters or electric bikes seem like they could be alternatives, but it also seems like you'd find an excuse to not use those either if your Reasons for not biking include weather or feeling unsafe on a smaller vehicle.

In my experience of not owning a car in several cities, going "car-free" is more of a mental adjustment than anything. I bike/transit to work and a lot of people I work with are just completely baffled how I do it and are unable to understand how I could possibly be on time every day doing so (despite living in a city that DOES have pretty excellent transit/bike infrastructure). You would think that they would be somewhat aware of where the trains go even if they don't ride them, but nope, they cannot possibly imagine not driving if it's more than a few blocks walk. Driving is the solution to everything, and any sort of mixed-mode solution seems like magic to them.

You seem to stuck in the same box. 6 miles is not far. Most people who ask this question would benefit from moving to your situation: close to work, and walking distance to a grocery store.

I don't know what your Reasons are for not biking but I do that distance a few weeks a month as a commute without a second thought. Takes 20 minutes, one of the faster commutes in my major-city-awesome-transit region.

There is no One Solution that will replace you car, so if you are serious about ditching the vehicle you should start using all options available instead of complaining that no one is perfect.

PS: I have never lived in any city or town where people did not complain that the buses weren't on time. From NYC to SF and everywhere in between.
posted by bradbane at 3:59 PM on May 22, 2015

Response by poster: The reason I can't bike is an old knee injury...would an electric bike help with that? Even just doing the "bicycling" motion in the air sets my kneecap to popping. I'm very concerned with protecting my knees long term as I would like to remain very active into old age.
posted by whistle pig at 4:06 PM on May 22, 2015

Research whether your knee injury would actually be harmed by cycling.

I have arthritic knees and jogging 5 miles 3 times a week significantly improves my knee function and drastically reduces arthritis pain.

Most of the recent literature on knees highlight the importance of still using them as being a critical part of their long term health.
posted by srboisvert at 4:32 PM on May 22, 2015

If you're willing to spend ~$5,000, you could get a Segway. If you want the exercise, does the motion of an elliptical hurt your knee? These are options:

posted by AppleTurnover at 4:35 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wasn't going to reply to the question because it seemed like most of the viable solutions were thrown out from the get go.

But if this is your main reason, if I were in your shoes I would go see someone who specializes and exercise and recovery (ie, physical therapist). They can assess your injury, tell you truly what are and are not limitations (since popping could be the sounds of air with synovial fluid, which would be okay...buta health care professional should assess and evaluate), possibly suggest exercises to improve musculature strength of the area, and give you a plan. So if the PT gives an okay and a plan, then the biking solution would be great. Less driving, plus movement to improve mobility now and later in life, etc.

There are two solutions that have not been proposed, even though I think moving to be closer not to your job but other jobs would more feasible:

-Applying for a job at the supermarket nearby = no need for a car whatsoever, and meets economic needs


-Get a new job. But only accept jobs that have the same schedule as your partner to share in the commute, or that offer working from home a day or two a week.
posted by Wolfster at 4:36 PM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here's a random link from a search: http://www.kneeguru.co.uk/KNEEnotes/specialist-commentaries/dr-karen-hambly/2008/cycling-knee-rehabilitation

Just the other day I was talking to someone who knows even more about recumbent bicycles more than I do, and I believe he said that recumbents with the pedals lower to the ground or recumbents with a long wheel base may be better for people with knee problems. He does not have knee problems, but he does follow the recumbent forums, and they're ergonomically great for everything else! I don't know whether this would work for you, but it's a starting point if you decide to look into bikes.
posted by aniola at 5:29 PM on May 22, 2015

Electric bike vendors are usually pretty eager to have you go for a test ride. And they do offer pedal assist. So yes, I think this could also be worth looking into! Definitely. It's probably what I will do when my knees start going.
posted by aniola at 5:30 PM on May 22, 2015

Also make sure, if you try a bike out, that you're using super easy gears.
posted by aniola at 5:31 PM on May 22, 2015

Four miles is about a thirty minute jog, if you can get in shape. Maybe you could jog at least one way, and carpool/take the sporadic bus/walk/get picked up by your partner the other?
posted by easter queen at 5:32 PM on May 22, 2015

Oh, just saw your update. You probably don't want to jog on a bad knee...
posted by easter queen at 5:32 PM on May 22, 2015

IANAD, and I am inexperienced with those kinds of injuries, so I'm going to take you at your word on the bicycle impossibility.

I'm nthing a scooter or similar. (Caveat: I've never owned a scooter or had a driver's license of any kind; I'm working by analogy to cycling, here.)

I lived for nearly a decade in a combination of two very large cities, where it was trivial to not have a car (indeed, where a car would have been a major liability). Moving to a small city with shitty public transport (it seems to be punishment for people who can't afford cars more than an actual usable public service) made me instantly completely reliant on a bicycle. I was already a fairly experienced cyclist when I became completely reliant on one, but the combination of bicycle and a good rack + panniers very quickly revealed itself as basically magical.

Therefore, I think you should find a bicycle analogue, which makes a scooter seem like a good option. I guess that a scooter is at least as good as a bicycle in several respects (the relative disadvantages of scooter vs. bike are irrelevant to you since you're not going to bike).

If you've been paying to own a car, and replace it with a significantly cheaper option, you should not feel bad about the odd taxi ride, even when it is seemingly expensive. I use taxis when I need to e.g. travel 50 miles and don't have 3.5 hours (or a cycle-able road), or when I have to carry something too large to carry on my bike. For me, these situations are very rare, so I spend a couple hundred dollars per year on taxis; this + bicycle expenses compares extremely favorably to car ownership.

If your usual transportation needs are similar to mine (a short commute plus running errands, plus the odd more complex trip where an intercity bus or a taxi are necessary), then a scooter seems like an excellent option in lieu of a bicycle.

Weather is a much less big deal than you might expect; it's completely possible to cycle year-round in places that are cold and snowy in the winter; again, you can spend money on warm, waterproof clothing (good gloves and a good balaclava) that you're not spending on e.g. insuring yourself against the considerable damage you can inflict with a car. I'd guess (and guess only) a scooter does strictly better than a bicycle in slippery conditions, and a bicycle can do fine.

Others' stupidity and inattention becomes considerably more dangerous, I guess, but your own stupidity and inattention is much less part of the problem (for other people) with a much smaller vehicle. That's, to me, a worthy exchange, but wear your damn helmet without exception and be prudent, vigilant, and assertive. I'm generally a very preoccupied, absent-minded person; part of what I like about cycling is that the constant low-grade death anxiety of biking among the Mayhem Machines makes me engage with my surroundings in a way I never would on foot. On a scooter, the people in the cars probably won't react to you quite as inexplicably as they sometimes do to bicyclists, but I'd guess the situation is similar.

(Actually, get a handcycle. Those look awesome, particularly the ones where you row. You should become a person who rows on land for utilitarian reasons. How much more badass does it get? None. None more badass.)
posted by busted_crayons at 5:38 PM on May 22, 2015

Could your partner bike to his job, and let you have the car? That would get you down to a single vehicle at least. It might only be feasible if you move closer to his work, but maybe when you quit your job, you can try to get a new one that is more in that direction. I guess if your new job is in the same direction, though, then you could share a car.

Someone in another thread just put me on to this walkscore site, which is pretty cool for looking at the walkibility of neighbourhoods and multiple-commute problems. It's designed for finding a place to rent, but you can ignore that side of it, put in your commute destination and your partner's, and then fiddle with the bike/public transport/car buttons to see how the radius of where you can live changes (and how much overlap there is). You can also turn on the "walkability" heat map, which might help you figure out a more walkable neighbourhood to live in in general, or how feasible yours would be for other tasks like grocery shopping, etc.
posted by lollusc at 5:52 PM on May 22, 2015

Another thing to consider is combining walking and buses for a more pleasant experience than just plain buses. If your buses are irregular and badly spaced, connecting between two bus routes is horrible. In that case, take one of the buses, and walk the rest of the way. Should still be faster than walking the whole thing.

Or if there is a single bus for the whole route but it does some weird dog-leg that makes it inefficient, get off at that bit and walk from there (or even walk to the next sensible bus stop from there. There's a bit my bus does half way along my route that involves three sides of a square. I can get out when it's about to turn off the main road, and walk to the next main road stop, and get back on there. It isn't faster, but it's somehow less annoying, and I get a bit of exercise.)

Finally, if you are seriously considering buses, find out if there is a "real-time" bus app for your city. Mine has one and since I started using it, things have gotten much easier. Buses here seem to be anything up to 25 minutes either side of when they are scheduled, so I now ignore the official timetable, and just check the real-time app to see what is coming when. I base the times I leave the house and work on those times, so I don't spend ages waiting at bus stops. The only downside is that I can't know in the morning, for example, exactly what time I'll be home at night, because chances are, it will be up to 30 minutes different from what's on the timetable.
posted by lollusc at 5:59 PM on May 22, 2015

After seeing that you're open to scooters, I think you're a good candidate for one. I rode one for 10 years and moved onto a motorcycle in the past 5 years but I still have fun riding scooters. To this day I am carless, although I still supplement with a Zipcar membership and occasional public transport for when the weather is bad.

In most states scooters under 150cc don't require a motorcycle license. I would still recommend that you take a motorcycle safety foundation course nonetheless as it helps you to be aware of your surroundings and to control the bike.

Most non vintage scooters are easy to maintain and are fully automatic, a 150cc can go upwards of 60/70 mph and easily get 80+ mpg. Depending on the brand, you can acquire one for less than 5k. If you really don't care about speed and just need something to get around town, 50cc scooters will do you fine and go 35-45 mph.

Can you ride in the rain? Yes, but you'll want to have waterproof jackets, pants, boots and gloves. I would not ride in a snow storm or any chance of slippery or icy roads. You may also want to consider a scooter skirt if it gets cold in the winter time.

There are lots of brands available - reputable ones include piaggio, kymco, Stella, Aprilia.
posted by Karaage at 8:22 PM on May 22, 2015

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