It’s a chilly day in February and about a year since we adopted a life without owning a car. This morning Little and Middle put on snowsuits, boots, ski mitts and balaclavas and went off to catch the schoolbus, chatting. The spouse and I walked together as far as the Rideau Canal (a bit over 2 km) and then I kissed him and walked home again. As we were walking, the teenager passed us, cycling on the winter bike, on his way to high school. Just another normal winter day.
Last week the wind chill was -28 and on Sunday 28 cm of snow fell here in Ottawa.It was this part of the year that most made us hesitate when we were considering giving up the car. It can be brutal.
But it turns out that it really is not difficult at all, and we love having no car.I am delighted every time I see the empty driveway and realize once again that oil changes have no power over me any longer.
Just because we have no car doesn’t mean we never drive. It’s just that driving is now for special occasions and there is a faintly festive air to it. We joined a car-sharing service about a year ago and if I need to do errands that take me far away or to places that are dangerous to bike to, I book a car and walk to the car-sharing station to pick it up. This is the first part of the new normal that makes me think of 1928; novels of that vintage are always having the manservant garaging the car, often in a rented space in a mewsnearby, and then getting it out again when the master wants the motor. Bunter did it for Lord Peter Wimsey, for example. The difference for us is the sad lack of servants in the slow lane.
The closest car-share station is about 1 km away, which initially I found a bit far to go to get a car. It’s about a fifteen minute walk. I got used to it quickly and now I love that there are two walks built into every car journey. The children are quite accustomed to the walk as well and recently Little remarked that we were lucky that the car was so close. Our nearest car is a Toyota Yaris; it’s a very nimble little car and reminds me of our late lamented Tercel. I can park in the tiniest space and the trunk space seems enormous, especially in comparison to a pair of panniers, my usual cargo solution. We booked an SUV for the trek out to the countryside before Christmas to cut down the tree. Now that was luxury, and the tree farm was gorgeous.
Friends and family sometimes offer us their cars when they go on holiday, to our mutual benefit. Their car gets driven occasionally, keeping the battery topped up in our vicious winters, and I am spared the chilly walk to the carshare.
For camping holidays and to visit family in Toronto we rent a car. The first time we rented we had our eyes opened by the incredible luxury of modern car design. USB plugs! Heated seats! Backup cameras! Back when we bought out last car in 2007, such things were not available, or at least not in the Mazda5. The best van for camping was a Chrysler Town and Country; we got three tents and associated junk into it without much effort. Note to self: the Ford Flex is a reverse Tardis. It looks huge on the outside and is a beast to park, and the interior has strangely little useable space. When we rent a vehicle, we enjoy the treat of the tons of room and millions of cupholders and return it with thanks at the end of the holiday.
The other solution that involves driving is to have things delivered, instead of us running errands in the car. Our pharmacy, in Old Ottawa East, makes deliveries. We get our vegetables from a local supplier and those too are delivered. This is an especial blessing in the winter when lettuce fetched on foot is liable to freeze. Online grocery-shopping in Ottawa is not that useful yet. It tends to be expensive and to offer foods that I never actually buy. Having food and medicine delivered seems delightfully old-fashioned and reminds me of accounts in novels, again, of the butcher’s boy coming on his bicycle or the milk float arriving early in the morning. Remember Father Christmas encountering the milkman in the Raymond Briggs book? Of course all these literary references to a less car-dependent time are grounded in actual fact.
A sort of delivery that in no way is reminiscent of 1928 is e-commerce. More and more I am liable to order things online. Instead of making the trek out to Westboro I can get Mountain Equipment Co-op to deliver for free if the order is over $50. I just save up the order until it’s that much. I try to buy local as much as possible, but sometimes that doesn’t work, as with the recent hanky purchase.
Now to the nitty-gritty. Even with all this renting and car-sharing, we spend less than we would if we owned a car. The total cost of car-share last year was $878.39. Gas is included in the per kilometre charge we pay. Insurance is covered by our credit card insurance. That was with me not skimping, getting a car whenever I thought I needed one, and frequent drives on orthodontist days out to Orleans (about a 40 km round trip). The amount spent on rental cars and gas last year was $1,382.25. All that driving occurred on vacation. Along with the car-share that means auto costs for 2016 were $2260.64. The amount spent on the car, car insurance and fuel in 2015 was $4136.06. That is a difference of $1875.42. This year I am more used to being car-free and aim to reduce my use of the car-share. Mercifully the orthodontist visits are over for now.
Of course, one of the reasons that had us giving up owning a car was that the Mazda 5 was starting to show its age. Expensive work on the suspension was looming. Buying a new car was just around the corner. If we had bought another Mazda 5 GT in January 2017, and we did like it as a car, that would have cost us about $28, 000. Another car loan — no thanks.
Often we feel like we are cheating and not really doing the genuine car-free thing since our access to a car when we need one is so easy. If we were really hard-core we would never drive anywhere. That’s not quite possible for us in Ottawa yet. More on that later….