How to Start Living Car Free
So you've decided to live a car-free lifestyle––from depending on a car for everything to living as much as possible without one!
You've hopefully already read or talked to others about what it might be like. Maybe you've watched a few videos. You've gone through a systematic decision-making process, comparing the pros and cons, to make sure such a lifestyle makes sense for you. Maybe you've tried it before and it hasn't worked, but you want to try again. What steps do you take to make it happen?
Based on my ten years of living without a car, here are the first steps that make the most sense to take:
- If you haven't already, list your activities during a typical month.
- List the possible transportation options in your area.
- Match transportation options to activities.
- Gather any information you'll need (like bus schedules or apps).
- Check for or purchase equipment you'll need.
- Test it out for a month.
- Decide what to do with your car.
Working this out may take a little time, but it's a practical approach, and will get you organized and on your way fairly quickly. If you think of it as an adventure, it can be fun, as well. Here are details and examples.
1. List Your Monthly Activities
Where do you go? When and how often? List the repetitive trips. Here is my list:
- To work across town every day
- Weekly food shopping to Traders Joe's or Target downtown, and Armen Market up at the corner
- Weekly laundry at the laundromat next to Armen Market
- To church across town every Sunday
- To choir practice downtown every Wednesday night
- Coffee shops and restaurants, but those are everywhere
- Monthly to the movies downtown
I go other places too, but those trips are more sporadic. I could rent a car or carpool with others if a bus doesn't go there. What I'm most concerned with is keeping my daily lifestyle—or how to modify it—if I can't get to one of the locations above.
For example, there are three Trader Joe's around here. My friend, who lives in the house in front of me, goes to the one east of here. I could ride with her if I needed to. One TJ store is downtown within walking distance of Target, easily accessible by bus. The other is a little further downtown, near where I used to live, and close by a Whole Foods where I also shop (also easily accessible by bus).
If I want to go to Los Angeles, I take the bus to the Metro Gold Line a few miles down the street. Same thing if I want to go to the airport, but those are occasional, non-repetitive trips that I can work out when the time comes. For the main activities listed above, how will I get to them?
2. List Your Transportation Options
To start out with, you'll need to know what transportation options are available in your area. Here are the choices most readily available in the Los Angeles area:
- Public bus
- Metro train
- Renting a car
- Taxi, Lyft, Uber
Once you know your options, do a quick evaluation:
Let's see. All of the above are possible for me, except Zipcar. There's an outlet at CalTech, but not close enough for easy access. Taxis I'll take only in an emergency. I don't have a lock for my bicycle, nor do I have equipment for it, so I will set that up only if I need to. The rest are good options. Now which will I use to get to each location?
3. Match Activities with Mode of Transportation
This next step will be different for you, of course. I'm just showing my life as an example. Hopefully, you're doing this exercise along with me, so feel free to use a semblance of the chart below.
Here's how I could get to each activity:
- Work––The 264 bus that stops right at the corner goes across town and about a 1/4 mile from my workplace. I can walk the rest of the way.
- Food shopping––I'll walk to Armen Market at the corner. It only takes 15 minutes. Kitty corner from that is a coffee shop/bakery, so I can pick up a cup and walk to the 686 bus stop across the street. That will take me downtown to my other shopping locations.
- Laundry––Easy to walk to. I'll put my laundry in a duffel bag to carry, and my soap and reading material in my backpack.
- Church––The 264 bus goes right by my church.
- Choir practice––The 686 goes past the church where we practice downtown (it's a community choir) and I can get a ride back, if the bus has stopped running by the time practice ends.
- Coffee shops and restaurants––Walking, bicycling, or riding the 686.
- Movies––The 686 goes down the main street of Pasadena, so I can take it to movies, plays, restaurants, and shopping for non-food items.
If your city offers public transit, do a search on the Internet to see if they have an app you can use––like a trip planner. That's the best place to find out which bus routes are close to you. I've included a link to the one for Los Angeles in the public transportation section below, so you can see what I'm talking about.
Transportation Method Chart
Bank & food shopping
Preparations for Walking Around
Now it's time to check for items you'll need on hand to make non-car transportation easy. We'll start with walking.
Nearly everyone will be walking to some locations, at least. For that you'll need comfortable walking shoes and something in which to carry stuff––like a book bag, giant purse, or even a light backpack. Depending on the weather in your area, you'll also want an umbrella, shade hat, or sunglasses. If you go to a laundromat, you'll need a duffel bag to carry your clothes.
If your situation is such that you can walk to the store for food, or walk and then bus to the store, you'll need a good backpack in which to carry your purchases. If you buy frozen foods, an insulated one is best. If all you'll be carrying is a laptop, books, or clothes, just get a book bag or knapsack with a big enough opening and you'll be fine.
Preparing for Everyday Bicycling
For bicycling you'll need a number of things, not the least of which is a bicycle in good condition. You can get different kinds of bicycles for different riding conditions. If you're primarily riding rough paths or roads, you'll want one that's sturdy with thick tires. If primarily street riding you can get regular tires. If going up and down hills a lot, you might want one with an electric motor attached. If racing you'll want one that's lightweight with thin tires. All of them should have a tire pump attached.
There are also cool bikes made to be folded up on a train. Buses in Los Angeles have racks in front where you place the bike, so you don't need foldable bikes to ride the bus.
Here are some other necessary items:
- Sturdy bike lock
- Helmet (required by law in many areas)
- Water bottle
- Handle baskets, bike rack, or other carrier (like a knapsack)
- Shoes or boots with treads to grip the pedals
- Straight-leg pants or elastic to clasp loose legs tight, so they don't get caught in the spokes
Preparing to Ride Public Transit
I ride public transit all over the place––mostly buses, but also trains when I go to downtown Los Angeles or Simi Valley to visit my sister. It's not easy at times. I have to watch my timing carefully, since they don't coordinate very well in my outlying area.
Here is the equipment I use:
- Bus schedules for the lines I ride most often
- Smart phone to track the location of the next bus coming
- Knapsack, with a foldable bag in the front pocket for extra shopping
- Interesting book
- Shopping list, if I'm shopping
- Camera, if I'm tired of reading
- Comfortable shoes
- Depending on the weather, an extra sweater or shirt in my knapsack
- Extras, like chapstick, pocket kleenex, ID––basically, everything you'd carry in a purse
What I like most about carrying a knapsack is that it sits comfortably on my back, instead of slipping off my shoulder all the time, like purses do, or having to hold it in my hand. It's not too obtrusive and I can carry more than is possible in most purses. For guys, of course, the knapsack substitutes for a purse.
How to Arrange for Carpooling
Carpooling, at its basic, is the same as calling up friends to ask for a ride. So the first thing you'll need to have is a friend––hopefully someone living close to you. A Starbucks card or gas card is a big help too, if you're willing to reciprocate (a good idea). If you're going a long distance, then a smart phone with a large screen helps you provide the driver with directions, if they don't already have GPS in their vehicle.
For transportation to work, you'll need to ask coworkers if any of them live near you, or live further out than you do. You can cover gas and coffee, if they're willing to give you a ride. Parking too, if there's a cost. You'll need to coordinate your working hours and maybe modify them, so your arrival and departure times are similar.
If you can't find anyone to carpool with and are willing to ride with strangers, you can register online on a carpool app. Here is the link to LA Metro's Rideshare.
Preparations for Renting a Car
I'm about to reserve a rental car, now, for my brother's wedding in a couple of weeks. I'll be picking up a couple of relatives at a couple of airports, then driving 200+ miles north to stay the weekend. I'm renting the car ahead of time, online, to make sure there's one available when I need it.
Normally I use a local rental car agency, but Enterprise allows for unlimited miles, whereas the local one only allows 100 miles a day. I've provided a link to Enterprise, so you can see what an online rental car app looks like. This is only for reserving a vehicle. To pick it up, you'll need to physically go down to the agency.
Here's what you'll need:
- Current driver's license
- Credit (not debit) card that is not maxed out
- Proof of vehicle insurance, unless you want to buy theirs
- Money for gas––you'll need to replace whatever gas you use
At the counter they'll ask to see the first three items, then get your ok to reserve money upfront on your credit card––usually $200 for short trips. Then they'll take you outside to an available car, walk around it noting any dents and scrapes, check the level of gas, and have you sign their form. Then you can take it home.
When you come back, you'll check in at the counter and tell them where you parked the car. They'll walk outside to make sure it's ok, that you refilled the gas, and see how many miles you used. Then you'll pay at the counter.
Conducting a Test Run
Now that you have an idea for how you'll get to your various activities during the month, and an idea for how these different transportation options work, and what you'll need in the way of equipment, now you can test it out.
Get your family together, if you have one, and let them know what you've found out. Show them what you've figured out would work best, at least for you. Get their input. Ask for a commitment from everyone to try it out for a month.
If anyone is balking, try testing with the alternative/s most familiar to you (and them) first. Everyone can commit to walking everywhere within 1/2 mile, for example. After two weeks, add another mode of transportation, and so on.
During the testing period, keep notes on how it works and how much money you spend. At end of the period you can all sit down and evaluate what happened, and look to see what could be improved. If it worked out fairly well, then it's time to figure out what to do with your car.
Which of these alternatives are you most familiar with already?
What to Do With Your Car
What to do with your car will depend on family plans for the next year or so. Some people get rid of their car right away––either selling it or giving it away to an outside family member or friend. Some have an untimely accident (or timely, depending on how you look at it) that totals the car, then decide to use the insurance money for something other than a replacement vehicle. Some decide to store the car for awhile, in case they need it later. If storage is your choice, be sure to watch the video below.
To encourage you further, let's look briefly at how you and your family will be helping the world by driving less often or not at all:
- Reducing the carbon, monoxide, and other toxins in the air from your exhaust.
- Clearing the roadways, so they're not so crowded.
- Removing your road rage from the public rage level.
- Encouraging city road construction that is more public friendly.
- Spreading goodwill to the public, if you chat with people on public transit.
- Brightening the day of your fellow carpoolers.
Most people think of the environment and their own pocketbook when they decide to live car free but, as you can see, there's a lot more benefit than just that. Hopefully this is enough information to get you started. Good luck, and feel free to share your experiences below.
Roads get wider and busier and less friendly to pedestrians. And all of the development is based around cars, like big sprawling shopping malls. Everything seems to be designed for the benefit of the automobile and not the benefit of the human being.— Bill Bryson, Travel Writer