Do I need a car?

Four years ago, my wife and I made the move from a suburban home to a downtown condo apartment. Daughter 1 of 2 had moved out, daughter #2 was on the cusp of moving out, wife soon to retire, it seemed like the appropriate moment to make the change of a lifetime. While it seems like we gave up a lot by giving up our very own home, we gained what we think of as considerably more in terms of being right downtown in the heart of "where it’s happenin’"!

In fact, being within walking distance from just about everything has reminded us on more than one occasion of whether or not we need a car. Where we were in the suburbs and when we were both working, we both had need of a car to get to work. Since moving downtown, I have stopped driving and now take the subway to get to work. That unto itself meant we no longer needed 2 cars and when daughter #1 bought a home in the suburbs and needed a car for work, my wife and I gave her our older second car. Pared down to 1 car, only my wife used it on a regular basis until she retired. Now, our only car remains as a convenience but admittedly, we don’t drive it at all that often.

As an aside, my giving up driving to work has proven to be a Godsend. Instead of spending whatever amount of time behind the wheel of a car, I now ride the subway and have all this time free for reading, studying and even writing using a laptop. I chuckle in thinking that when we first moved downtown, I wondered how I was going to survive having to take the subway to and from work, just a tad under 1 hour each way. Then I decided to sign up for a course at university and after a couple of weeks of class, I suddenly realized I could use my time on the subway for studying. That gave me almost 2 hours per day, 5 days per week to dedicate to my studies. Wow, what a great arrangement! Since that time, I no longer look at the time on the subway as a pain; I look on it as an essential part of my daily personal time. Plus, my marks at school are not suffering either. Ha!

Various automobile associations have made assessments as to the cost of owning a car. Generally, the annual cost has been pegged at around 8 to 10 thousand dollars. Such an amount takes into consideration gas, regular repairs and maintenance and finally insurance. In looking at such an amount of money, the question for us, for anybody who uses a car on an irregular basis, is how many taxis, how much public transit can anybody take for $8,000 a year? Quite a bit the experts say.

The idea of giving up a car altogether is not actually new to me. For years I have heard stories from acquaintances of people living in downtown metropolitan areas who did not own a car. They used public transit as much as possible and when this was not possible; they either took a cab or rented a car. That final option was an important key to consider to making the entire idea of giving up a car work: renting a car.

One acquaintance who was doing this back in the 90’s explained to me that he and his girlfriend went out of town 5 or 6 times a year and each time they rented a car for the weekend. Many times they got some sort of weekend deal so the overall cost of a car for the weekend was in no way astronomical but actually quite doable. Just doing a quick check, I see I could rent a car for an entire weekend for maybe $100. Add on the gas and I’d say I could rent a lot of cars for the $8,000 which represents the annual cost of owning a car.

Are we going to give up the car? I’d say that is inevitable. But for the moment, we are keeping our aging car as it is still in great shape but when the day comes that the old girl bites the dust, we are going to dispense with the personal car and use that money for something else.

Click HERE to read more columns by William Belle.

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