Our car lite life
We have only ever owned zero to one cars. Mostly one. We will never own two cars. I doubt that we will ever go car free, but we hardly use our car now, even since our move back to Calgary almost seven years ago.
But how do we do it with two kids and a dog? More importantly, why do we choose to go car lite?
Benefits to being car lite
In a nutshell, the answer is three-fold: it is inexpensive, it is beneficial to our health and well-being (plus the environment), and it is often the simpler and more pleasant option.
We are all time poor and like to save money
We save a lot of money by commuting by bike or on foot. Personally, but likely also on a more global level with respect to health care costs saved.
On a personal level, we save heaps on parking. If my husband parked downtown every day, where he works, that would cost over $2400CAD per year (at $200/mth + tax).
Plus there is the increased insurance, gas, and wear and tear costs associated with driving to work. At 8.4 km roundtrip (not including distances travelled in a parkade or to a surface lot further from his place of employment), using the not-perfect-but-a-good-starting-point federal automobile allowance rate (2018) of $0.55CAD/km, assuming 215 work days/year (he works 9/10 days every two weeks, has a few weeks of holidays per year, and is likely sick a couple days), the car costs of his annual commute would be about $1000CAD/yr.
Yes, his commute could be a mere 8 minutes long without traffic (according to GoogleMaps) and immediate parking, but his bike commute only takes 20-30 minutes, even in slower snowy conditions which is really quite amazing, very pleasant, and multitasking at its best (commuting and exercising). Because my husband bikes to work, we save roughly $3000 per year (assuming that he has to do some routine repairs on his bike and takes the train or a Car2Go on occasion). And, instead of being sedentary in a car for 80+ minutes per week, he is riding his bike for almost 200 minutes. Yes, it takes 2 hours per week longer to cycle commute, but he would have to find over 3 hours in his week to match his current activity levels from biking if he were to drive every week.
Our eldest started full-time school this year. If I drove her back and forth every day*, plus took her to one activity per week (like swimming), that would be about 58.3 km by car per week. Assuming roughly 34 weeks of instruction and attendance per year, that is almost 2000 km per school year. At $0.55/km, that is over $1000 in driving costs per school year. That also works out to about 146 minutes per week of sitting in a car (based on GoogleMaps drive times) or sitting on my ass for over 82 hours per school year when I could be walking or cycling. Instead, I choose to mostly bike and some times walk which will have earned me over 150 hours of exercise this school year alone. Fine, that’s 68 extra hours per school year, but that’s like squeezing in two hours of extra exercise per week per school year. Easy-peasy. Easier than finding over four hours per week on top of the drive times to match my current movement levels from cycle commuting and walking only for school trips and one activity per week. I am a busy full time parent trying to start up a freelance writing career on the side; I can get a lot done with the extra time that I have created for myself while maintaining my health and well being through active transportation. Active transportation pays me 4 hours of time per week.
I hate reading numbers in paragraphs, maybe you do, too, so here is a table:
|Person||Commute by Car,|
|2018 Federal Automobile Allowance Rate|
|Difference in modal commute times per week
|My husband||8.4 km/day * 215 days|
= 1806 km/year
|1806 km * $0.55/km|
|$200/mth * 12 mths|
|$993.30 + $2400|
= $3393.3 less incidentals (eg. transit, bike repairs, car2go)
|18 mins * 4.5 days/week|
= 81 mins/week
|42 mins * 4.5 days/week|
= 189 mins/week
|Me and the girls||58.3 km/week * 34 weeks|
= 1982.2 km/school year
|1982.2 km * $0.55/km|
= $1090.21/school year
|$0||$1000/school year||146 mins/week||263 mins/week||117 mins|
|Totals||$3000 + $1000|
What is that millenial saying, YOLO? You Only Live Once. And it is so shockingly true.
Commuting by bike has been repeatedly shown to be a very positive choice and it is how I choose to spend my time because I like to ride my bike, but also because I am trying to respect my body because I will only live once. Being sedentary is so detrimental to my quality of life. It means I loathe running after my kids in the park. It means that it’s work to even go up stairs. It means that my mental state hangs in a cloud.
This year was pivotal for me in understanding this precarious balance that we hang in, between life and death. I have birthed two beautiful souls, lost potentially another; have grandparents that live well beyond their generation’s life expectancy (one is still alive and turns 99 shortly), yet know of people my own age fighting for their lives, including my own husband this past winter. Some of this we have control over, much we do not. Whatever it is, it motivates me to move and use my body before I lose it.
While I spent years of my youth training for high level competitive sport, nowadays I find peace primarily by cycling and walking. Movement does not make me invincible but it does positively impact my overall health and well being.
With respect to environmental health, our basic commuting routes save over 1 tonne of carbon dioxide emissions, too. I’d like to think that also helps our health as well as the planet’s, and my children’s future.
Community and simplicity
Being a full time parent can be a surprisingly lonely affair. Walking and biking negate that for me as many people are creatures of habit, so we run into neighbours on the pathways or see our favourite dog. I feel deeply gratified when older mums smile and cheer, “Oh, that’s just great! I wish that I could have done that with my kids!” Fact: These types of interactions do not happen in a car, nor in the parking lot.
Each year that I have further committed to active transportation with my kids has brought about a certain simplicity to our lives. We tend to not schedule our children, but they have heaps of time to play, usually outdoors. If we do schedule an activity, it is within walking or biking distance which is so much more pleasant because I get more exercise but also because the driving around that time of day is often a frenetic and harried affair, which I would much prefer to be far away from.
Riding our cargo bike may buy me time, physically-speaking with respect to exercise, but it also buys me time with our children. We are very privileged to have much of our functional commute routes to course up and down the Elbow River in the heart of Calgary. If we were driving up and down Elbow Drive I would not be able to pull over and look at the osprey, nor observe all of the colours of the tulips that are coming up in our neighbours’ yards this spring with my toddler, nor check in on the large brood of merganser ducklings we usually have in our river.
Cycling frees me. Even if I get on that bike begrudgingly, I never regret it. Maybe once or twice was a little ridiculous this past winter with the unusual amounts of snow that we had! But, really, never. And, yes, it is very good quality time with my children, but sometimes they are quiet, or I just have my preschooler and she has succumbed to the nap fairy so I just get to glide and ride, cruising along my route. I never find that joy when I am driving my car. Never.
How we got started
I did not have a car for most of my university days and could not afford transit, so I walked. Rain, sleet, hail, and snow. Lots of snow. It was in Montréal.
Thus began my foray into active transportation. The added benefit was that I was getting an hour and a half or so of exercise per day, no matter what. It felt good.
When I moved to Vancouver and started a professional degree, I lived too far from campus to walk so I ran some times, but mostly I tried to take the bus and failed: the bus passed me most mornings, full. Due to the nature of my degree, I could be kicked out of the program if I was late so I had to come up with Plan B: B for Bike.
When assigned my teaching practicum, it was on the other side of the city. Transit was tricky (but free), parking was free (but gas, etc. was not) and the drive was slow. My now husband was already riding in that direction for his job and I figured that I was going to busy, anticipating not having heaps of time for exercise before or after work, so I might as well start off my teaching career on the right foot and establish a healthy habit of cycle commuting. I shelled out for a rack for my road bike, waterproof jacket and pants, and waterproof panniers: I was determined to ride no matter what. I locked my bike in the school’s boiler room and changed in the art closet in my classroom.
It worked. They say it takes about 21 days to form a new habit. My practicum was much longer than that.
I kept on rolling when I got my first full-time job in education. It was pretty idyllic as I more or less rode along the harbour front all the way in to Stanley Park every day. I also had a supportive employer that provided free secure bike parking as well as active commuting facilities, including showers and a locker, plus a great community of cycle commuters, including most of my immediate coworkers and my boss, which came in handy the odd time I flatted on the way to work — he totally understood.
We moved across town and my commute changed and I had to start riding across the downtown core, but it was the year that Vancouver started adding cycle tracks, so it was pretty good.
We walked for groceries and biked for work. We only used our car to get out of town for hiking or skiing, or to take our dog to a great off leash park on the North Shore. We were officially car lite.
Then we added kids to the mix and learned about biking with babies and beyond.
Carefully choosing where to live and advocating for multimodal transportation in your neighbourhood make going car lite better and easier.
We found an older, affordable duplex in central SW Calgary and while it has its serious misgivings, its location is spectacular for walking and biking which outweighs most of our other issues. We are two blocks roll down to the Elbow River Pathway network which more-or-less connects to anywhere we want to go, it is an extremely functional system for us — our superhighway, really.
We are also close to one, kind of two, major bus routes and a five minute jaunt to a light rail train station.
These are the two main things that we considered when we bought our place back in 2011: proximity to green space and ease of cycling to work, at least for my husband. It has proven very valuable.
*know that I am a full-time parent so have based distances on roundtrips from home for normal days