Published: 17th JUNE 2013

My year without a car

Anna Hughes once cycled all the way around Britain, and as well as once working for Sustrans, she is a cycle trainer, speaker and writer on cycling. She is currently making the same journey around our island on a boat. But it was her year of living without a car that made us think she may have some expert advice to give us about the pros and cons.

Dad with daughter in bike seat and other child on own bike next to him

Is it possible to live without a car?

This is a question I often asked myself when working as a Sustrans Bike It officer, where I encouraged children to cycle to school instead of being driven.

The children were keen, but the adults took more convincing. Almost everyone I worked with, from teachers and parents to council employees, agreed that cycling was a great way of getting exercise, reducing congestion, helping the environment, and a cheap way of getting around, yet they still drove their car each day. It was a habit, almost impossible to break.

So I decided that I would not use a car for an entire year, simply to demonstrate that it was possible. That meant no lifts from friends, no taxis. I would blog about it and perhaps I would inspire someone to not use a car for a day, a week, a month, or for good. 

How did it affect my life?

Living in London, with a 24 hour transport system, most of the time it was easy. But there were certain challenges:

  • I cycled seven miles to a friend’s wedding, wearing my dress tucked into my leggings.
  • I refused a lift from a friend when I moved flat, instead shuttling my belongings the three miles to the next neighbourhood by bicycle and bus.
  • When I visited friends, I would ride my bike to the pub while they drove.

I cycled and took trains a whole lot more. I tried not to let it restrict the amount I travelled, so I would be more inventive about how I got around. I went on several holidays within the UK and Europe, using trains and boats. In the end I spent less money than if I had used my car. It made everyday journeys into adventures.

Inspiring others to go car-free

About six months into the challenge, I received an email, simply entitled ‘inspiration’. David said he used to be a ‘sunshine cyclist’, but reading my blog had inspired him to get out on his bike a lot more:
“Have now gone 9 days without using my own car. I have been in a car 3 times but at least I am car sharing so it doesn’t feel too bad. This feels great. I have driven a car for the past 24 years so this has been a massive step and buses are a bit scarce where I live.”

His email made me so proud — this was exactly why I took on the challenge in the first place.

Since finishing my year, I have been in a car a few times — cars certainly have their uses, especially in rural environments where public transport is limited or pricey. But I hope that my no-car year has shown that there are alternatives. I’m not anti-car, I’m just anti I-can’t-live-without-my-car.

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