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. They also agreed that it reduces congestion, helps the environment, and is cheap.
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, choosing to shuttle 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 in 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 time.
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.