Is Car Free the new Care Free? (Maybe!)

I read an article yesterday about how Americans continue to confound the experts by consuming less gasoline than they expect us to.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but a big part of it is that we continue to drive fewer miles.  Things are changing right before our eyes and they’ve been changing for so long now that it’s no longer an aberration but rather the new normal.  This is very good news for those of us who prefer bicycles to get around town.


The big lie.  Once you drive it off the lot, car culture is neither beautiful nor glamorous.  

Thinking of buying a new car?  Here are a couple of things to consider before you do.

  • The average new car now costs over $33,000.
  • It begins to lose value as soon as you drive it off the lot.
  • You’ll use it 4% of the time and park it 96% of the time.
  • The average American spends $10,000/year to own and operate a single car.

Truth be told, cars are a money sink that keep a lot of people in poverty.  We have neighbors that have three, four and five cars.  Five cars is $50,000 per year.  Yikes!

Earlier this year my wife and I went from two cars down to one.  It works fine for us for several reasons.  One, I telecommute.  Two, we made a conscious decision to re-order our lives.  We left suburbia and moved to a compact community served by a really good transit system.  I pretty much bicycle everywhere I need to go locally and if I have to go further afield, well, I have the train for that.

Going to one car saved us $10,000 last year.  We don’t miss the extra maintenance or the extra insurance bill or all the other extras that add up over time.  We are way ahead, even with the two bicycles and one electric cargo bike we bought.

But soon it will be time to replace the one remaining car.   We have put that $33,000 decision off for awhile now.   We’re in no rush.  As time goes by, it is becoming increasingly likely that we might not ever have to make it.  Car sharing is the reason why.  We need time to get comfortable with the idea of being car free.  Car ownership is such a central part of American life.

But it just doesn’t make sense for us to shell out $33,000 for a piece of machinery (and that’s all a car really is in spite of how they market them)  that’s going to sit idle for 96% of each and every day.   I’m not sure it ever did, but especially not now.  There are economically viable alternatives.  Remember that $10,000 number?   Well, I did the math.  We take 728 one way trips by car each and every year.  That works out to $13.73 for each one way or $27.46 for a round trip.  Uber or Lyft are far cheaper than that where we live.   That’s right now…today.  As time goes on we’ll have even more choices and they will be cheaper still.

It gets better.  We make some of those 728 trips because we don’t think about the true cost of driving a car.  The $33,000 is sunk so what difference does it make?   If we didn’t have a car, we’d think of travel as a per trip expenditure and that would cause us to view each trip as its own economic decision (which it actually is).  We’d make even more of those trips by bicycle.  Because you can only fit so much on a bicycle, we might choose to buy fewer things, putting even more money in our pockets.  When we have to buy something big or lots of it, we’d take advantage of free delivery offered by most vendors these days.  The Amazon drone makes grocery shopping obsolete.   My wife would like that.  After a short period of adjustment, I suspect we’d be just fine…and thousands of dollars ahead.

I think more of us are doing this mental math and it’s really good news for active transportation and cycling.  It means fewer cars on the road and that makes it easier and safer to cycle.  It also means that lots of space previously used to park cars will now be available for other things.   There are going to be a lot of garage cabanas in a few years.  It helps our communities, too.  It means a higher quality of life.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Bicycles make everything they touch better.  I can’t think of one other product or machine that makes me better and makes my community better at the same time.  My bicycle does that, and that’s why I continue to do this.  Happy trails!



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