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Home >> Blog >> What It's Like to Live Car Free for Five Years

What It's Like to Live Car Free for Five Years

Jonathan Bollhoefer
Jonathan Bollhoefer May 26, 2016 0 Comments Jonathan Bollhoefer is a Business Development Manager at Arlington Transportation Partners and has been living car-free since 2011. He often rides his bike 4 miles to work but also utilizes various buses and the Metro.
ATP TAKEAWAY: Living without a car can be a great experience as long as you use great apps and various transportation options to help you get around.

Before moving to the DC Metro Region nearly five years ago, I spent a large portion of my life living throughout Florida. Owning a car is a necessity in pretty much every city if you want to be able to do anything. The absolute requirement for a car was one of the main reasons I decided to move to Arlington in 2011.

I know it sounds like a radical idea but living without a car is honestly not that hard. In fact, I think owning a car sounds hard, now that I’ve not had one for so long. Also, with the surge of transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber/Lyft, carsharing companies such as Zipcar/car2go and a sprawling public transportation system, there are fewer and fewer reasons to own a car. The bottom line is it’s all about knowing your options. If you make it to the bottom of this blog post, you will even get to see me compare my Zipcar costs (yes, my annual statement!) to the cost of owning a car.

It’s all about (not) parking

Not worrying about where to park your car is one of the most liberating feelings you will ever experience. The stress of circling a lot for the final spot or dropping hundreds of dollars a month for a space in your apartment building vanish in an instant. You also never have to find a meter and go sprinting to your car when the parking enforcer seems to be edging ever closer to your vehicle as its time is about to expire. Here's what I’m saying. Not having a car means you don’t have to park it. That alone should get you at least a little bit interested in going car free.

Groceries. Everyone seems to always ask how I get my groceries.

This one is easy. I drove to get my groceries the entire time I lived in Florida, and at times I lived less than half a mile from a grocery store. It’s all about how you perceive things and learn to change your behavior. Now that I'm living without a car, I get groceries many different ways depending on how I feel on a given day, and I use a few useful tips.

  • Shop for less, more often. Go to the grocery store several times a week so you don’t have to carry as much
  • Ride your bike and attach a basket so you can carry a bag or two, you can also use a backpack to increase capacity
  • Rent a Zipcar for 1-2 hours for the really big hauls, this will run you anywhere from $10-25
  • Walk/Capital Bikeshare to your nearest grocery store and use Uber, Lyft or car2go to return home when you have all your heavy bags in your hands
  • Use a grocery store service like Peapod to have your groceries delivered to your house for a very small fee (seriously, $10 or less depending on how much you purchase)

Car Free, Arlington, Transportation alternativesHow do you take weekend trips?

I almost always use Zipcar for weekend trips that will take me a bit outside the city. It’s convenient, easy to use and affordable. For longer trips I usually rent a car from one of the major agencies.

What if you need to get somewhere in a hurry?

The beauty of your smartphone is its ability to have someone outside your door within 5 minutes to jet you to a destination of your choosing. I generally use Capital Bikeshare to get around the city on a whim, but during those times when I need extra speed I can easily have someone take me there for little cost. The best part? You don’t have to find a parking spot when you arrive at your destination.

Doesn’t all of the renting add up?

Not necessarily. Most people who own cars are paying for it at least three different ways: car payment, car insurance and gas. That doesn’t even include the cost of unforeseen problems, general required maintenance such as oil changes and tolls. The beauty of using the options outlined above is you only use them when you need them, so you aren’t paying for a car sitting in a parking spot 90% of its life.

Zipcar vs parking costs

To prove my point, I’ve even put together all of my Zipcar trips for the past year to compare to just the cost of parking in my current apartment building, $175 per month. I won’t even include the cost of owning the car, paying for insurance and gas and any other unknown costs.

Since May 2015, I have spent $419.71 on Zipcar rentals (ermahgerd that’s so high – so much money how could you even!). First, that $419.71 includes the $70 yearly membership fee. It also includes two separate overnight trips to cities more than 60 miles away. On the other hand, let’s take into account if I had spent $175 per month for parking alone – that’s a total of $2,100 just to have your car sit on a slab of concrete for at least 12 hours a day or more.

“But Zipcar isn’t the best choice for all the trips I make, so this doesn’t hold up!”

That’s true, I use Zipcar mostly for long weekend trips, one-off trips to the vet for my dog or hauling stuff that doesn’t fit on a bike or in a car2go. But, let’s continue with the parking comparison. Even after spending $419.71 on Zipcar rentals (average of $35/month) and if you opted out of the $175 parking fee, that still leaves you with $140 per month for other transportation costs. $140 a month you could be spending on your commute, getting groceries or even going out to eat more. And, let me reiterate, that’s only the cost of parking in the city. Imagine how much money you’d have in your pocket if you didn’t also have to pay your car insurance, gas and a monthly car payment.

More proof for your pudding: I have a colleague who sold her car last year and instantly saved $2,000 alone in insurance and tax fees.

The bottom line

Despite what you may read online about WMATA (even with upcoming SafeTrack maintenance) or any other form of transportation in our area, the fact is the DC region, Arlington especially, has well planned and useful transportation options that don’t exist in much of the United States. People, myself being one of them, move across the country just to take advantage of what is readily available for you to use. Take a few minutes and learn about some of your possible options and shoot us an email if you have any questions.

Photo Credit: Sam Kittner/Kittner.com

Tags: Bike, Bus, Capital Bikeshare, Carshare, How I Commute to Work, Metro, Walking, Arlington County, Behavior, Commute, SafeTrack, Transit

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