Going carless

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The road less travelled

The love of my life is the 1969 Toyota Corolla that I bought in high school and have driven ever since. For 16 years Putt-Putt has served me faithfully through life’s triumphs and disappointments. Finally, though, he needs a serious fix-up and we’re facing a sobering question.

Is It Time to Break Up?

Five years ago, I wouldn’t have considered becoming a member of Generation C—C for carless—who rely on public transit, pedal power, rides from friends or borrowed cars. But global warming can’t be denied, and Canada’s emissions are almost 33 percent above our Kyoto Protocol commitment.

Twenty million cars were registered in Canada in 2006, according to Statistics Canada. The average car emits more than 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year, plus hundreds of pounds of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, sulphur dioxide, and particulates combined.

Sad to say, Putt-Putt deserves his share of blame; he was made before rally cries for greener cars started. Environmentally speaking, there’s no doubt we should part ways. But can I honestly live without a car?

Surely it’s a case-by-case question—and the answer in my case is, well, er, maybe.

A Vroom of My Own?

My job is 10 minutes away from home by foot–very doable with good shoes. Or a bicycle. Thankfully, I live in a bike-friendly city; I could buy a decent one for a quarter of Putt-Putt’s next maintenance bill.

Plus, there’s always public transportation–about $130 a month for a pass–and the Co-operative Auto Network (cooperativeauto.net), a reasonably priced car-sharing program for those days when you just need a set of wheels.

Still, I have to confess–my brother-in-law’s shiny BMW rouses a strong case of car-envy. Okay, if not a Beemer, how about a new car with a “green” reputation?

“Car ownership will rob you of a secure retirement,” says Chris Balish in How to Live Well Without Owning a Car (Ten Speed Press, 2006).

Balish argues that people underestimate the true cost of vehicle ownership. He notes that, for example, a 2005 Ford Explorer XLS with a US purchase price of $22,132 would actually cost $44,177 after five years, adding in factors such as gas, insurance, monthly payment plus interest, depreciation, taxes, and fees (from edmunds.com).

The Canadian Automobile Association calculates that the average four-door sedan costs $8,600 annually (actual costs depend on kilometers driven).

Suddenly, my brother-in-law’s black Beemer isn’t such a sweet-looking ride.

What’s more, Balish says if you invested the $700 a month that the average person spends on car costs, you could retire pretty comfortably. At a reasonable 8 percent return, in 30 years the investment pot would be worth more than $1 million.

So, let’s tally: less time stuck in traffic jams versus getting more exercise, fighting global warming, and possibly retiring a millionaire. With that kind of money, I might even be able to buy Putt-Putt’s forgiveness.

Vancouver author Michelle Hancock wants a cherry-red granny bike with a shopping basket. Michellehancock.ca

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