For the past 18 months I have survived without owning a car. Relax New Yorkers. I live in Miami, where owning a car is mandatory given our somewhat limited and generally awful mass transit options. For transparency I actually live on Miami Beach, which actually has a much higher walk score than most suburban areas of Miami.
For these past 18 months I have lived within a mile of my office, which has made walking to and from work a breeze. I also have a wife and 3 children, so I did have access to the family car if I was really in a bind.
I have enjoyed my time without a car. I actually have enjoyed it so much that I became blindly resistant to owning / leasing a new car, much to the chagrin of my loving wife. All good things must come to an end and I have recently taken full time possession of a vehicle. In this post I want to outline a few of the lessons learned over the course of my last 18 months without dedicated transportation.
1. Uber is awesome
Have you heard of Uber? No. Really? They are taking over the world and offer a truly amazing service. Here is how it works. You download the application for Android or iOs. Sign up for an account and connect payment methods. Then when you need a ride, you open the app, confirm your pickup location and your Uber driver shows up ready to escort you wherever you need to go.
Uber is extremely easy to use. It is one of those services that once you use it a few times you will have a hard time remembering how you used to live without it. Uber launched within the last year and the adoption has been amazing. When the service first launched it was customary to wait 5 to 10 minutes for a ride. Currently, you are not waiting 5 minutes even if you are in a remote suburban location.
Uber is not only for folks without cars. Are you going out to dinner this weekend? Are you going to have a few glasses of wine or a cocktail? Do you really want to risk getting behind the wheel after a few drinks? You shouldn’t.
With Uber you no longer have to try and find the number for a taxi company, then try calling a taxi company only to have to deal with an operator that refuses to give you an ETA for a cab. Open your app and request a ride, it is truly that simple.
Uber is great even if you do not plan on consuming alcohol. Are you going out to a spot that has limited parking, or even worse the only option is valet parking? No longer an issue. Depending on how far you live from where you are going your Uber round trip might be less expensive than the cost of valet.
Now, the next time you are with friends and some of them have opted to valet their cars you can play one of my favorite games. Uber vs valet. Let your friend hand their parking ticket to the valet and then open your Uber application and request a ride. Wait and see who gets in their ride first. Uber is currently undefeated. I am 161 – 0. Uber has even beaten a valet when my friends car was parked in front of the restaurant.
2. Car2Go / Zip Car / same day rental services are not awesome
Most of the media narrative on Uber focuses on how the service is destroying the taxi industry. I do not think that Uber will end taxi companies as we currently know them. I do think that Uber will end car sharing and same day rental car services like car2go and zipcar.
When I traded in my car 18 months ago I knew that I did not want to get into another car right away. My first instinct was to sign up for a car sharing service. I chose car2go. They have a large presence in the parking garage next to my office and there is no monthly charge or setup fee for joining their service.
If I did not have access to my wife’s car, I could just hop in a car2go and get wherever I needed to go. The service does work as advertised. When you signup you are sent a membership card that you use to access their cars. If you are heading to another one of their designated parking areas you can drop off the car and walk where you need to go.
The service struggles when you are heading to an area that is not a designated drop off area. In these situations you will pay for renting the car even though it is parked. I understand the economics and car2go has to charge you when you are actively renting the car even though it is parked. Uber beats the pants off of the service because of this. With Uber you are only paying for time that you spend travelling.
I tried to think of a situation where I would need car2go or zipcar instead of using an Uber instead. The supermarket? Nope, I can Uber. Travelling with a friend? Nope, I can Uber. I cannot fit my children into the tiny cars so it was not an option for transporting my children either. Even worse, I believe that on a mile by mile basis car2go is still more expensive than Uber. Sorry same day rental services, I am pretty sure you are going to go extinct.
3. Walking is a great way to get around
When was the last time you got out and walked? I am not talking about jogging. When is the last time that you used your legs as a method of transportation? In my case, it had been years. Before embarking upon my car-less sabbatical I hadn’t performed an errand without the use of an automobile in years, most likely since college. I am not going to get into how long ago that was…
I know that the 10,000 step a day movement is gaining steam, but I am not even talking about walking that much in a day. Taking a walk to pick up lunch or walking home at the end of the day is a great way to clear your head. It might seem cheesy, but everything really does slow down. Take a path you typically drive down. It is amazing how much more you notice when you walk the same path.
In my case, when I was walking home at the end of the day it was a great way to separate myself from what had just gone on during the day. Once I got home after a 20 minute walk I had processed my day and I was ready to jump into daddy mode. I am going to miss walking home.
Walking is not always great. Weather in Miami is fairly atrocious for walking. Taking a long walk in the morning during the months of May through September was a risky proposition. With all of the humidity, chances of making it into the office sweat free were practically 0.
There are ways to deal with this issue, such as having a change of clothes in the office, but who wants to wake up and shower only to get sweaty and then sit in your sweaty clothes all day. I preferred walking in the late afternoon to walking in the morning.
Even though I now have a car I am going to try walking when I can.
4. Family time adds up when restricting transportation options
I know that I was getting strange looks when my entire family would show up in the car to drop off my two oldest for school. My office was across the street from my kid’s school, my wife would drop me off after dropping off the kids. She would then continue on her day with my son who is not quite old enough for school yet.
I am sure that it was an odd site. Both mommy and daddy in the car dropping off the kids for school. Why would both parents be in the car if each parent has their own car? Efficiency be damned, we had a great time together on our short ride into school. I am talking about epic games of “I spy.”
Only having one car for the family also made us spend more time together. On the weekends we wouldn’t split up most times because that meant someone was left home without transportation. So we would either hang out at the house together or we would all go out together. As my kids get older I know they will each have their own schedules and activities, so it was great to really take advantage of this time to hang out together.
5. Time truly is money
Walking around everywhere was great. Walking is somewhat relaxing and allows time for contemplation. The problem with walking sometimes is that it is a bit slow. I live about a mile from my office. Walking home takes about 20 to 30 minutes. The same car ride is about 5 minutes long.
If I was only making one trip a day then the time savings are not that great. I can spare 25 minutes in a day. How about if I walk to and from work? Now the hour that I spent walking starts to seem a bit frivolous. I would most likely be better served using that time more productively.
My life without a car also affected my wife. If I had the car, then she did not have a car. My car-less crusade was massively affecting her productivity. You cannot jump in an Uber with a toddler. Not yet anyways…
6. You most likely don’t really need a car and a bunch of other stuff
I do not need a car. I have been able to prove that over the course of the past 18 months. A car is not a necessity in my life. Without the past 18 months I would not have been able to say that definitively. When you take something as vital to your everyday life as a car away it makes you start thinking about other “essentials” in your life that you might not need.
Do you really need HD tv in every room and 5000 channels? Probably not. I recently canceled cable service. I now get basic cable with HD for 1 TV and no DVR, which is paid for by my building. The TV in my bedroom does not have HD. This had made no change in my life. My wife misses the DVR, but with new services like Apple TV and Hulu, the DVR is no longer needed.
Going against convention was also great practice. When telling people that I didn’t have a car they looked at me like I was crazy. I get it, everyone has a car. But does everyone really need a car? Hopefully my 18 months sans vehicle conditioned me to challenge what most people believe are requirements.
7. The cost savings were meh / you need to pay attention
This past May I spent $269.45 on Uber, which is probably one of my higher months due to two airport rides in Uber XL’s. Even at almost $275 Uber was saving me money when compared to owning my own car. The total cost of ownership of my modest Accord was closer to $350 when including insurance and you can add another $100 or so in gas for the month. You can compare the difference between owning an car and using Uber here.
On average I was spending about $150 a month on Uber. My total cost of owning and operating my last car was about $450 a month. For 18 months I saved $5,400. That is a pretty good chunk of change. The problem is, where is it? I do not have an extra $5,400 saved.
While I wasn’t focused on saving money by not having a car I probably should have been. I believe that you naturally grow into either spending or saving certain amounts. When you are accustomed to paying rent of $2,000 per month and then you downsize to a place where you are paying $1,000 per month, if you aren’t careful you might just spend the extra $1,000 a month. It will not feel like you are spending extra money, but you will because you will naturally grow into doing so if you do not focus on saving the extra $1,000 per month.
So there are my lessons learned over 18 months without a car in sunny South Florida. While I do currently have a car, I can see myself without one again in the near future. I have lived life without car ownership and I do believe it is the future. Whether it is automated vehicles or an expanded product line from Uber. Imagine Uber minivan for families! I do not think we will each own our own cars in 20 years, or at least, I hope not.
I am looking forward to living without something that everyone around me feels is mandatory for the next 18 months. I just need to figure out what it is. Please leave your ideas in the comments.
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