“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” ~ Oscar Wilde
The tl;dr version:
What started off as a bit of a “Keith is a minimalist” joke is now 6 months into a more serious and expanded trial in alternative transportation. So yeah, I’ve been carless now for that stretch. Not as in “won’t get in a car”, but rather, I just no longer own one. And while Austin is a major metropolitan area, let’s just say it ain’t London… or NYC for that matter. Buses are the extent of our “public transportation” and, unlike NYC, we’re not water-locked. In other words, like most Texas metro areas, this city just sprawls out forever and ever, amen. That said, you have to be pretty damn committed to the cause to make going carless work here. But even with all that, Austin is still much more amenable to going carless than most US cities. The weather is generally good (save for the blisteringly hot summers), and it’s one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation.
The bottom line? Ditchin’ the whip is for sure doable, but it ain’t easy. At least not at first. But like most things, if you’re dedicated to sticking it out, you’ll find the work-arounds that work for YOU. And if you can figure out a way to gamify the experience so that it becomes a step-by-step challenge, you’ll increase your odds of success.
Here’s how it played out for me.
Ditch the whip?
To me the notion always seemed like one of those things (like living completely off the grid), that sounded — at least to my pesky, left-brained, rational side — something that sounded really cool, but was probably a much better notion in theory than in actual practice.
The first step was actually getting around to ripping the athletic tape off of a hairy ankle, so to speak. As you likely already know, the human psyche will generally not embrace change until it’s faced with no other “choice” (see how that works?). It’s true, though: the mind abhors the unknown, even if the proposed change may very well potentiate a bright ever after. This is another story for another time, but suffice it to say here that this is a big reason why people stay in abusive relationships or lackluster job situations. Because the known is, well…known. It’s comfortable; there’s no guessing as to what to expect. And the new — although potentially magnificent! — represents the deep, dark, depths of the unknown. And that, to the human psyche, is more abhorrent than even a horrible given.
Which leads us to September, 2016: I’ve once again let my inspection and registration lapse. And my tires need to be replaced. I haven’t changed the oil in so long that the little window sticky reminder thing is faded beyond legibility.
Now, I get that those details are not rocket science to manage. And, in a former life, I did just that. Hell, I was the guy who changed his own oil and did all but the most extensive of his own wrenching. In fact, I actually really liked contorting my large frame into sharp angles and getting my fingernails dirty, figuring out how to make her hum. But that’s just something I had to trade when I became an entrepreneur; the cost-analyses of my every waking action came under scrutiny. Everything but what I excelled at or thoroughly enjoyed had to be delegated or eliminated. And the hobbies I did keep (lifting, for example) had to be well worth it. And for me, wrenching on a car just didn’t make the cut.
So there’s that. But the upside to that day in September of last year was that (at least, this time), I wasn’t reminded of a lapsed inspection and registration by one of Texas’ finest. Now, I get that they’re just doing their job, but let’s face it: lapsed inspection and registration are no more than the upsell of the traffic cop world. No, this time it was simply a “damn, dude!”, reminder from a friend. “Gonna see how long you can go without a ticket again, huh?”
For me, the pain-point had finally been reached that allowed my (twisted) psyche to accept ditching the crutch of having a car at my disposal. To make sure this wasn’t just an emotional outburst decision, I came up with a list of “whys” to support reasoning; my manifesto of things I am done with as they relate to vehicle ownership:
- Wasting precious time and money on state and local government licensing and fees. Goodbye DMV!
- Traffic; ugh…
- Wasting precious time and money on routine maintenance
- Being lulled into laziness; driving when I could just as easily bike, walk, or skateboard. And oftentimes at not much time differential.
- Insurance, gas stations, parking. And the pleasure of ponying-up for it all
- The nightmare of shopping for a car to begin with
- Did I mention traffic?
Look, I get it. Some people enjoy operating a finely tuned piece of high-horsepower machinery. The look, the feel and smell. The thrill of speed and power. But I don’t have that gene. Or at least it’s recessive. At any rate, it’s not enough of a plus to entice me to suffer the drawbacks.
So what we have here is classic pro and con decision making. The same process you’ll have to endure if you chose this route. And as the Egyptian Goddess Maat weighed hearts to determine their owner’s ability to enter the great beyond, my scale measured the cons of car ownership to greatly outweighed the benefits thereof.
To each his own here, of course. You’ll have to do your own benefit / cost analysis if you’re seriously considering the jump.
And over and above the mental, physical and philosophical aversions to car ownership, you’ll need to consider the financial side of making such a move.
But before we do that, we need to talk about necessary tools of the trade.
Tools of the trade
Everyone is unique, of course, in both their transportation needs, and in their tolerance of the physical and requirements involved in getting from point A to point B. Not to mention the inconvenience (i.e., pain-in-the-ass) factor.
Walking is, of course, the simplest of options. But walking is a bit… well, pedestrian. And while I do walk quite a bit, I also leverage the following:
- A fixed-speed bike… or three, haha 😉
- A skateboard
- A Car2Go account
- A RideAustin app. Uber, for Austinites. Wait… no Uber in the ATX? Yeah, it’s a long and sordid story…
Now, I already owned these things prior to kicking my car to the curb so, other than the Car2Go account, I didn’t incur any additional cost there. And remember, if you don’t already own such things you’ll also need a sturdy/waterproof backpack for toting stuff on a bike, appropriate clothing, etc. So there will likely be some additional conversion costs for you.
But yeah, for me the entry point was simply a $35/year Car2Go account. The cost of a tank of gas. Which, by the way, is another thing I don’t have to worry about. A two-fisted middle finger wave to you, Big Oil!
But hey: I’m still a busy entrepreneur, and I do have to get from point A to point B on the daily. And quickly, too. So how is that working out? Both practically, and financially?
First, the numbers.
Well, I wish I’d kept better track of the financial intangibles of car ownership prior to actually ditchin’ the whip. I mean, parking, car washes, oil changes and all the other asundry does add up fast. But I’m a simple right-brained person who just “feels” the rising resentment of all those added costs and hassles vs pointing to the spreadsheeted actuals. So there’s that. But what I do have hard records of is this:
Total payments for the car alone (a Nissan Rogue), over a 38 months lease:
$9k in total monthly payments
$400 disposition fee
That works out to a monthly nut of: $327 (which includes the down payment and disposition fees averaged out over the 38 months).
To that we add insurance. Another $60 / month.
General maintenance (and I’m lowballing this): close to $40/month, averaged out over the year.
Inspection and registration? Tack on another $100 / year.
And my fuel costs averaged about $50 / month.
A quick note on the DMV: this organization is no less than hell for someone of an entrepreneurial mindset. I should probably tack on an additional $1k in counseling for every DMV visit.
So the total monthly nut for the pleasure of owning and operating that very manly Nissan Rogue came to approximately $487 / month.
What. The. Fuck.
And this doesn’t account for parking, multiple traffic tickets, wasted time, and the assault on my normally very Zen mind.
On the flip side, let’s consider my car-free costs:
Total Car2Go expenses, September thru December, 2016:
$35 annual set up fee
$160 across 13 different trips. One of which was a trip requiring that I keep the car for over 20 hours. And there was a trip or three to the airport.
Quick note about the Car2Go airport service: this is a really cool one-way drop-off thing. Car2Go has designated parking spaces at one of the long term lots. Just drop the car off, hop on the tram and go. Upon return, just hop the tram back to the long term lot, grab a car and you’re on your way. Easy peasy, hassle freesy.
January thru the end of February, 2017: 9 trips totalling $81
So from September 2016 thru the end of February 2017, my vehicle transportation costs have totalled $276, or about $46 / month.
Now that’s more like it. And as I’ve argued (albeit unsuccessfully) with Meesus TTP, that should free up, if my math is right, $441 / month to spend on books and bikes.
I’m still working that angle…
Ahh, and an interesting aside: I haven’t had to rely on a ride-share option this entire time. This, to me, is probably the biggest surprise of the entire experiment. The rest of my personal travel? Walking, skateboard and mostly, fixed speed bike.
A day in the life
So the question remains: can a busy entrepreneur survive without owning a vehicle in America’s car-centric culture? And in so doing, will that action then inspire others to do something similar?
I’ll acknowledge at the onset that a life free of vehicle ownership is probably not for everyone. I am a unique individual (to say the least), and I don’t mind being physically inconvenienced. In fact, I embrace those instances of “inconvenience” as opportunities to solidify my fitness and embrace minor discomfort. Lack of the latter being something that gets us in serious problems as a species. It creeps in, like kudzu. And before you know it, you’ve “gone soft”.
So there’s that. But there’s also the fact that I can both call my schedule and be flexible in scheduling around my travel needs. Nasty weather out? No problem, I’ll just work from home Or, I’ll simply schedule meetings at my corner coffee shop, or at one of the gyms I own. Both of which happen to be within two blocks from where I live.
And the safety net: Michelle still has her car. So big trips to the store, extended travel, nights out and the like are still doable. It’s just that $487 a month wasn’t a justifiable added expense when I (and my quads) were willing and able to absorb the inconvenience.
And again, inconvenience is a major factor. At least initially, when you’re used to just having a car at your beck and call. There are times when I need to hop in a Car2Go, but the nearest available is over a mile away. Not a huge problem for me because I can just skateboard there in short order. But how many others would be comfortable with that? And the idea of bike + Car2Go would be bliss indeed, yet (and curiously?) the Austin Cars2Go aren’t equipped with bike racks. So that’s a drag.
The moral of the story though is this: the more you do a thing, the better you get at it. You learn the ins and outs, and begin to anticipate the hooks and jabs. And going carless is no different. If you’ve bought into the idea, you’ll adapt. The flip-side being that if you go in half-heartedly, you’ll crash. Much the same as in establishing a training routine, all the niggling minor pains and inconveniences in the beginning will simply wear you down if you’re not all-in.
I’ve found one of the major keys to sticking with it though is, not surprisingly, figuring out a way to gamify it. Which I think is a big reason why I haven’t had to rely (yet) on the no-car version of tapping out: hailing a ride share. I’ve “gamified” this scenario in my mind, and I’m just too competitive not to find a way otherwise. Hint to app developers: I’m giving you this one. You’re welcome.
And all the while, I’ve put in way more miles on the ol’ fixie in the last 6 months than I ever would have had I had a car sitting in the driveway. And that’s a good thing. Both for my health (including the mental side!), and for the environment.
And a final note: if you’re interested in ditching your whip and joining the Car2Go tribe, you can do so free (and get $10 worth of drive time credit!), just by using this code at sign up: JOINC2GAUS_asharpaxe. The caveat being that I don’t know how long that deal is good for. But I will say I’m a big fan of the Car2Go concept, and hope they spread to even more communities throughout the US.
Update: May 24th, 2017
So since this post went up, I’ve moved from central to south Austin. What does that mean for my daily commute? Lots more miles in the ol’ fixie saddle. To the tune of about 20 miles per day on average. And I’ve learned to navigate the bike-rack-ready, ATX bus system.
As always, you can follow what I’m up to in my daily workouts by cruising by the Theory to Practice Facebook page. See ya there!
Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world –