Jennifer, her husband and two kids live car free in Melbourne. Here’s what Jennifer had to say about the pros and cons of car sharing vs owning a car.
What were your motivations for not buying a car?
“We recently returned home to Melbourne after living in New York City for seven years, where we survived on subways, on foot and on bicycles, and picked up a rental car whenever we headed away for a vacation. On returning home in October last year, we borrowed a friend’s van while we got settled. This was great for picking up furniture and getting out to the Vic Market for the weekly food shop, and we thought we’d hang onto it for just a few months while we decided what car to buy. I had noticed a few more car share parking bays in our neighborhood, so that was on our radar – then a friend mentioned Car Next Door. What really appealed was the ‘collaborative consumption’ part of the ethos, in that we could have access to a car when we needed it, without adding another car to the mass of cars we currently see parked and driving around our city. We now live solely on CND (plus public transport, walking and bicycles).”
What have you found to be the biggest challenges of not owning a car?
“The supply of cars in the network is a challenge – in theory it would be great to be able to borrow a car that is just a few blocks away, but in reality the cars we use are usually about a kilometer away. I’ve turned this around and either ride my bike to a car (then leaved it chained up ready to take me home after I return the car), or use this as an excuse to take a nice morning jog to pick up the car. I then drive it home, pick up the family, and off we go! Anything CND can do to invite more cars into the network would be appreciated, though…”
Have your friends, neighbours or colleagues expressed an opinion on your car-free lifestyle? What do people think about it?
“Oh, YES! And they’re divided into two camps. Our lovely, like-minded friends express their immediate admiration, then wonder if they might put their car on the network (which I encourage if they live close to us!). Other people start up with the questions: “What about the insurance?” (covered). “What if you need a car to go to the hospital in the middle of the night?” (ever heard of taxis?). “Wait until you have teenagers – I predict you’ll cave in and buy a car…” (from a self-confessed petrol-head, admittedly). “I could never do that because I like to leave all my junk in my car.”"
What do you think are the biggest myths or misconceptions about owning a car in Australia?
“That it will be cheaper in the long-run. I think people forget about the huge outlay they made to buy the car up-front, but notice the relatively small outgoing costs of taxis and CND fees. You need to make a mental leap and visualise a jar on top of the fridge with a few hundred dollars in cash, that you can dip into any time you need to ‘splurge’ and get a CND or a cab. I am amazed at how attached people are to their cars! I think we’ve been able to make it work for us as a family because our kids have grown up without ever really having a sense of ‘our car’. They get used to packing a ‘car bag’ with their water bottle and a book, and mine has lip balm, sunglasses, and a little dustpan and broom for sweeping out the car before we return it, so it works!”
Who in your family has found it most difficult, and why?
“My husband and I both ride our bikes to work, and the girls walk to and from the local primary school. Our tween daughter objects the most, but when we drill down into it, she can’t really give us a reason to “just buy a car” that stacks up against the huge financial outlay. We’re also trying to keep them green-minded, so point out that ‘one car fewer’ on the planet is our aim.”
So far, how are the costs stacking up? What are you spending each month on transport?
“We’re tracking our costs, including the odd FlexiCar (for hauling home a double bed we got on eBay), occasional taxis and the cost of the car wash after we took a CND camping in the bush! The plan is to give CND a fair trial for a full year, then assess the cost vs overall ‘hassle’ compared to having our own car parked right outside our house. So far, public transportation + CND + the odd taxi is costing us around $250 a month.”
Which car share organisations do you use? What do you see as the main differences?
“We have a FlexiCar subscription as a back-up, for when we need a large van, or in case a car isn’t available and convenient on CND (which hasn’t happened yet), and so far have only used it once. I love that a CND trip is about half the price of what it would be with Flexi for the type of trips we take.”
How do you decide which mode of transport to use for each trip?
“If we can walk, ride or take public transport, we do (e.g. for school, work and light shopping trips). For the weekly Vic market run, we always get a CND with a boot. We have both sides of our extended family scattered all over Melbourne, so at least once a month we go to a family lunch or dinner and invariably need to take a few salads and our bathers, so that’s a CND no-brainer. Initially, whenever we’d get a spontaneous invitation somewhere that wasn’t easily accessible on public transport, my heart would sink as I realised we couldn’t just jump in a car that was sitting outside our house. However, I’ve since seen how easy it is to book a CND, and that there are plenty available RIGHT NOW, so I enjoy the opportunity to jump online and see what’s out there. In New York we got used to having a different rental car for every vacation, and enjoyed the challenge of working out a new dashboard layout, car stereo and heating/cooling system with each new trip. We’re still enjoying that challenge – and find it a fun puzzle rather than a hassle.”
What’s the best thing about not owning a car?
“Not having to think about it, repair it, renew the registration, wonder if someone might steal it…I also love not being stuck with a certain car size: with CND we can get a Mazda2 for a lunch trip, a Mazda6 for the weekly market run, and a station wagon when we go camping!”
Do you think other families could do what you’re doing? If not, why not?
“Yes, but only if they are not already attached to car ownership, or ready to take the plunge and detach!”
Why do you think Australians are still so attached to personal car ownership?
“Habit. They like to be surrounded by ‘their stuff’.”
What would be your top tips or advice for someone thinking of getting rid of their car (or choosing not to buy a car)?
“Take the plunge and give it a go!”