Going Car-Free

I am lucky to live in one of the most picturesque cities in America: Alexandria, Virginia. From cobblestone streets, tree-lined avenues, hike-and-bike trails along the Potomac River, an historic waterfront district and colonial-era architecture, Alexandria is a quaint little city with a small town feel.

Recently, the city of Alexandria passed an Eco-City Environmental Charter, committing to make Alexandria a place where its citizens can live healthier lives while reducing their impact on the environment. Alexandria is already a “walkable” city, pedestrian-friendly and with nearly-excellent public transportation options. The Eco-City Charter delineates the city’s commitment to preserving green space, expanding hike-and-bike trails, and encouraging the use of public transportation in an effort to change the culture of the city from “cars first” to “people first.”

I had been thinking about giving up my car for a long time. My Mazda 626 was ten years old and required extensive maintenance every year just to keep it running. I live right on a main bus line, so getting to work every day would not be a problem. Still I hesitated. I was worried that without a car I would feel a real loss of freedom.

The final straw came when I took my car in for its annual inspection and received the shocking news that it would need at least $1,500 in repairs to pass. That was it. $1,500 would pay for round trip bus fare every day for two years! Let’s not even talk about the price of gas, rising then to outrageous levels. And when you consider insurance and taxes, it seemed like a no-brainer for my significant other and me to become a one-car family.

So I did it – I went car free! I was little anxious standing at the bus stop the first time. Would the bus actually come on schedule? (yes) Would I be late to work? (no) Would the bus driver be pleasant and helpful if I didn’t quite know where my destination stop was? (yes)

I survived my first day on the bus , feeling really good about my contribution to the environment. And when, a few weeks later, I really needed a car, there was Zipcar ready and waiting for me. If you don’t live in a city that has been Zipped yet (it’s only a matter of time before “Zipcar” becomes a verb, like Google became “googling” and “googled”) then let me fill you in. Zipcar is a car-share program, their tagline is: “wheels when you need ’em.” They have cars in all sizes and shapes, and parked in convenient locations like metro stations. And they’re reasonably-priced. Best yet, all gas included! You pay an annual membership fee (Alexandria reimburses your first year’s fee, check to see if your city does too) and that allows you the privilege of reserving a car anytime throughout the year.

So I’m pretty happy with my decision to go car-free. And I find that I’m not too anxious to get a new car after all. I’m afraid that with all the maintenance and responsibility that comes with owning a car, I would feel a real loss of freedom.

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