On having one car

For the past 8 years we’ve been trying hard to be a one car family.

This was both an environmental and an economic decision.

We figured you spend about 5k a year on a second car and that money is better put into other things if you are willing to sacrifice the convenience of a second car. Also, we’d generate less carbon emissions and use less of a non-renewable resource.

At times this has been a little challenging. When our first bub was young we lived in the country. My partner had to use the car to travel to work so I was quite isolated alone being a stay at home parent living in a rural area without a car. Thankfully we were not too far from town (town consisted of a pub, bakery, butcher and IGA) so I could walk a couple of kilometres to get some milk and have an outing, or I could walk to the local playgroup once a week. But I reckon if we had decided to settle permanently in the country, I would have folded and gotten a second car as the isolation would have been too much for me on a permanent basis.

So far, since we moved back to Sydney, we’ve been pretty successful in being a one car family. I think largely this is because I live close to my work (within 3km), and my partner is able to catch the train to his work (we live close to two railway stations).

My partner has wanted a second car for the convenience at times but I have strongly resited this. Partly because I feel if we get one and get used to the lifestyle it will be hard to go without one again. Recently though we acquired a second car (a van with personality) when my partner’s uncle died and he inherited it.

The van is both a blessing and a curse. It has made life far easier for my partner who can use it to drive to work on the few occasions that having a vehicle has meant the difference between a long commute via public transport from one side of Sydney to the other and a relatively quick trip home (albeit tackling Sydney traffic). But I often ponder about the ethics of having it – weighing up convenience and all those other issues like having a smaller environmental footprint etc. On the good side we are sharing the use and running of it with my mum so that two families get the convenience of having a second car at times.

Anyway, reflecting on the past 8 years I was thinking about what makes it possible to have one car, and what would make it possible to not have to have a car.

It seems to me as soon as you have a family you really need at least one car to get around in Sydney. Perhaps if you lived in the inner city you could get away with not having one, but in the ‘burbs it would be seriously tough having kids and not having a car.

I love catching the train, bus or ferry with my two boys and we do try to use public transport regularly. But, to visit my parents or my in-laws on the opposite side of Sydney takes about 2 hours by public transport. It’s just not something you can do on a regular basis.

So longer trips are harder to do without a car – but what about local trips?

One thing I have learnt is that bus routes in Sydney are crazy. My youngest son’s preschool is just off the same major road that our house is just off about 5km north away. I had thought that if I needed to I would be able to get a bus straight down this road and take him to preschool that way. No such bus exists. I would have to take two separate buses to get to preschool from our house and it would take about an hour to do the 5km trip with the two connections. Walking would be quicker.

Walking is not an option because I don’t have the luxury of an hour to spare each morning to do this as paid work calls in the few hours a day that the kids are at school and preschool.

This brings me to the ‘double drop off’. Dear old K Rudd promised to end the double drop off for parents: having to take kids to school in one spot and to child care in another spot. If our preschool was located in the same spot as my other son’s primary school I could walk both of them there. It makes so much social policy sense to locate services for kids, be they child care or health services in school grounds. Let’s see if the Gillard government will address this issue.

In the past year or so I’ve revived my old teenage bike and have been trying to ride my bike to work a bit. I live walking distance away from work, but riding makes the trip even quicker. Anyway, I’ve been contemplating buying a kids seat for my bike to ride my youngest to preschool, or one of those bike trailer things. I love the idea of this, especially because if I’m riding the kids around I can legally ride on the footpath and don’t have to risk sticking my kids in the thick of Sydney traffic. The only bit I’m not keen on is dealing with the 5km commute in the rain.

So I’m curious. Does anyone know anyone who has young kids and doesn’t own a car? How do they get on? Does anyone use a bike to regularly commute with their kids? How does that go? Do you seek alternate transport when it rains? Do families need to have a car as a back up for wet weather and visiting people that Sydney transport networks just make the commute ridiculously long?

How do we help make our cities less car reliant? What are your thoughts?

About greenleftyidealist

Green, left and idealistic. A mum, a runner, a rogainer, a public servant and wanna be writer. My dog is golden.
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5 Responses to On having one car

  1. Jason says:

    Great blog!

    I don’t know of any young family who do not own a car in Sydney. Actually – a new or extra bigger car normally becomes part of the purchases with a new baby, for practicality, something bigger to fit the pram, something with 4 doors etc etc.

    The only carless people I know are inner westies and young single folk, who socialise and work only in town. They can walk, ride a bike or use the public transport, and in a pinch pay for a taxi.

    • Yeah I don’t know of any carless families. It’s interesting to think about though what changes we would need to make to in society to potentially make this possible in the future. One time I’d like to do a bit of research on what family life was like pre cars being common. What was grocery shopping like? What were holidays like? What was visiting the family like? There might be some lessons there.

  2. Pingback: Walking to School | Greenleftyidealist

  3. Nadiah says:

    We own a car but I have no drivers license and I’m the primary caregiver to a 2.5 year old. I have a pretty decent bike and a Cougar Chariot that I use to take him around. They’re pricey but like you point out, nothing compared to the cost of a car. We also bus anywhere my legs can’t take me, but my range with him on the back is improving (about 25 km in a day with rest days in between). The Brisbane bus system is pretty good (I’ve heard Sydney’s pretty crap since privatisation) and he enjoys the bus.

    I lived in Prague for 2 years and a lot of the people there don’t own a car. Partly that’s historical, but I also put it down to the high density and amazing *amazing* tram and metro network. I think those are the keys to making a city less car reliant, particularly the latter. Just provide a decent, frequent, public transport service. And try not to sell it off once it’s built.

    • Hi Nadiah. Thanks for contributing your thoughts! I’m wondering if you use the chariot in wet weather? How’s it go if you do? Does it provide good rain protection? (pitty the adult peddler doesn’t get any protection though!). Some European countries like Prague would be amazing to live in to see just how a major city can be far less car reliant. Hopefully I’ll get there one day….

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