5 months without wheels

Towards the end of last year I blogged about my plans to get rid of my car. As a car lover it was a had decision to make, but I thoroughly believe that if we are to treat climate change seriously then we need to be taking every action we can to help the environment. Taking one car off the road won’t change the world, but imagine what would happen if everyone who read this switched to public transport? Or all 20,000 people in my town? Or perhaps Leeds? Collective action requires lots of individual actions. So, on New Years day, I watched my dad drive my slightly dirty silver Skoda out of Bradford and out of my life. Five months have passed, and so now is probably a good time to think about how not having a car has effected me.

One of the main reasons that most people have a car is commuting – getting to and from work. Here not having a car hasn’t been a problem here, as when we moved house we specifically looked for places near to good commuter lines. It costs me just over £100 a month for my ticket to Leeds – which works out as fairly good value, as not only am I saving on diesel costs not having a car removes the need to pay insurance, tax, MOT, servicing, tyres, breakdown etc. It also doesn’t really take me any longer to get in – the few occasions that I drove to work before getting rid of my car I left at the same time I would take a train (about 8am) and got to work slightly later than I would have on the train and on foot. I’ve only got properly wet one day (weather forecasting means I can prepare the right clothing), and I’ve only been delayed twice – once for 25 minutes on the way home, and once about an hour and a half on the way in. However, the number of times that my colleagues have turned up 5 or 10 minutes late citing traffic as the cause easily amounts to more time wasted than my occasional train delays. I’m also feeling healthier, as I am walking for about an hour a day to and from the station. The days when I need to carry lots of stuff to work (Cake Mondays, when me and my girlfriend bake two cakes to sell for charity at work), or stuff back (from the ethical student run co-op on campus that buys lots of wholefoods in at cost price) I take an old hiking rucksack my dad gave me. Finally, I’d like to say just how enjoyable my journey to work is. Every day that I drove to work I arrived flustered, stressed, delayed, and the drive home was no better, and I’d arrive needing a long break before I could get work and commuting out of my hair. With the train, my journey in and out involves some fast walking and some 30 minutes reading on the train, a great way to relax and unwind from work. This emotional benefit to traveling by train is not to be underestimated.

The other use for cars – pleasure – has also not been much of a problem. Over the past 2 months we’ve had visits from family, trips to York, Saltaire, Bolton Abbey, Middleton, and plenty of ambles up on to the Moor. Where we need to travel a long distance we’ve taken the train somewhere, and despite the chill we’ve managed to squeeze in lots of local walks – either doing a circuit locally or heading somewhere with a station, catching a train back.

The one time when not having a car has been a tad frustrating is visiting my mother in Wetherby. Whilst we live on a great train line, there is no direct link to Wetherby, necessitating changing to a bus in Leeds. The change leaves 40 minutes in each direction, meaning it takes nigh on two hours in each direction, versus just over an hour on the car. We have considered hiring a car for a day, but as this would probably involve picking up and dropping off in Leeds it wouldn’t really save us time, just give us a bit more freedom when we get there. Whilst this extra time has been noticeable, it certainly isn’t enough to make us want to head back into a life of motoring.

So, overall, this has been a really positive change. I have my commute to myself, and I’m getting through books (and Pokemon games) at a wonderful rate. I get lots of exercise, and don’t suffer any of the stresses associated with driving. Sure, some things take more time, but the quality of that time is far improved. Not having a car has, I feel liberated me. As with so many things ethical in nature, as soon as you step back from social norms you can see the veil of normality as the illusion that they are.

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