When my son Ezra was an infant, he was no fan of the car. Car rides, even short jaunts around town, invariably included crying and multiple comfort stops. But, at some point, my almost-three-year-old became a huge admirer of the automobile – perhaps right around the time we sold ours.
“Mama, we need a truck. A big, huge truck. We can drive it all over the streets,” he remarks as we walk past a neighbor’s pickup.
“Dada, we should buy a car at the store,” he insists as we cross the parking lot to the grocery store. “We need a car.”
On the rare occasions when we rent a car, Ezra is ecstatic. “I can’t drive the car yet,” he explains as he crawls into his car seat. “My feet don’t reach the gas pedals. I will drive it when I’m this tall.” He waves his hand a few feet over his head.
Sometimes I wonder if our car-free experiment, now in its eighth month, is cementing our son’s love for all things automobile. One day he’ll undoubtedly drive a monster truck and eschew gardens, clotheslines, and hand-washing dishes.
But if our experiment has made my son more enamored with cars, it has only reinforced my husband and my ambivalence about car ownership.
A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law flew in from New York and rented a car for the week. We loved seeing her, and having a car around was great in lots of ways. We ran all kinds of errands and visited both the coast and the forest. I was able to zip over to a nearby town to interview someone for an article. My husband and I marveled at the convenience and warmth of cruising across town while rain pounded down. We shot sympathetic glances at cyclists who passed by us dripping wet and dressed head-to-toe in rain gear.
Then midway through my mother-in-law’s visit, my husband and I biked across town to run an errand.
“I feel alive again,” my husband said as we pedaled down the path. I couldn’t help but agree. For all the convenience of the car, I had really missed walking and riding my bike.
Plus, as my husband mused, car ownership is expensive — not only because of the car’s price tag, $3.80 a gallon gas, and the inevitable maintenance. With the exception of the ocean and hiking trails (which I love and miss visiting more often), we noticed that the car tended to take us to places where the main activity is spending money – notably malls, box stores, and home improvement centers. We hadn’t visited these places in about eight months, and we hadn’t missed them.
Apparently my husband and I are not alone in our ambivalence about car ownership. Car sharing was all over the news last week, when Zipcar, a car-sharing service with 560,000 members in 14 cities, went public on Thursday and raised an impressive $174.3 million in its initial public offering. Peer-to-peer car share services, like RelayRides, which allow car owners to rent out their own vehicles, have also been getting a lot of press.
The Oregon House of Representatives just passed a car sharing bill with overwhelming support. If it passes in the senate, it will allow car owners to rent their cars to friends or neighbors through a car sharing service without fear of losing insurance policies or facing increased rates.
As our planned one-year car-free experiment nears an end, we go back and forth about whether to buy another vehicle. Oddly, my husband, who once drove the car almost exclusively to commute to work and shop for groceries, is the one who’s more convinced we can live without one. He’s adapted amazingly well to commuting about 12 miles a day on his bike, and he’s in the best shape of his life because of it.
I rarely drove the car when we owned one, preferring to walk and ride my bike, but I’m more torn about whether we should buy another one this summer. I don’t want a car loan, and I don’t miss the stress and worries involved with maintaining an older vehicle. On the other hand, in a few months, we’ll have a new baby, who won’t be able to ride in a bike trailer or bike seat for quite awhile. I’m a huge fan of walking, and Eugene has decent public transportation, but I know a car will make daily life with an infant and three-year-old easier, a seductive idea as I contemplate caring for two little ones.
Hopefully car sharing will become an option for more of us soon, making decisions like my family’s easier and providing extra income opportunities for those who invest in car ownership. In the meantime, at least we know how Ezra will vote when we have to decide whether to shop for another vehicle.
As my mother-in-law packed, Ezra cried and told her how much he was going to miss her. Then, as we lugged her bags out to the rental car to say our goodbyes, we realized he was also going to miss something else.
“Grandma, please don’t take the red car,” he cried. “Can’t you walk to New York?”
Interested in reading more about car-free living? Check out these posts:
- Confessions From the Car-Free Life
- Lessons in Car-Free Living
- Car-Free Delivery
- Car-Free With Four Kids!
- Plan a Car-Free Vacation
- A Snapshot of Car-Usage in America