Photo of 1998 Acura 1.6EL by James D. Schwartz / The Urban Country
Most readers on here probably aren’t aware that I own an automobile. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about it, but I’m certainly not ashamed of it.
I believe cars serve a useful purpose, but I also think North Americans need to drive a lot less than we do if we want to have great cities and leave the world better off for future generations.
Because my bicycle is my primary mode of transportation, my car mostly sits in the underground parking garage collecting dust. There are however three situations where having an automobile comes in handy for me. The first (and most common) is to transport myself to hockey games. In true Canadian stereotypical form, I play hockey most Friday nights in the fall and winter 35 kilometres from my home.
Bicycling to hockey games is certainly an option for a closer venue – I use my bike to get to my Wednesday morning games, where the arena is only 3 kilometres from my home – but the Friday night 35km commute is simply too far and unpleasant to ride.
The second situation is for large grocery runs. Although we do most of our groceries at local stores on foot or by bike, we do enjoy doing a larger grocery run once a month in the car to stock up on bulk items.
The third is to head out of the city on weekends to visit family, or to occasionally go camping in the summer. A car is typically the only option to get most places outside the city.
The decision to rid myself of my car came a few weeks before October 5th – the date that my auto insurance was slated to be renewed. I have owned my 1998 Acura 1.6EL since 2005, and this car has served me well. It’s very fuel efficient (almost as fuel efficient as most hybrid vehicles on the market today), requires very little maintenance, and with its manual transmission it’s enjoyable to drive.
Photo by James D. Schwartz / The Urban Country
The biggest factor in coming to this decision is the fact that there are plenty of options in the city these days for accessing an automobile when the need arises. Car-sharing is becoming increasingly popular in the city, and the two car sharing companies (US-based zipcar and Toronto-based Autoshare) are competing head-to-head.
After doing some research and comparing these services, I went with Autoshare. One of the main reasons for choosing Autoshare was the lower cost than zipcar for the small amount of usage that I would require. I also liked the local nature of the company rather than the international, US-based zipcar.
After crunching the numbers, I realized that the cost of using Autoshare for 4 hours a week year-round would cost me less than the insurance alone that I was paying for automobile ownership. And the cost of using Autoshare includes the gas, insurance, and maintenance. Assuming you follow Autoshare’s code of conduct when borrowing a car, there are no hidden costs.
Although Autoshare provides me a great option for getting to my hockey games on Friday nights, I do have other options I can employ – including car pooling with a teammate who lives down the street, or I could jump on the subway and carpool with a friend at the end of the subway line. I doubt I will need to use Autoshare for hockey more than once or twice a month.
Car sharing saved me last Thursday when I had a meeting in the north end of the city – about 20KM from my home. I had planned to bike the entire distance, but about 5KM into my ride I changed my mind due to the hard downpour I was encountering. So I called Autoshare and told them I needed a car for a couple hours. They had one ready for me only a few minutes from where I was and within 5 minutes I was inside an Autoshare car and en route to my meeting.
Booking one of Autoshare’s 200+ cars is simple to do online or over the phone. When you search for a car online, it tells you the makes and models that are available for your desired time slot as well as the distance from your home:
There is no human interaction when you pick up and return the car – you simply swipe your access card or use the lock box to retrieve the car keys, and off you go.
The upkeep of the cars is done mostly by members who fill up the gas tank or go through a car wash when required – keeping the receipts for reimbursement.
For periodic weekend trips outside the city, I will use a car rental service (not to be confused with car sharing). Car rentals aren’t as convenient, but are priced more affordably for longer trips, while car sharing is designed for short trips within the city.
As always, my bicycle will continue to get me around for 95% of my trips. But car sharing will make it convenient to live without an automobile for those trips that require leaving the city.
James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at email@example.com.
- Car Culture Bleeds Our Society (Aug 2010)
- Motorists Against Bicycle Infrastructure (Oct 2010)
- China’s Mega 100KM Traffic Jam (Aug 2010)
- Urban Motor Home (May 2009)
Car-shares are a good idea. I know of a few people who live in Toronto who and either bike, walk or take transit as their primary means of transportation and when they need a car they simply rent one.
I’ve personally never owned a car (don’t even have a license), my Dad gave up on the car about 6 years ago and we both do everything by bike now.
In those six years, only once did we need a vehicle. We were working on the roof and needed to bring shingles and other things roof related home. We just borrowed a van for an hour or so.
I do suppose playing hockey especially at a greater distance would be hard to bike, I guess that’s why I prefer Soccer, Football and Baseball (how un-Canadian of me, eh!?!) :p
I’ve never had any issues with grocery shopping, though I usually do a main shopping on Fridays (anything on sale), then throughout the week just stop by at the grocery store if I need something.
The last two boxing days I’ve gone to Future Shop at around 2 or 3 am. Two years ago I got a 22″ monitor and brought it home on the back of my bike, and last year I purchased a new computer (the one I’m currently using) and brought it home on the back of my bike (in the rain).
I suppose for myself, having never owned a car I’ve adapted to life sans car much easier as I really know no different.
I do wish and support greater (high speed) train service in Canada, or at the very least Ontario. That would make it easier for not only myself, but those who don’t want to drive to places like Toronto, Ottawa or even Windsor.
So will you be selling your car? I left mine in Manitoba when I moved out here because I calculated the costs when I was leaving. Even taking the TTC all year is cheaper than the insurance for a year. Never mind parking (I was working at Brookfild place for about a year. MORE THAN MY RENT!), gas, maintenance, cost on my health, stress. Although I can’t pick up girls or friends and give them rides anymore. …Need to meet more girls on bikes.
@Ryan, that’s great that you and your Dad have resisted the extreme pressure of our automobile-centric society in using your bicycles for transportation – especially in the Niagara region – a place where that pressure is much more prominent than bigger cities like Toronto.
@John – The car is listed on Craigslist right now, but I’m not in any rush to sell it for a discount. I had always planned on keeping it around and using it periodically for another 10+ years, but it’s not worth paying the insurance anymore given the other options at my disposal now.
I agree that being downtown without a car is much more convenient. It relieves the unnecessary stress of dealing with parking, signage, congestion, etc. If you’re looking to meet girls on your bicycle, there are plenty of like-minded people on Queen west and even a few on College street.
We gave our car away a few weeks after we moved to Toronto and are really glad we did. For short trips we’ll use Zipcar, for longer ones I’ll rent from one of the major rental car companies. But at this point I’ve only driven maybe 300 miles in the past year so it doesn’t make sense to own one.
Meanwhile, according to the CAA, the annual cost to drive a 2009 Grand Caravan 18,000 km is $8625. That’s a heck of a lot of car sharing, one hell of a nice bike, or more practically, the ability to live closer to downtown where the lack of a car is hardly noticeable
Did the same thing five years ago, and never looked back: probably helped that I started to notice I’d spent $1K less per month! I read somewhere that the average Canadian spends $9K for all automobile expenses. If you spend a generous $1200 on TTC, $500 on taxis, and $3000 on Autoshare (unlikely), you have spent half the money you would have.
Pretty convincing, and human nature being what it is, more convincing than other arguments also valid.
Things have really improved in St. Catharines over the past 3 years.
More bike lanes and more awareness of people on bikes.
Going at a nice leisurely pace, I can get from the north-end (where I live) to the Pen Centre (complete opposite end of the city) in no more than 30 minutes. Pretty much everything is less then a 30 minute bike ride from where I am.
Other cities in the region have a little ways to go.
Last year I went to Niagara Falls. The tourist area is fine to ride along. Roads are smooth & wide and in most areas you can ride on the pathway along the Niagara River.
Once you leave the tourist spots its pure hell. The roads are narrow and potholes every few feet. Also for some reason in these areas people pass quite close.
Earlier this year I rode out to Welland, which is better than NF though not as good as StC. Many neighbourhoods in Welland are connect by multi-use pathways.
Most roads are also wide enough and speed limits in some areas are 40km/h.
Getting to the new Walmart area on Woodlawn is hell though. Riding on the road is far too dangerous (my closest encounter to getting hit was on here), and the sidewalk just ends about 500 metres before you get to the Walmart.
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