Halving cars

When we recently moved towns we went from a two-car family to a one-car family. We barely noticed the difference.

Of course there was a time when no families had cars and so it now seems incredible that there are more cars in the United States than there are drivers. Countries like New Zealand and Australia aren’t too far behind that ratio either. Cars certainly offer speed, convenience and comfort but I suggest that many families can get those benefits with just one car and at the same time save themselves plenty of money and help the environment.

Cars offer speed

Cars will generally, but not always, get you to where you want to go faster but as the social commentator Ivan Illich pointed out the speed effect of a car can actually be counterproductive. Add up all the hours you spend to make the money to buy the car, pay for fuel, oil, tyres, cleaning/maintenance, repairs, insurance, registration, car parks and, if you are unlucky, accidents. Then add this to the time you actually spend in the car including traffic jams and driving in circles looking for car parks. Take this total and divide it by the number of kilometres you travel it is likely to be slower than biking and even walking in some cases.

You can spend a lot of time making the money to buy and maintain a car so that you can save time getting to the job where you spend a lot of time making the money to buy a car…and save time…

Cars offer convenience

Cars are convenient because they are door-to-door and they do not run to an often inconvenient schedule. They are particularly convenient if there is an emergency. We can take the idea of convenience too far though. For us the only inconvenience of having one car is if we want to be in two different places at the same time. This hasn’t happened yet mainly because we plan where we are going to be, and when, in advance. We also make use of buses, trains and taxis to get to meetings and appointments when the other one needs the use of the car.

Cars only offer convenience when, and if, we actually need them. The rest of the time they are literally useless and arguably an inconvenience. One car per family is almost always enough.

Cars offer comfort

No-one likes to get cold and wet and it’s true that cars protect us from the elements. You can also turn this around and say that cars deprive us of the elements (on a nice day) and also deprive us of fresh air and exercise which all people need for health and well-being.

Most days you can take public transport and travel in reasonable comfort. You also have time to read (or knit as I’ve seen one bloke doing!) or chat to friends and neighbours. On those stormy, wet or snowy days take your family’s one car to work.

This is the third part of a series of articles about trying to halve our stuff. To read the other articles follow these links:

Halving – Part One

Halving – Part Two