Ditch the Car

Cars. They appear to be everywhere, and everyone seems to have one. It would seem a given that one needs a car. But does anyone really need a car?

Cars are transportation. They provide the ability to move about in poor weather conditions. They allow one to come and go as one pleases. One can travel great distances with a car. One doesn't have to wait for a bus or a train. One doesn't have to mix with other people on public transit. One can do grocery shopping, and not have to worry about how to carry all of the bags home. One can transport lumber or other home repair supplies. One can transport kiddies to and from school, to and from sports games, to and from friends' homes, etc.

Why walk when one can drive? Maybe after the closer errand is finished, one will want to go somewhere else, and then one is already in the car, so it's easy. Why cycle when one can drive? Cycling in the street is dangerous, and cycling on sidewalks in some areas is illegal. One can't carry as much when walking or cycling. And if the weather is poor, why would anyone want to be exposed to the elements? Why take the bus or the train when one can drive? One has to buy a ticket for a bus or a train, and then wait for the arrival, and then travel with other people, and then there isn't so much control over one's own schedule.

Honestly, I think an automobile is an amazing creation. I am fascinated how people came to develop such a machine. What I am questioning is how the car has become so unquestionably apart of most societies around the world; and I want to look at how cars really affect our lives. I would like to suggest that it is simply not necessary for everyone to own a car, and that if we shift our perspectives, we can see how leaving the "freedom" of a car behind, can greatly benefit ourselves and our communities.

I live in a port city, and I get to see the shipments of vehicles delivered, waiting at the harbour. There are car lots from different dealers, lining a good part of one long, busy road in town. Ford, GMC, Chrysler/Fiat, Volkswagen/Audi, Honda, Hyundai, Chevy, Dodge, Toyota, etc. New car dealers, with lots full, rows of brand new pick-up trucks and SUVs, shining and looming large. Then there are the used car dealerships along the same road, lots full of vehicles.

Can you imagine what goes into the process of making just one vehicle? What its parts are made of? How the materials are obtained? And then what type of facility must have been built in order to make these cars? How large it must be, and what land must have been bulldozed over to make space for it? Can you imagine how the materials are gotten? And then how those materials are transported to facilities where parts are made? How many people are involved in along the process of putting one car together, and how much of the earth's materials are harvested? What is the waste involved throughout the process? And then, once the car is put together, how does one get it from the factory to the lot to be sold?

Once the car is sold, it will need maintenance. It needs oil changes, sometimes repairs if something goes wrong, winter tires and summer tires, coolant, windshield washing fluid, RustCheck; not to mention the fuel that is necessary. It can't be left for too many days without running. And the battery may need replacing after some time. Apart from the car itself, one needs car insurance, a license plate, and registration. One needs a license to drive, and license renewals. That is a lot of cost, not only of money, but of time and effort. Just think about the time spent waiting in traffic. Everyone who has a car may have wanted that freedom to get where they wanted to go of their own free will, but now they have to contend with others who wanted the same.

Now one has a car. Now one has to take care of it. What does one do with the car if one wants to go on holiday, and has to leave the car behind? Does one pay to leave it at airport parking? Does one have a garage to store it in? If one is leaving for the length of the winter, does one know of someone who can run the car every so often during that time?

And if one hasn't paid for the car in full upfront, one has payments to make on it. Then the car may last for ten years, or fourteen years, or more if one is lucky. After that, one will need to look for a new car to replace the old one. Maybe one can play the game of getting a new car, keeping it for one year, and trading it in for another new car the following year.

But one still needs a car, you might say. It is just the way places are designed. I would say that, yes, many places have been designed to suit vehicles, but that can change. It doesn't have to be drastic change, either.

I would suggest that, especially in places with extreme weather patterns, public buses or other forms of public transport can be the main source of transportation. Roads could be used for buses, and for transport trucks delivering goods, as well as emergency vehicles. This would put a lot less stress on the roads. There would be fewer vehicles on the road, and road clearing during the winter would just include those bus routes (which would include the major transport roads). Without so much stress on the roads, fewer road work would have to be done to clear up after winters (filling in potholes and ruts). Neighborhoods could become more self-sufficient so people could work closer to home, and not have to travel so far. Work hours could more reasonable, so that no one has to work earlier than the first scheduled bus or train or tram. Ideally, public transport would be covered by taxes, because it would be a necessity for everyone living within the community.

This idea would mean rethinking the model of a city or town. It would have to be more self-sufficient. One would want the necessities of life to be within walking distance. This would provide jobs locally, and give a sense of security because all of the necessities are nearby. There would be green grocers instead of convenient stores selling pop and chips. And local farmers to supply the green grocers. If it's raining or snowing, one can still walk to get food. There would be local tradespeople, and a real necessity to make any business an economically-minded business. Whatever resources are taken from the immediate environment, must be replaced, to keep it all going. And whatever is made must be able to be recycled easily or decompose quickly to avoid major build-ups of trash.

Without so many personal vehicles, there wouldn't be so many car lots, and cars going to dumps, cars being produced, car accidents, and so on. I would also think that there would be a decrease in chronic back problems for many people, and a general increase in people's overall health due to simply not sitting so much. There could also be a decrease in the amount of junk purchased, including processed foods and cheap clothing. One would have to consider what is really worth carrying, and does one need it all today, or can one get something else tomorrow if its needed?

I realize that the suggestions I am making sound idealistic and out of reach, but they really aren't so far-fetched. And just take a moment to imagine what one's life would be like without a car. And really think about what benefit a car has provided to one's life: Has it improved life greatly? Has it brought joy and peace of mind?

Maybe it won't seem to make a difference if one person chooses not to buy a car. But trust me, it can make a bigger difference than one can imagine. Every choice a person makes becomes a part of who that person becomes. We all know of someone who cycles daily to work, or takes the bus, or walks. We can see the difference in that person. And we can see how much of a luxury driving is, and how many others it leaves in dark, lonely places. Just think of the elderly who can no longer drive, or perhaps never learned how to. Think about how spread out and isolating our communities have become. Think about children, who now have to be delivered and picked up from place to place, instead of having the chance to simply walk or cycle or take a bus. Think about people who are disabled and can't drive. When we design our places around personal cars, we forget everyone who can't own a car, for whatever reason, and we leave them in the dust. We feel independent, having a car, but behind that sense of independence is the fear of when one can no longer function well enough to be independent. What if one doesn't need a car to be independent?

Maybe we don't need something that can take us so far, yet with so many conditions on it, to be happy. Maybe we can ditch the car, and begin to reconfigure our lives.