Here’s the thing: Since moving to Seattle six years ago, I really didn’t drive that much. In fact, I can count on both hands the number of times I got behind the wheel.
So what, then, is the problem for a perpetual passenger like me to go carless? What would I lose?
Like many things in my life, the issue was more emotional than practical. I’ll explain in a minute. But first, why did I become such a sporadic driver in my new locale of Seattle? After all, it wasn’t always this way. A few different reasons:
- For the first time in my professional career as a copywriter, I was working full-time from home. No commute in nearly 25 years meant a huge drop in drive time.
- The car we relocated to the PNW with – a Mini Cooper – was a manual. Although I forced myself to learn how to drive a stick in the months before the move, I was never completely comfortable. I could get from Point A to Point B but I was constantly fearful of stalling the car – and that was on the flat terrain of South Florida. Navigating the hills and city traffic of Seattle scared me even more.
- Later, we traded our Mini for a VW Rabbit – an automatic. While the Rabbit was easier to manage than the Mini Cooper, I still didn’t drive it that much, either because we were doing more on foot or, if we did venture out, the hubby would drive. This was never something we had to negotiate, as I’m happy to ride. When it comes right down to it, Jon is a better driver (he doesn’t get rattled by crazy traffic and can find his way out of any traffic jam) and he truly enjoys driving more than I do. So the times I did drive in the past six years was to drop off or pick up Jon from the airport.
- We substituted our suburban, car-dependent lifestyle in South Florida for an urban, “most everything accessible by foot” lifestyle in Seattle. The need for a car shifted dramatically with the move to the city, as it does for most people who make this change. With an apartment close to everything great in downtown Seattle – from restaurants and bars to stadiums and scenic spots – we hit the sidewalks more than we hit the highway.
Add it all up and the decision to go carless was a total non-event for me, right? Not exactly. Even though I wasn’t the one putting the key in the ignition, the thought of losing that sense of spontaneity threw me. Having a car means you have more options to get up and go, I thought.
The messaging around car ownership – and all the seemingly life-altering benefits it provides — starts early. We’re surrounded by catchy automobile slogans that suggest a brighter, better life behind the wheel:
BMW promises “Sheer driving pleasure,” Honda gives us “The power of dreams,” Toyota tells us “Let’s go places” and Kia encourages us to “Make every mile count.”
Without wheels, would we turn into reclusive, non-dreaming, non-adventurous lumps? Probably not, but I still worried that we’d give up something when we sold our car. Jon, always the solution-oriented one, assured me we would not. So we talked it out and talked it out some more. A big part of that process was going through a list of the things we typically rely on a car for – and figuring out the alternatives. Want to run to Northgate Mall to shop the bigger retailers that aren’t in the city? Take a bus. Need to pick up more than a few items at the grocery store and don’t feel like schlepping an armload of bags? Use Car2Go. Need a roomier vehicle to pick up the table we ordered for the new apartment? Rent a Zipcar van or truck (not just compact cars anymore!) Craving some open space and the beautiful scenery of the rural Pacific Northwest? Rent a car for 24 hours from the Enterprise location downtown, which often has great weekend deals – as low as $9.99 per day. Down the list we went, until I felt assured that no scenario existed where we’d be scratching our heads and scrambling for transportation.
And then there was the reality check of how we were already living, for all intents and purposes, without a car. We didn’t have to dig too deep to recognize we were using the car less and less. Had we made the decision to go carless as soon as we put down roots in our new Seattle location, the adjustment would have been much harder. But our car was sitting idle in the parking garage 90% of the time. For the other 10%, didn’t it make more sense to bank the money we were spending on a car payment, insurance and parking – and take advantage of the alternatives?
Of course it did! The emotional side of me was satisfied. I was willing to turn in the keys and explore a life “without wheels.”