When the text came – “Car Forup didn’t make it” – it wasn’t a shock. Our ageing Honda Civic had been threatening to die for half a decade and with every surprisingly passed MOT, our mechanic had smiled and muttered mysteriously “aye, well, its a Civic”. But not this time. Our reliable motor finally steered into the great car park in the sky last summer and wasn’t replaced.
It seems to be an expectation that when you have a child and/or you live outside a city you must be in need of a car but we found that wasn’t true for us, and this post reflects our first year of living carlessly..
Location, location location – part 1: do I *really* want it?
We live on a small town high street, with just a 5 minute walk between the train station, greengrocers and Co-op. The ‘weekly shop’ isn’t a thing for us, with most weekday meals planned and bought for in the few minutes between train, afterschool pick up and home. Not having a car means I can’t go to Tesco’s 12 miles away if our edge of town Asda doesn’t have ‘it’. If I want something not obtainable in our town it has to be worth ordering online or carrying from Edinburgh. On a good day this reduces our food waste, prevents us from buying things we don’t *really* need and insulates us from the ‘pester power’ emanating from our 6 year old. On a bad day it means I wander around the Co-op unable to think of a single thing to cook, having already used up all my brain power during the working day.
Location, location location – part 2: childhood freedom
It has been a revelation in recent years to find out how much parental time is dedicated to the transportation of children, not just to school but to afterschool activities – ballet, horse riding, Cubs, gymnastics, swimming, judo; an actual endless list if you have the resources. Thankfully both my husband and I subscribe to the can’t be arsed parenting theory and we’ve limited our son’s programme to two classes a week that we can walk or cycle to, preferring to encourage free play with friends.
He might be missing valuable horse riding experiences, but our High Street location enables our son to go to our closest shop and buy milk (or cabbages..) without crossing a road. Judging by the screams of delight from a gaggle of friends staying over recently, it’s not something many six-year-olds are able to do and is an adventure of its own. We are within easy cycling distance of school, the sports centre, swimming pool and community centre so I’m looking forward to years of not being an unpaid taxi service whilst our out-of-town friends continually ferry their offspring around.
Is your journey really necessary?
We have quite a lot of middle-class privilege going on in our household, with our four degrees and management jobs we decide what our schedules look like. We aren’t tied to desks at a particular time, although the flipside of this flexibility means that you’ll often find us both working at different tables in the evening or in different cities. What it also means is that we can work around the ‘rural’ train service from our part of the world, reaching Edinburgh about 45 minutes after school drop off, rather than joining the queue of cars on the Edinburgh Bypass each morning.
In theory I work from home, reducing unnecessary travel, but in practice this is usually ‘working from train’. Some mornings I stand at Edinburgh Waverley looking at the two tides of people struggling past each other to get on/off the Glasgow train and wonder if people are going to vital meetings, or just to sit at desks in another city.
The ‘Beast from the East‘ should have provided an opportunity for us to reflect on our need to travel, with the (then) Transport Minister asking almost everyone in Scotland individually if their journey was essential. The question really is ‘essential for who’? For your boss to keep an eye on you, or for you to carry out your work? I appreciate that many jobs need you be there – heart surgeons really need to show up, but for keyboard warriors like me the Beast had negligible impact on my productivity once our child was occupied and I stopped looking out of the window.
A real excuse for n + 1?
The cargo bike is widely recognised by civilised countries as the ‘second car’ for families, or simply a car-replacement for those wanting to drive anti-cycle lane campaigners out of their minds. However, my husband’s Danish genes must have gone off after so many years out of Denmark so instead of a Christiania or Nihola entering our lives, this thing turned up:
As its ‘challenging’ to use on hills, and has something fundamentally wrong with the breaking mechanism, it’s had limited use this year and has been mainly clogging up the shed.
Mobility as a service
Car Forup wasn’t an expensive car to run, with about £50 tax and insurance going out each month and no significant bills that we can remember. But he didn’t run very often, so as a sedentary extension to our storage capacity (he was mainly used by me to leave things in) he wasn’t providing good value.
We joined the local car club, Co-Wheels, for journeys that we really wanted to do by car but looking through our bank statements we’ve spent less than £90 on Co-Wheels over the last three or four months months. Our most expensive usage this year, at £50, was for a long weekend camping in the Lake District, mainly due to our child needing to bring this ridiculous creature:
A year on and we have no plans to replace Car Forup, which is just as well as I spent every penny we have on this beauty