I don’t own a car and I haven’t for five years. Financially it’s definitely cheaper to not own a vehicle, but for our family that’s not the sole reason why we car share – there are so many other benefits.
When we moved back to Australia with our young daughters after many years in Britain, my husband and I decided to hold off on buying a car. We thought we’d try car sharing for a year and see how it goes. Although there have been ups and downs, it’s become easier and easier over time.
At the time we first returned, I was working on a research project on new and more environmentally friendly ways to manage food, transport and energy, so I had a professional interest in trying out car sharing.
We started out with Goget, but later Car Next Door emerged, and I’ve always liked their peer-to-peer approach, because it means that you are using cars that are already in your suburb and would otherwise be sitting idle. Back then it was a little harder, as our two girls were in car seats and we had to hike up the hill with the car seats and kids to get to a car.
Now it’s so easy, there are so many more cars available on the platform. Where we live there are two share cars in front of our house, another one across the road, and three more within an easy walk. In the beginning there sometimes wasn’t any car available when you needed it, but it’s been years since that happened, so I don’t even need to plan ahead anymore to book a car.
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One of the cars that is literally ‘next door’ belongs to our neighbour. I think he joined because he felt conscious that he had two cars and if he joined, it would be easier for us to use his car. He’s a generous man, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable to always knock on the door and ask to borrow his car. If you’ve got an app and know you’re paying for it, it’s much easier.
Both my husband and I work full time – I walk the kids to school and then cycle to work. We can take a bus as a backup, but honestly the bike is so much easier.
Until very recently we would rent a car through Car Next Door one or two days a week, mainly for shopping or trips away on the weekend. Now we rent for an hour or two in the week as well, as the kids have more after school activities – my daughter is doing soccer and it’s too far to ride.
We’ll even take a car for four weeks in a row over Christmas – it’s great, as it gives you the opportunity to use different cars – maybe we’ll take one where the top goes down to check out the Christmas lights, and then a 4WD for a camping trip away.
Then there’s the huge cost savings by relinquishing the need to own a vehicle – we’re probably spending about $3-400 a month on renting a car when we need one (and that includes petrol). I forget how much it costs to own a car but my friends tell me I’m saving a lot. Apparently, RACQ estimates the cost of running a small car starts at nearly $6,000 a year, going all the way up to $12,500 for a bigger 4WD.
All up we’re spending between $3500 and $4000 a year by car sharing – and that includes petrol, insurance, maintenance, everything. That doesn’t include holidays when we take the car for much longer, but we just add that to the cost of the holiday, a bit like you’d add an airplane ticket when you go further afield. Compared to what you’ll spend owning your own car, I think the savings are pretty significant.
The biggest thing for us is that we just don’t miss owning a car and we feel that going without one is better for us. We walk more, particularly with the kids, and this encourages them to be active. The conversations we have when we walk are also much better.
Everything we do these days is with a sense of ‘busy-ness’ – when you’re in a car, that feeling is compounded by trying to find parking or stressing about traffic. I find it much better for my mental health, and my relationships with other people, not to be reliant on a car.
Not owning a car is part of our lives. I don’t think the kids notice it anymore. For a while our older one became excessively negative about cars, she had minor temper tantrums if we had to drive. I would explain why we were doing it and then she took it on board. Her friends initially asked if we were too poor to own a car and that led to interesting discussions about why you make the choices that you do. Now they just take it for granted that we don’t have a car.
I always thought we would go back to getting a car, now I’m not sure.