…or does it?
You might remember that after we sold our house and became apartment dwellers almost two years ago, we also got rid of our 2000 Subaru Outback. And when people got wind of that, a few had conniption fits, which I believe had to be treated in the ER. The idea of an American without a car is anxiety-producing for a lot of people, especially for those in auto-centric locations. And now there is a new development that threatened to dash our idyllic car-free lifestyle all to Hell.
Mr. Grumby Got Promoted
When my boss selfishly retired last year, I went into his position, which in addition to the glamour and enormous pay increase*, requires me to travel to other hospitals within the state. Since the Grumbys have been car-free since 2015, this new job presented some logistical challenges. There were questions about how I would get around, and how long I could do it without a vehicle. “You’ll need a car! You’ll have one within a month!” And the truth is, I wondered myself. But after almost a year, I can report that navigating around the Portland area has been doable without burdening myself with the expense and headaches of car ownership.
My Work Travel Requirements
Main hospital: 3 miles from home. Usually bike, sometimes light rail plus 10 minute walk
Hospital 1: 30 miles round trip. Usually light rail plus 20 minute walk, or bus. 1-2 times per week
Hospital 2: 55 miles round trip (Zipcar)- 1-2 times per month
Hospital 3: 38 miles round trip (Zipcar or public transit)- 1-2 times per month
Hospitals 4-6: Infrequent, rental car, Zipcar. One site requires air travel.
Car Sharing Services
My ability to easily move about is due in part to the availability of car-sharing services in the Portland area. Zipcar is the one I use most often. Insurance and gas is included in the hourly rate, and I can reserve ahead of time with their app. It’s not economical if you need a car every day, but a few times a month is still far less expensive than owning. My company reimburses for mileage, so I break even for any usage related to work. Is it less convenient than jumping into my own shiny car? Yes, a little bit, but not proportional to the yuge money I save. I have a few issues with Zipcar’s customer service and policies, but overall, it’s an acceptable option.
In terms of simplicity and customer-friendliness, Car-2-Go is much better. They charge by the minute and you can drop the car off anywhere in the service area. You don’t need to return it to where your trip originated. Like Zipcar, insurance and gas is included. The other cool thing is Car-2-Go uses Smartcars, which are sweet little two-seaters. They’re under-powered and I would not want to drive in heavy freeway traffic, but for around town they are perfectly adequate.
Getaround is a peer-to-peer service. Anyone who owns a car can list it on the website and charge an hourly or weekly rate. I’ve used it and it is also a great option.
Work Travel Expense
My work-related car expense is $131.75 thus far in 2017. In 2016 I spent $265. Most of this is reimbursed and, even if I had to incur the costs without reimbursement, the $397 or so I have spent for work-related auto expenses is a fraction of what I would have spent if I owned a car.
Living in Portland has its challenges and frustrations, some of which I will go into in a later post, but the public transportation system and bicycle infrastructure system is stellar, especially compared with most cities in the US.
I live 3 miles from my main office, so riding my bike is the simplest way to get there for me, even in the rain and snow. Yes, there are a lot of legit reasons that make bicycling difficult or impossible; lack of infrastructure, physical impairments, etc. Portland, like a lot of other cities; (Minneapolis, Seattle, etc), are well suited for bike commuting. But just because your town isn’t on the “Best Cycling Cities” lists or whatever doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to benefit from this incredibly effective mode of transportation. My Grandpa “Bud” Koelling used to say, “mind over matter”. This just means, “stop your damn whining and figure it out”.
Light Rail and Bus
Mrs. Grumby uses the light rail to get to work. The great thing is that the station is about 80 feet from the door of our building, and it drops her off about 1/2 mile from her office. It’s a beautiful thing. As mentioned above, I ride my bike or take a 6 minute light rail ride (plus 10 minute walk) to my main office. People say we are “lucky” to live so close to public transportation and most people can’t take advantage like we can. But there’s no luck to it. We chose to live near transit, knowing that it would provide convenience and incredible financial benefits, along with occasional inconveniences, like delays, infrequent sketchy situations, weather, etc.
Biketown, sponsored by Nike, has been around since the summer of 2016, and has been very successful so far, Since Mrs G. and I both own sweet bikes, we haven’t had the need to use it so far. But it seems to be well-received for visitors and others who need a bike for a short trip.
If or when we end up in another town or city, or on a working kale farm some day, we will probably need a vehicle. But neither of us miss owning or driving in the least.*
*I do miss having a motorcycle, but as I will outline in my next post, there are very good options to get my motorized two-wheel fix.
Here are some questions that have been asked of us over the past two years.
I might have embellished them a little for hilarity.
Q: GASP! No Car? What about your image? Are you some kind of dirty commie?
A: Our image has suffered, true enough. We don’t have expensive status cars, but we have saved a sh*tload of extra money and don’t have to sit in traffic every day.
Side note: When you see someone someone in a fancy new SUV and say, “Wow, they drive a $50k SUV! They must have a lot of money!” Well, probably not. Most people in fancy, overpriced cars have less than $1000 in the bank, but have just enough cash flow to make their car and insurance payments. That was my situation PMG (pre-Mrs. Grumby).
Q: What are you going to do, WALK to get a Super Big Gulp and box of Twinkies??
A: Yes. Walking is free and provides health benefits. See Mrs. Grumby’s post You Are What You Drive. My brother, let’s call him Mitchell, walks to his local grocer several times a week and his calves are enormous. Freakishly. So in addition to enormous calves, you get to see and experience the neighborhood, and locate the best places to buy delicious Cheddar Goldfish and Coco Puffs.
Q: What if you want to go spelunking or mountain climbing? What are you gonna do then, Mr. Smartypants?
A: When we need a car, we rent. You can rent a car on sites like Carrentals.com or Hotwire.com for $15-$35 per day. Even at the outrageous price of $50 a day, which I don’t think we have ever spent, a two-week rental is $700. That’s a lot less than the average cost of car-ownership of $7800 per year. Owning a car just in case we want to go out of town is like buying a $60,000 F-350 Super Duty in case you have to move a couch some day.
And more questions …
Q: But haven’t you seen the commercials where the guy is driving a sports car really fast on a completely empty road and looks like he is having fun? You are missing out on that.
A: I am still looking for happy drivers and empty roads. Look around you on the freeway. No Zoom, Zoom, just tailgating, aggressive, unhappy people.
Q: I live in the suburbs and need a car for work and to go pick up some bubble gum and a Whopper. Are you criticizing my decisions?
A: No, I am criticizing that shirt you’re wearing. Oh, uh, er, but it looks good on you. Live where you want. And please don’t wear that shirt again. Gadzooks!
Q: I’m not taking public transit! The news lady says people on trains and buses are murdered by hoodlums all the time.
A: Stop watching news immediately and you will make yourself much happier, just as informed and no less safe. Driving is hands down the most dangerous thing people do on a regular basis. Public transit is not even close. You’re far more likely to be smashed in a car or eaten by an alligator than be harmed by hoodlums on the city bus.
- 32,885 fatalities on highways in 2010. 1 in 100 lifetime odds of dying. (Grumby Rant: Although they are called “accidents” few are. Black ice, debris on the road, mechanical failure are accidents. Most crashes are caused by aggressive driving, excessive speed, DUI, and texting. A more accurate description of most crashes would be negligence and being an a-hole. Accident implies an event completely beyond the driver’s control, which conveniently removes accountability.)
- Riding the bus is 170 times safer than driving or riding in a car. Odds of dying on public transit are infinitesimally small.
- 83,000 ski lift and gondola deaths every year. 1 in 1 odds**
**I cannot prove this particular statistic. Ski lifts might not be that dangerous, but they are damn terrifying.
What do you think?
Is going car-free impossible where you live? Is it possible but you are just too chicken? Am I full of crap?