driving and environmentalism

Keeping It Real

So, I have something to tell you today.  Something I’m not entirely proud of, but after ten years of living car free we bought a car last month.  A teeny tiny, very fuel efficient second hand car if that makes it any better?  I suspect not, but let me tell you it wasn’t a decision we took lightly.  We’ve ummed and ahhed over the decision for maybe the past three years as life has increasingly necessitated the purchase.

A brief history about my driving.  I passed my test at the age of 17.  Growing up in a fairly rural area with limited public transport meant that it was the only way to get about without relying on my parents.  All my friends lived in different towns and it was difficult to get about.  Then I moved away to a large city to go to university and didn’t need to drive, so I only drove when I was home over the holidays.  When I stopped coming home for the summer holidays I stopped driving as I had no need to.  I then didn’t drive for 7 years, until I went to New Zealand to live/work/travel because I lived in a small town there that had no public transport.  Once I came home from New Zealand I stopped driving, and that was 10 years ago.

If we lived in Edinburgh, we wouldn’t need a car, as public transport is so good, regular and cheap there, and you can hire a car through the various pay per hour car schemes.  Sadly we can’t afford to live in Edinburgh as properties to buy and rent there are crazy expensive: our budget only affords us living a bit out of the city with no pay per hour car hire schemes nearby.  The bus service here isn’t the best and at times expensive.  It’s £16 return if my partner, my daughter and I need to travel to the next town for the dentist, or for the library or any other service we need to access, and will go up to £20 when my youngest turns 5.  It will be £30 return for us to travel to our nearest DIY store, only a few miles up the road in the other direction.  We have to go there frequently as we continue restoring our old house.  And there is only one bus an hour travelling to the nearest big town where the hospital is, and other essential services.

We have made do for as long as we can, and spent a long time deciding if any other alternative might work for us, but in the end we felt like society was against us with public transport prices and some places we want to go being inaccessible by public transport, and some places only being possible to get to with about four changes, that we felt the only solution was to buy a car.  With our parents (who don’t live close by and in places not particularly accessible by public transport)  not getting any younger, and now less able to drive long distances, we also want to be able to get to them at short notice without relying on them to come and pick us up.

So here we are. With a car.  And I wanted to be honest with you, rather than being disingenuous and hiding it from you.

I know some of you might be disappointed in me, and in truth I am disappointed in myself that we just couldn’t make it work, but we spent 10 years giving it our best shot.  We now have strict rules on the car – we don’t use it for commuting to work, we don’t use it for the school run (unless the weather is horrendous), and use it only when we need to.    I don’t actually like driving, so where we can, we drive to the nearest train station (which isn’t accessible by public transport annoyingly) and then use the train to complete the rest of our journey, which I feel helps lessen our impact a tiny bit, but I just wanted to keep it real with you, and let you know that our life isn’t by any means perfect.

Do you drive or do you have a car?  Do you feel guilt over driving?  Join my support group!

10 comments

  1. I love the honesty of your post. I live in a city and feel guilty at times about having a car – but like you say, having rules makes it much more palatable. We only use it when we need to, cycling to work and walking when we head into town. We also find the price of public transport very high compared to the cost of driving (is this unique to the UK?), but at the end of the day the clincher for having the car is the opportunities it affords us. To easily see friends and family without asking for lifts, to explore the beautiful areas near our home. I don’t want to give this up, so minimising local driving helps as does focusing on other changes we can make at home to reduce our footprint. Enjoy the opportunities your car affords, and remember how much of a positive contribution you are making in other areas.

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  2. No judgement here! We don’t have a car and know just how inconvenient it can be – it costs me £4 just to leave the neighbourhood and then the buses don’t go where I need them to; it takes Steve an hour to travel the five miles to work (and the same on the way home); we can’t go to the garden centre or DIY store or, ironically, the outdoor play schemes without scrounging a lift from somebody; and we can’t visit my mum (who lives an hour’s drive from the nearest train station; because carrying car seats plus luggage plus children on a train is no good) without borrowing Steve’s parents’ car. When we DO borrow their car, we spend the whole time cramming in as many car-related errands and out-of-town children’s activities as we can, to maximise having access to it. If we could afford a car (we definitely can’t; even Steve’s £60 per month bus pass – which we struggle to pay for – is cheaper than the £150 per month permit to park at his work), we would certainly be tempted. You’re doing what you can within your personal circumstances and I’m sure you’ve blogged before about the impossibility of being perfect!

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  3. I don’t believe in being perfect, in all or nothing, zero (waste). In life you do your best, and even if you can’t make it 100%, you don’t stop trying, and you don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re inspiring lots of people, and you still do.
    But I do think it’s a real shame that public transport system is such that even when you’re really really trying, it’s just not good enough. It’s such a missed opportunity for this country. I live rurally, and we get 3 buses each week (!) to the city. I’m living close to the main road through the village, but elderly living up or down the bank can’t even get to the bus stop.

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  4. We had to buy a car about 5 years ago when my husband’s company moved from a local site to one 11 miles away by motorway. He had been cycling to work but it would be a 40 mile round trip to work which was too much everyday plus he starts work at 5.30am, there is no train service and it would mean 3 buses. There was no other option, not even sharing with a colleague. Public transport is very, very expensive, unreliable, awkward with times, connections etc, no wonder people get a car really. It needs a massive shake up.

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  5. We too don’t really like the fact that we have a car but, as you so rightly say, to be able to go about our busy day to day lives the reality is that we do need one. Like you we use it infrequently (my husband cycles 20 miles round trip a day to work but then cycling is his passion so he actually enjoys it and it keeps him fit) and I walk to our village shop if I need anything. We used to own a huge 4 x 4 many years ago and have been slowly downsizing our cars when we need to replace them. We have finally managed to get it down to a tiny 1.0 litre Picanto which I much prefer using as I find it easier to park! We have recently returned from a holiday in Belgium and I was blown away by the amount of people who cycle and the amazing bus service they have even in the most rural areas – Ghent in particular was brilliant and I have never seen so many bikes parked up together in one place – fantastic, I do wish we could be more like this here. That said, even cycling has it limits sometimes particularly for a trip to a diy store if you need to transport heavy or bulky items home! I love your blog and I think you are doing a great job in bringing up your children to be as mindful of the precious world we live in as you undoubtedly are.

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  6. Well, good for you for owning up. I own a car, too, and won’t be able to relinquish it until my teen leaves secondary school next year. That said, I opted for a small one with low emissions, being mindful of the impact of my choice to remain a motorist. At present, I do a 10-mile round trip to/from work on my bicycle about once or twice per week. I may be able to do that more frequently next spring/summer onwards. Our local buses also provide a good service, so one option will be to do wet and cold days on the bus and drier weather by bicycle. The only thing that I have in the back of my mind is what will happen when our teen wants to learn to drive….

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  7. Awesome honesty! I don’t believe it’s that bad.

    We have one car between us. I’m the only one who drives, which is not necessarily a conscious choice: my husband has had some severe vision problems in the past and we – and DVLA! – are not totally comfortable with the idea of him driving. We car share to work each morning, and are lucky to work near each other. We walk where possible – we’re lucky to be within walking distance of our town centre, despite not being in a very urban location, and our town has good rail links.

    We look at it as a pay off. We never fly, we try and use reusable products where possible, we generate a lot less waste than many families, we attempt not to use that much energy… yes, the car isn’t ideal, but we do need it to continue the life that we’re living.

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  8. I recently moved from central London – where there was definitely NO need for a car – back to suburban America (Seattle) – where public transport does exist but not if you actually want to get anywhere within a 3 hour timespan. Also, it’s America, which a lot of people don’t get just how big it is and how far the distances are between places, especially outside of a city. (we live 20 miles outside Seattle, where deer and bears frequently have a walk down the sidewalks and across our gardens) So, my husband and I both have cars. He normally does a vanpool with other people from his work everyday, so at least its one van (provided by the city to encourage carpooling) and 6 people commuting back and forth.
    I do care very much about reducing my carbon footprint, and while the hybrids available did not meet the restrictions of my family size/budget, I did at least choose a car that gets great gas mileage, and is a partial zero emission vehicle. It’s not much maybe, but I did at least make a lot of effort to choose the best option that was available.

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  9. We have just moved a few miles outside of Edinburgh and the public transport seems a darn sight better than where we used to live. I will be taking the bus into university every day and my partner is thinking about getting a bike to get to work as it’s only a couple of miles away. At the moment we still have a car but who knows what will happen as we adjust to life up here? We like exploring and want to see so much of Scotland, so we’re going to look into the car hire schemes around here and see how it works out.

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