The average price for a new car as measured by TrueCar hit a record-breaking $31,252 last August, up $5,000 since 2013. And Consumer Reports says the average car today costs more than $9,100 a year to own. Given the cost of gasoline these days, plus all the hidden expenses you don’t notice — taxes, insurance, depreciation — maybe it’s time to ask if you really need a car at all.
Bike riders in Copenhagen: everybody's doing it. (Photo: Roman Kruglov/Flickr)
Here are five indicators that it might be time to consider giving up the keys:
1. Proximity. You live less than five miles from work, shopping is just around the corner, and you don’t have a big family to cart around. Car sharing, which provides wheels when you really need them, could be very cost effective. Maybe consider an electric bicycle or scooter as a low-cost alternative to a car you don’t use very often.
2. Transit options. Some cities — New York and Portland, Oregon come to mind — offer such evolved public transit (trains, light rail, buses, share bikes) that getting around is very simple. New York also offers the disincentive of very expensive garaging options. You’d be in good company there, since more than half your fellow residents don’t have cars. With new apps, mobile phones can be used to summon rides from services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. They’re even fighting over drivers.
3. The march of time. My grandfather finally gave up his keys when he hit the garage door so often that the side of his old Biscayne looked like a relief map of Mars. Nobody likes to take driving away from older Americans, but there comes a time when being on the road is no longer a viable option. Fortunately, especially since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1992, there’s funding for what’s called “paratransit” (which also serves the disabled). For instance, in several Illinois counties, seniors can use a dial-a-ride service called Pace Bus and pay from 65 cents to $2 for a local trip.
4. From suburb to city. There’s a modest migration underway, with Americans abandoning sterile suburbs and repopulating central cities. Suburbs grew up with the private car, and are notoriously unfriendly to people without wheels. Author Bill Bryson, coming back to the U.S. after time spent in England, made much of our lack of sidewalks. Pedestrians walk at their peril. But the New Urbanism does the opposite; it builds city neighborhoods that favor people over cars, and integrates housing and workplaces with transit. Before automatically taking your car along, check if it might be redundant to your new lifestyle.
5. Weighing the cost. It could be you’d be happier without a car. Using the Edmunds “true cost to own” calculator here, try to get a sense of your monthly outlay to be a member of the automotive ownership fraternity. Shocking, isn’t it? Now think about what you’d do with the money if your car was put out to pasture. Rather nice, eh?
America is the most auto-dependent big country in the world (only San Marino and Monaco have more per capita). And Mother Jones reports, “In 2010, Americans drove for 85 percent of their daily trips, compared to car trip shares of 50 to 65 percent in Europe.” But we’re finally getting the message those easy-livin' Europeans learned long ago — there’s life after car culture.
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