Living Car Free in Boston

It all started with ditching my car. I was leasing at the time, and had been for the past six years. I’d already extended my lease by six months because I was delaying the inevitable headache of test driving a new car, fighting dealerships for a better price, updating my insurance, all the paperwork and time that is part of car ownership.

And then it suddenly dawned on me; what if I simply stopped having a car for a little while? The procrastinator in me loved this idea; I could put off the stress and hassle until I had to get a new lease. But there was something else that was appealing: in that moment a weight had lifted (or shifted, at least) and I caught a whiff of … well, freedom. Freedom from monthly lease payments, from maintenance, from paperwork. Freedom smelled pretty damn good.

But what about all those things I needed a car for? Driving to meetings and weddings and portrait sessions … getting groceries, taking my dogs to the park, going shopping, returning huge boxes to Zappos and Amazon and all the other places I indulged my unhealthy consumer addiction …

I decided to list out all the times I typically used a car and started thinking about alternative options.

  • taking the dogs to the park
    • use my husband’s car, either after work in the summer when the days are longer, or before work during the winter
    • ZipCar rental from the lot at the bottom of our street
    • walk them over to a closer park
  • getting to weddings and photo shoots in town
    • bus for downtown sessions where minimal gear is needed (our local bus is a four minute walk and goes directly downtown, albeit a little slower than driving – but this would save me money in parking and gas and parking fines (ha)
    • T (subway) for other sessions in the area that aren’t close to the bus route (our nearest T station is around a 12 minute walk)
    • Lyft/Uber and other ride sharing services for weddings and other shoots where I need to bring my full kit and/or the location isn’t easily accessed by public transport
    • rental car for out of town sessions and weddings
  • running errands such as food shopping, returning goods by mail, etc.
    • use my husband’s car in the evening or at the weekend when he is home
    • walk to Whole Foods (just over a mile away) or our local JP stores such as City Feed for occasional purchases such as bread or coffee

I quickly realized that not having a car would overall save me money but cost me a little time. Much of that additional time would be spent walking – either directly to a destination, or to transportation – and walking is a Good Thing. Walking more would be hugely beneficial to my physical health of course, and also my mental health.

It seemed like a no-brainer to try living car-free for a little while; I decided that three months during the transition from my quiet time of year (late winter) through the beginning of my busy time (June) would be long enough to get accustomed to the change and evaluate whether it was something I wanted to continue. I decided that if it made me miserable, I wouldn’t stick it out longer than a month, and that if it was working well for me then I would continue longer term.

Seven months later, I’m living enthusiastically car-free. The challenges and hassles I anticipated were easily overcome using a mixture of public transport, ride-sharing, and rental cars. I rely less on rental cars than I had expected, even during the busiest few months of my year, and although the savings aren’t huge compared to owning a car, they are still significant. The biggest benefit has definitely been the huge turnaround in my activity level; I have found that I love walking, both with and without purpose, and it no longer seems like a hassle to walk to the hair salon or local store, or to the T to catch a ride downtown. I love not having to stress about spending time looking for parking spaces before meetings and photo sessions, and I’m really grateful to be free of the hassles and headaches of car ownership.

The next big test will be surviving winter in Boston without a car; waiting for the bus in freezing conditions won’t be quite as much fun, but I’m pretty hopeful that in another five months I’ll be reporting that I’ve been successfully – and mostly happily – car-free for a year.


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