…on living without a car

(or… “Public Transport; Taking you from not quite where you are, to not quite where you want to go, not quite when you want to go there”).

It is now exactly 1 year since I sold my car, and I thought I ought to take a moment to reflect upon life without a car. This is the first time I have not had a car in 27 years, which is quite something when I think about it.

So, how is life without a car?

For general day-to-day stuff, most of the places that I go are either within walking distance say up to 2 or 3 miles, or are, in theory at least accessible by public transport such as bus or train.

For places within walking distance, it is generally fine. I enjoy walking, it’s fun and gives me time to think and get lost my thoughts, and is also good exercise for me. Walking into the town centre only takes maybe 15 to 20 minutes, so it’s easy enough to have a stroll into town, browse round the shops, and stroll back. It does get a little trickier if I buy lots of heavy things, but I tend not to buy bulky things in person, I by those online; the Internet is great for grocery shopping, book shopping, and all sorts of other things it you can buy online these days it makes life so much easier. Yes it does sometimes mean you have to pay delivery charges, particularly if you buy bulkier items for the garden or DIY, but that doesn’t happen very often and costs are significantly less than the cost of running a car. An added bonus with online grocery shopping is that it reduces the tendency to impulse buy all sorts of rubbish which I don’t actually need. You know the sort of thing, you’re pushing your trolley around the supermarket aisles determined only to buy the things that you want to buy, when you suddenly spot something that you absolutely must have; a delicious halfprice sponge cake, or a bargain pack of delicious chocolate biscuits which before you realise it has ended up in your trolley. I’m sure I’m far from the only person who goes to the shop to buy two or three items and comes away with a bag full of stuff; none of this happens when I do my grocery shopping online I go there with a list of what I want to buy, buy the things on the list and the nice man delivers it to my door; much easier much cheaper and much more convenient. Of course I should point out that given my car was only a two seater sports car, carrying bulky items back from the shops  was often out of the question anyway and I still had to pay to have the stuff delivered, so there’s not much change there. Since I sold my car I joined the local BNI chapter which means a 2 mile journey to arrive at 6:30 on Wednesday morning. I find this a surprisingly enjoyable walk through the countryside each Wednesday morning 2 miles there and 2 miles back; it gives me time to reflect upon things, time to refine and practice my one minute talk, and the 4 mile round-trip walk certainly walks off a large part of the delicious fry up breakfast that we get. Yes it can be slightly less pleasant when it’s pouring with rain, but nothing that a good coat and hat doesn’t stop.

For journeys to places further afield, I now generally rely upon public transport be that buses or trains or both. When I bought my house, the main bus route actually ran right past my front door with a bus stop in both directions literally 20 seconds walk from my front door. Alas in their wisdom over the years the bus company have moved the route slightly so it’s now about five minutes walk to the bus stop, but is still very close and the bus runs every 20 minutes during the day. Unfortunately, this is not without its problems. The first of these is the fact that the bust stops running relatively early in the evening which means it’s no use if you want to use the bus to travel later on in the evening or at night time. The other problem is that although the boss claims to run every 20 minutes and has a timetable, it rarely runs to the timetable. This means that you get to the bus stop in good time for the bus, the bus doesn’t arrive at the scheduled time and you are left wondering whether you’ve missed the bus or it hasn’t arrived yet. Also because the bus is often late, it means having to take the previous bus in order to make sure you’re not too late arriving at your destination for an appointment. However, even this can backfire as happened a few days ago; I had an important appointment, and in order to not miss it through a late bus I thought I’d get the 20 minute earlier bus. I arrived 10 minutes before the bus was due to arrives and didn’t miss that one, and waited. And waited. And waited. The appointed time came and went with no sign of the bus. I carried on waiting. Five minutes. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. Still no sign of the bus 20 minutes after it was due to arrive and it was time for the next bus to arrive that didn’t arrive either. Finally after another 12 minutes bus did arrive. Which meant I got the bus over half an hour after it was due to have picked me up; needless to say I was late and very unhappy. I guess that’s all part of the joy of public transport. It turns out the first bus had broken down in the second one was thus running late because it was trying to pick up two busloads of passengers.

The train station is about 1/2 to 2 miles away from my house again it’s a nice half-hour walk to the train station. From here there is a direct service to London Waterloo, or a quick service to Reading and from there we access mainline services to large parts of the country including Paddington, the West Country, Brighton, Bournemouth, Birmingham etc. The train from Reading is typically eight or 13 minutes, depending upon which service it is. You would think that this such a short journey, the train would arrive on time. Yet many’s the time that the train from Redding arrives one to sometimes even five minutes late; how can you lose five minutes in an eight minute journey? Goodness only knows, yet somehow the train service managers it. Still, the train is broadly managed to run more or less roughly to something approximating the timetable, we are generally reliable, as long as you make extra allowances where you have to make a change. Frustratingly, many connections seem particularly badly timed with your train arriving just as the next train that you want is pulling away; I bet the time these deliberately so they can laugh at us passengers as we frantically scramble up the stairs across the walkway down the stairs chasing after the train is pulling away!  So for a similar journey with no connections, the train is absolutely fine; it when you have connections and a deadline that you need to be extra careful, often selecting an earlier train so as to avoid missing the connection, which means you end up hanging around cold wet platform for a long time.

On the plus side, I no longer have to pay for petrol,  vehicle excise duty (often incorrectly referred to as road tax), car insurance, servicing etc most of which still have to be paid for even if you don’t use the car.

So on balance, it probably saving me money, even know it’s not always quite as convenient.

Do I miss my car? Nowhere nearly as much as I thought I would.

Is public transport reliable enough for me to be able to rely upon? That would be a qualified yes I think, providing I’m prepared to allow sufficient extra time for important connections which does mean perhaps wasting more time than I might wish, but on the other hand I can always listen to podcasts or even scribble down some notes while I’m on the train.

Will I ever buy another car? Ah, now there is a question! As things stand at the moment, I’m getting by fine without a car, and it’s certainly a lot cheaper. However I can’t deny that there is a lot of fun to be had from driving around, particularly in a nice sports car, and I can see me one day ending up with another car; perhaps the new series three Lotus Elise when it comes out in 2015,  or given enough money even the extremely sexy Lamborghini Sesto Elemento which you can see at the top of this page! Hey, a boy can dream!