Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Carfree and Carefree. . .

Today is World Carfree Day and seems an appropriate moment to reflect on my one year anniversary of urban living and working without a car.

It was little more than a year ago that I was rear-ended at an intersection while driving home (fortunately, no one was hurt) and it jolted me in more ways than one. The whole back of the car was smashed and took several weeks for repairs. Desperately needing to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake because I had Shaw Festival tickets, I tried every car rental place and found it impossible to find anything available at the last minute on a summer weekend. So I turned to Zipcar.com and lo and behold there were numerous cars in my neighbourhood that were free. The light bulb went on, I made it to the theatre, and shortly thereafter gave up my car in favour of a Metropass and a Zipcar membership and I've never been happier.

Some of my colleagues thought I was nuts. My commuting time to the office has nearly doubled (it's now an hour and 15-20 minutes on average each way) and I frequently have to carry heavy piles of manuscripts, books and catalogues home in a backpack as opposed to the trunk of a car.
But I absolutely love it and, apart from the environmental advantages, here's why:

1. I never have to worry about trying to find a parking spot on the street again, especially in winter when most of the spaces disappear under ploughed piles of snow.
2. I never have to worry about the car being buried by said snowploughs and having to dig it out and chip the ice off the doors. I can't tell you how much stress this used to cause me.
3. I have added 2.5-3 hours of time to myself during the commute. I can sleep, read, catch up on podcasts, listen to music, daydream or people watch on the bus; someone else is doing the driving. Plus I like the 15 minute walk to the bus stop. I can take a variety of routes, some through a park and can even grab a latte on the way.
4. I've lost 8 pounds, kept it off and dropped one dress size. I feel healthier and more energetic than ever.
5. With my Metropass, I've been exploring more neighbourhoods in my city.
6. If I still had the car, I would probably never have bought my foldable bike; the joys of cycling again have been a big part of my summer. It's also been fun rediscovering the train (in some cases even cheaper than zipping a car) but then Brief Encounter has always been one of my favourite movies.
7. It's fun to carpool with the Deweys - all of whom have been generous and supportive.
8. With Zipcar, you can drive a variety of different cars like the Mini Cooper above. That was an experience. It was 6am and dark when I first got into one - took me 20 minutes to figure out the ignition. Car manuals are hopeless. But once I got it going, it was a cute little thing with a nice sunroof.

Note that I haven't given up driving entirely - as a book rep for a large publishing company (lots of catalogues), I still need a car for many of my appointments and Dewey gigs. Fortunately there are so many Zipcars in my neighbourhood that I've never been unable to book one (even at the last minute, like this morning when I thought I'd made a reservation, and all my usual cars were booked and my cell phone battery died, and after finding a phone that worked, the closest car that was free was two subway stops away in a garage under a building, and I was running late, and then I couldn't figure out how the parking pass worked to lift the garage barrier, and I was on a steep ramp with an angry line-up behind me and sliding backwards the moment I took my foot off the brake. . .ah, just another frantic day in the life of a rep. . . )

Obviously, this won't work for everyone. If you live in the suburbs where there aren't any zipcars, or your workplace isn't accessible by transit then this isn't a viable option. But corny as it may sound, going carless is similar to giving up cable TV, which I also did around the same time. I feel like I've decluttered and cleansed my life and the fact that both rejections have freed up so much more reading time is just an added bonus.

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