Point of View: I had a car and ditched it for public transit. You can too
Montrealer Jessica Goodsell says getting rid of her car made her feel free for the 1st time in years
I grew up in the Eastern Townships. The only way to get around was by car, so I got my learner's permit as soon as I was eligible and drove my parents' spare car everywhere until I was able to buy my own.
It's safe to say I was thoroughly entrenched in the car-ownership lifestyle. But when I moved to Verdun two years ago, the equation changed. Drastically.
Parking was no longer plentiful — if I did have to drive, that meant planning my day to make sure I didn't have to circle the block for half an hour looking for parking when I returned home. Even if I wasn't taking the car, I had to start it and go for a drive every week because of street cleaning. And I had nowhere to plug in my block heater.
One day I was driving with my partner out to visit their family in the West Island. We were stuck in traffic on the Décarie (of course!) and I had the sudden realization that I had just spent 45 minutes shovelling my car out from under a snowbank, and now I was sitting in traffic. It would have been faster (and cheaper!) to take public transit.
We've come to think of the burdens of owning a car as a given. Shovelling driveways and clearing off the car, getting up early to move the car due to street cleaning, taking the car to the garage for maintenance, paying for that maintenance, as well as fuel, sitting in traffic, spending time looking for parking — the list goes on.
Take a minute to reflect on how much time you're spending on your car on a regular basis. It might surprise you. Then, calculate how much money it is costing you to own and operate your car. It may sting a little.
When I ran my numbers, it became clear that getting around exclusively by public transit was the cheaper, easier and at times, quicker option. In my last full year of owning a car, fuel alone exceeded what I am currently spending to get around.
Without the burden of a car, I was able to save up and buy a house near the Metro with my partner on our entry-level salaries. We have no driveway to shovel, so even after a few feet of snow, it only takes us five minutes to shovel the walkway and be on our way. We step outside at 8:30 a.m. and arrive at work by 9.
If I need a car for my quarterly trip to Costco or for road trips, I simply book a car-share vehicle. In some cases, going out requires a little extra planning, but the benefits of my car-free lifestyle are immeasurable. Above all, I am no longer a slave to my car. For the first time since I got my licence, I feel free.
Sure, sometimes the Metro is delayed on my commute, but compared to there always being congestion on the roads at rush hour, I'll take it. Besides, on the Metro, I can just read a book or answer emails without having to worry about paying attention to the road, so a delay often isn't that big of a deal.
If you are in a typical urban Montreal neighbourhood but still own a car, I would recommend giving the car-free lifestyle a try for a few weeks. At first, shaking up your routine can be a little weird, but ditching your car is a game-changer once you make some adjustments and come out on the other side.
A few tips to get your car-free life started:
- Patronize your local grocery stores. Have larger items delivered.
- Explore the services and resources available in your neighbourhood.
- Try commuting by public transit and explore different routes to see what works for you.
- Walk or bike to do your errands when you can. It's free transport and free exercise.
Most importantly, if going car-free doesn't work for you, it's likely not a failure on your part. To make public transit an option for the majority of commuters, the system needs to be drastically expanded and made universally accessible.
We should all be advocating for new and existing housing developments, both in and around Montreal, to be served by good, frequent and affordable public transit.
I'm hopeful that with the new public transit projects springing up all over the island, the transit-centred development that will follow will make car-free lifestyles doable for many more people.