Tuesday, 18 October 2016

How I gave up my car

How to give up your car - Back in the Saddle with Halfords
My Orla Kiely bike and Halfords trailer
That title makes it sound like it was intentional. It wasn't. My car for the past few years has been a right old banger. Yes, it was on its last legs but I'd come to really rely on it both for schlepping the kids to school but also as a way of feeling free and independent. Spontaneity is a big thing for me. Four wheels enabled it. So what happened when my car failed its MOT and proved to be too pricey to fix?

That's when I had to decide.

Living in the centre of a city is probably one of the best locations to be without a car. But was I ready to give it up? And what are the alternatives?

I had to think.

The journey I did most regularly by car was the school run. School is about a mile away and we'd always intended to walk it but, as anyone with kids knows only too well, we were always late and the car seemed the easiest option. But because of the dreadful traffic in this city, that mile could take anywhere up to 20 minutes or so in the car, only ten minutes shy of walking time. It had always been in the back of my mind that the car journey was both inefficient and polluting so maybe now was the time to change it.

A report by Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, looked at short journeys. Here are some of the findings:

• Up to £279 a year per driver could be saved in fuel costs, car maintenance and parking, if four out of five short journeys were made by foot, bike or public transport. This totals £8.5 billion for all British drivers.
• Each car user makes 464 short journeys covering a distance of over 1,200 miles a year.
• 11% of short car journeys are under one mile, 29% are from one to under two miles, and 60% are from two to five miles.
• The cost of short journeys to society including factors such as road accidents, infrastructure, traffic jams and air quality is £750 per car user or £23 billion for Britain.
• 15,000 lives could be saved through increased physical activity if more short journeys were made on foot or by bike, equivalent to £20 billion.
• Over a third (37.5%) of the commuting trips made by car are short journeys costing British drivers £2bn a year with the cost to society being nearly £3.5bn a year.

I felt pretty shamed by those figures. Why was I driving?

Another of the deciding factors was exercise. As a freelance worker, I'm often sitting on the sofa with my laptop, not leaving the house at all some days. The weight has crept up and I was looking at how to incorporate more physical activity into my life. Seems obvious now, but it was only when the car went kaput that I made the connection. No car + school run = bikes = more exercise.

But... and it's a big one... How would I get T, my youngest, on board with the biking? My eldest is happily biking independently, but T won't even ride with stabilisers. We gave it a go, A and I biking along the cycle path and T scooting. But it was a disaster. T would get tired, stopping in the middle of the path with no awareness of other cyclists or pedestrians nearby. It felt dangerous and stressful and I wasn't happy with either of those things!

Enter the Halfords child trailer. Easy to assemble and hook up to most adult bikes, this was the answer. T loves travelling in his own special space and we all get to school safe and on time. Win! He is six, however, and looks a bit big in there so when he grows out of it we're probably looking at a Trail Gator system hooked up to his bike.

Biking in Bristol is a bit of a faff, being that there are hills a-plenty in this city. My new Orla Kiely bike has gears (this is a new experience for me) so I'm getting to grips with it all, planning shopping trips to coincide with the empty trailer (it fits a couple of bags of food shopping which is really useful).

Public transport is a tricky one. I'm a big fan of Uber so am opting for this when the need arises. Buses are a different matter though, they're rubbish in Bristol and I really dislike the experience. I'd rather walk!

And for longer journeys? We're members of the Co-wheels car club. It costs £5 a month to be a member, which is deducted from any journeys you make. There are cars scattered all over the city making it easy to find one at short notice. Not exactly the spontaneity I'm used to but it'll do for now.

Do you have a car? Do you bike? Would you consider life without a car?

Disclosure: Halfords sent us a bike and trailer for the purposes of this review

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