Not having a car

When we were in South Africa in January, I happened to mention to someone in my small town that I caught the bus to work and they said ‘you don’t have a car? How poor ARE you?’ She is unusually blunt, but it is not the first time someone in South Africa has been surprised that we do not have a car. After all, South Africa has no public transport, so if you can’t drive, you have problems getting around. Most people without cars rely on private minibus taxis, or walk if it is not too far. It’s not safe to walk at night, however.

I took my driver’s licence as soon as I turned 18, and drove every single day. Our small town did not have medical specialists or big shops, so it was a 126km drive to the nearest big town if we needed those. I found the same thing when I was in Los Angeles many many years ago. It was not easy to get around without a car. But New York and London have great public transport. Paris does too, though to be honest, I always battle to understand the system due to language problems.

In Stockholm, a monthly travel card costs $90 and allows unlimited travel on underground, commuter train, buses, tram, light rail, and boats. Parking for cars on the other hand is hard to find, and very expensive (though you can buy a parking space for $100,000 if you have deep pockets). If you own a car you need two sets of tyres (summer and winter) and have to carry ice scrapers and shovels for winter weather. Plus insurance, maintenance and servicing adds up.

We have a bus stop three minutes’ walk away, and an underground station seven minutes away. If we need to, we rent a car for both short and long trips. The best thing we have nearby is two car-sharing companies a minute or two away. Via an app we can rent a car for anything from an hour upwards.

What about where you live? Do you need a car or is there good public transport?

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

10 thoughts

  1. There are 5 buses which operate from the closest bus stops to me, I have never passed my test to drive myself which I used to regret but now as a pensioner with free travel it’s no biggie. There is a bus in any direction approximately every 5 minutes, the longest I have ever had to wait was 20 minutes but that was for a specific bus which operates every 20 minutes. I must have just missed the one I went for.

  2. I can completely see the lack of benefit of owning a car when you live in a big city but one thing that I have always wondered is how do you do your weekly shopping? Or how do you carry family sized packs of loo rolls on top of all the food items? I live in Germany in a smallish town. I live a bit on the edge of town. I could take the bus to go to the town center but buses are so unreliable and expensive. Our mayoress wants to encourage the people of my town to use bikes so she’s closing off certain important streets to car traffic and she’s turning some big car parks in the center of town into housing for refugees. The problem is that our town is very popular for retirees who are not particularly mobile. There are many retirement homes in the center of town. You can definitely see 80-90 year old women riding their bikes very swiftly all around town but not every 80 and 90 year old can do that. In fact, since these changes have been put in place, many businesses are shutting down. I think a lot of money should have been invested in sound public transport to make people feel like public transport is the way to go.

    1. We buy giant packs of toilet paper, household paper, cat food, cat sand etc once a month when we have a car. We also buy all our cleaning supplies then. The daily shop is just fresh food and anything we run out of.

      1. We also shop for big or bulk items online if necessary, but I love wandering up and down the aisles at the supermarket. I adore buying toilet paper and looking for new types of cleaning products.

      2. So do I but I absolutely hate going food shopping… I can’t explain why, but it just makes my skin crawl…

  3. If we had good public transport here in rural France we wouldn’t have our electric car.
    For trips to London really prefer going on the train from our local station than flying.

  4. I live in Prague and while I love my city, there aren’t many things here in the “quality of life” department that I would qualify as “great”. However, public transport is one of them. You can get a yearly pass that allows unlimited transport on trams, buses, underground and most of the “unusual” public transport methods, including our hilarious funicular I believe, all of that for an equivalent of€150. The “grid” is also quite dense and it’s pretty hard to find yourself farther than a couple of minutes walk from a public transport stop.My foreign friends are usually amazed and become huge fans of the local public transport system.

    As far as car ownership goes, my experience is quite similar to yours and Nathalie’s. There are situations when a car certainly comes in handy, but most days I don’t need it at all. Plus, I don’t drive, so. 🙂

  5. Public transport, what’s that? Sharing the car with your partner. I am joking, where I leave there is no public transport, and petrol stations are becoming a problem as well. Its OK if you have a job and can afford a car, but its the low income and older people who suffer. I would love the government to help us, but they seem to want to us all to go to electric cars. But there is no points to recharge the cars, and no plans to put them in place. Sorry for the rant and there is no answer to this problem.

  6. I live in Paris so needless to say that we have great public transports. Busses, underground, trams, boats, light train etc. The farthest one needs to walk to get a public transport is two minutes. Most of them run 24/7 and are really safe. I often use them at night when coming back from the airport and I have never had any issue. There are also taxis, ubbers, car-sharing companies and renting companies. The travel -passes are not very expensive (€80 a month) and allow you unlimited travels in public transports. Also the employers pay back half of it so in the end you only pay €40 a month.
    I have a car because I go away at the weekends when I’m in Paris and also because it is very convenient when I go to my weekly shopping and come back with loads of stuff. Apart from that I seldom use it.
    When I was living in England I also had a car and I used it much more. I spent a few years in London too and used public transports but I found it really poor in terms of quality and security. And very expensive too!
    My favourite public transports (other than Paris) are the ones in Brussels and New-York.

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