Soon, I, a red-blooded, car-loving, sport car owning American will be without a vehicle in a city with poor public transit. This is strange, I know, especially for me. Cars are a right of passage in the American culture. Ever since I was a young teen, I had dreams of owning my own car, pressing the throttle on the open road, feeling the wind in my hair and blasting music. I would read car magazines, research the latest trends. I wrote a high-school paper on the benefits of a Wankel vs. the traditional piston engine. Not only was this super nerdy, but it was a passion of mine: I loved cars.
My history on cars
My first car was a 1987 Honda Prelude that I bought for $2,200 shortly after my 16th birthday. I used money I had earned from my days referring soccer and bought it for cash. This car was a blast. I learned stick shift. I did doughnuts in the parking lot. It has a sunroof, which was great in Arizona summers when the A/C broke.
Not mine, but fairly close. Pretty sweet, huh?
In college, I bought a 1994 Honda Accord (145k miles) when I was 18, and then my parent’s 2000 Toyota Corolla when I was 22. I was following a nice trend of buying reliable, used cars and running them for an extended time. These were very logical purchases. However, once I got into the workforce and started making my own money on my ostentatiously high government salary, I was jonesing for something different. Something not so practical. Something…awesome. Something I had been dreaming about since I was 16. That’s when I found this:
I picked up my first “real” car in 2011, a 2008 Red Infiniti G37S. After getting a “screaming” deal from the pre-owned dealership, I floored the 330 horsepower V6 engine on the Phoenix freeway, hugging every turn and banking every loop ramp. This was heaven. Music was blaring. People were being passed. I was driving like a maniac, but I didn’t care. This was heaven.
Fast forward to today. The magic? Gone. The money? Gone. The loan payments? Gone. The driving? Gone.
Turns out…I don’t need a car!
I started noticing this not long after starting my work-from-home job over 2 years ago. Even though I paid it off 30 months early, my dream was sitting in the garage, collecting dust, and costing me an arm and a leg every time I would drive it. It still needed premium fuel. Insurance still need to be paid. The low-profile tires needed replacing every 2-3 years. The belts, oil, and air filters all needed to be replaced. Why was I allowing this money drain? What value or excitement was I getting from this? It turns out, none. It was all gone. That allure had faded, and now this was just another thing to take care of. I decided to sell it and not replace it.
This was a major surprise to those near me that my fiance and I were talking about going down to a single car. Given that I had been a “car guy” my entire driving life, this was not the norm. My family asked if I had been having financial problems. My colleagues said that I would be giving up a great car. My friends asked if I was getting a BMW. Apparently, I had beautifully perpetrated the stigma that each man, woman, child, and dog must have a car in the American household.
Apparently, I am not alone in this regard. One of my regularly visited sites as I sip my morning coffee is Mrmoneymustache.com His post(s) on the ridiculousness of car ownership helped me realize that my fantasy of being car free was possible in a city outside a major metro.
Granted, even though I think MMM is a little more extreme than my soft self, I think a lot of the points he makes a valid. Why do you need a resource-heavy machine just to transport yourself and a few pounds of goods a few measely miles? Why is the process of finding a place to park it so inefficient, as you may need to spend the same amount of time finding a space as you do driving to your destination? Why can’t you take a smaller, efficient vehicle (i.e., a bike), have primo parking right in front of the store, and get a bit of exercise.
These were some of the questions I started asking myself. The path of being carless started to make sense because I:
- Live in a flat-ish urban area near a separated bike path
- Have basic accoutrements within a few miles
- Have a reasonably flexible job and minimal (zero) kids
Now, I know this looks like it only applies to DINKs, trendy Millenials, and greenie nutbags. Personally, I only know what I know, and can only surmise and extrapolate to others. However, as humans, we naturally want to be as comfortable as possible (heck, there’s even a “comfort food!”). We get comfortable very easy and resist change. It happens. However, it is against this backdrop that I outline my decision so that hopefully you can draw parallels for your situation.
1 – Tampa is a scary place for bicycles
Tampa, and the State of Florida, have consistently ranked as the deadliest areas for pedestrian and cyclists. I believe the reason of this is two-fold: the first is that the State has been designed around the automobile. With the expansion of people into the sunbelt in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the charge had been to plan around the automobile. 8-lane arterials were built. Massive freeways were constructed through downtown areas. Sprawl was introduced. This leaves little room for other types of modes of transportation (bicycles, transit, etc.).
The second is that since the transportation network has been designed around the car, more people will be driving in their own vehicle. As more and more people drive their own vehicles, they will be disconnected with others. The car allows for this disconnection from the outside world. The climate controlled paradise vehicles allow, with a perfectly designed dashboard, provides a fantastic separation. This seems to allow for the symptoms of road rage, distracted driving, drunk driving, which, in turn, cause serious injury and death.
2 – It is uncomfortable and inconvenient
Riding around in the heat of summer and high humidity is not the most pleasant experience, especially when there is little shade.
This has the added benefit of being sweaty, which is not the most appealing when you’re going to a business meeting, let alone meeting some friends for lunch. Sweat stains do not win friends. There’s not much more to that.
3 – Tampa Transit sucks!
Most people who do not have a car rely on public transportation, which is the same boat I’ll be in. Taking buses is great and all, but they A) do not connect in places I want to go, B) have really long headways (30-60 minutes), C) they don’t really save me any time. The last one, I think, is the most important. Some of the more successful transit systems in the country actually SAVE TIME (what a novel concept, huh?). Ever try driving through downtown Manhattan? You won’t find me doing it. Unfortunately, the level of vehicular congestion in Tampa is nowhere near that level.
1 – Maximize value
The RoI (Return on Investment) on my vehicle is very low at this point. In 2015, I paid $1,500 for 5,000 miles of use. That’s a cost of $0.30/mile, which, while lower than the IRS’s rate of $0.54/mile, my mileage also includes work trips, trips where our other car could be used, and useless 1 mile trips. I would think that approximately 25% of my time was spent on actual, value-added time.
The vehicle is also a depreciating asset, which means it declines in value over time. Therefore, the sooner I sell it, the higher the premium I can receive from it. Also, inflation increases over time, so these are 2 things working against the hard value.
2 – Different transportation options
Given I am closer to my job and the central business district, I have access to my bicycle, Lyft/Uber, ZipCar, and the new free downtown shuttle. These options are great as I do not need to rely on any one of them, but use them as a service as I see fit. To put the icing on the cake, there is also a rental car station no more than a 30 minute walk.
3 – Declutter
Having less stuff is not a bad thing. Not having to worry about the maintenance, tires, or other equipment. In a hurricane, we don’t need to worry about trying to save two cars and coordinate stuff. It’s a good feeling.
And isn’t this weird? The fact that I am having to write a blog post to my ones of viewers to discuss my inner turmoil just shows how ingrained vehicles are to the American culture. Car manufacturers and other suppliers have driven (pun intended) this notion that vehicles are a staple of American life. It is truly sad that a consumption item now requires vigorous soul searching and bargaining to sell it.
So what are your thoughts? Think going to one car is a good or bad thing?