Can you live in Charlottesville without a car?
Charlottesville has long been on many a Top Ten list for visitors and residents alike as one of the best places to live. One question that has come up, however, is whether it’s possible to live in town without a car.
As many of you know, the University of Virginia doesn’t allow first years to live on campus and have a car so many students quickly learn the bus & free trolley routes and use taxis and Uber services, among others, to also get around.
With a city population hovering a bit over 45,000 – add another 20,000 to that number with UVA in session – it’s not surprising to hear, according to the League of American Bicyclists, that roughly 23% of the town’s residents and students commute on foot, by bike, or by bus around the 10-square-mile area.
With more bike and pedestrian lanes being added all the time, Charlottesville has become even easier to get around, and it’s possible to live without your car, as long as you’re willing to change your lifestyle.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re considering going car-free – please keep in mind that this isn’t as easy to do outside city limits:
Determine why you’re going car-free. For some people, it’s about social responsibility, health, to save money, or they don’t have a driver’s license. In addition, for a few, it’s simply about freedom — not being tied down to the responsibilities of owning and maintaining a car, which can add up to a cost savings of at least $6000 a year.
Keep your car as backup during a transition period. While you’re testing your car-free lifestyle, you should hold on to your car until you can rely on alternative means. Once you can go for one to two months without touching the car, you’re ready to let it go by either donating it for a tax write off or selling it.
Use public transportation. Research routes, find out about special fares and programs, bookmark the local trip planner on your computer, and save the customer service number on your phone – click here. Consider moving to a location that is within biking or walking range to all the important places, such as grocery stores and bus or train stops or public transportation hubs. Find out how quickly you can reach various destinations from your prospective home. It’s best to have at least a small grocery store within easy walking distance for quick trips. If you’re worried about the expense of moving and living in a different neighborhood (i.e. higher rents), weigh the extra costs with the savings you can achieve by not having a car.
Work close to home. You can choose housing that is near work, but if you like a particular neighborhood or house, you can also do the opposite. Make sure that your workplace is located within walking or biking range to a bus stop or train station. Also find out how difficult it is to reach your workplace from your house; if you can only get there by taking three different buses over two hours, it’s not accessible. If possible, avoid the commute altogether by working near (or from) your home. Look into the possibility of telecommuting a few days a week or staggering hours to avoid sitting in traffic.
Buy a bicycle. Besides being environmentally friendly, and usually immune to traffic congestion, bikes also give you a free daily workout. What a great idea!
Buy an electric bike or an electric scooter. These bikes are rapidly spreading in China, Japan, and many other countries of the world. They put out little CO2 relative to a car, they’re incredibly cheap to “fuel,” and they are a fun and familiar ride. A typical electric bike travels 8–20 miles (13–32 km) on a charge. You can choose pedal-assist or go with all electric, but the bikes are great if you want to wear your work clothes and avoid a shower (less sweat, faster to work). They’re fast (14 – 20 mph), don’t require insurance, and are low maintenance. Batteries can be lead acid (reliable and cheap, but heavy), nickel metal hydride (long lasting and lighter, but more expensive), or lithium ion (light and long lasting, but expensive and still untested in bikes).
Buy a moped, scooter, or small motorcycle. These small two-wheelers are relatively inexpensive to purchase, insure, maintain, and operate, and are fun to ride. In many cities of the world, two-wheeled vehicles outnumber cars.
Join forces with other commuters. If you need to take a trip outside the range of inexpensive public transportation, try to get a Rideshare – http://rideshareinfo.org. You can find a driver who’s going your way and give them gas money or help them out with the driving.
Take a taxi, rent, or borrow a car. For times when a bus simply will not do, you might need a car. But even renting one several times a year usually makes more sense than owning a car for just those few times you might need one.
If possible, get a job that allows you to use a corporate vehicle, thereby eliminating the need for a personal vehicle. If you’re using one, be aware that your employer may be keeping close tabs on usage, mileage, and fuel consumption. In addition, they may have strict rules against using corporate vehicles for personal use, so be careful.
It’s possible to barter or trade products or services for use of a car or truck. Try exchanging baby-sitting or yard work for car-assisted trips to the supermarket, etc. Be mindful of how often you ask friends for a ride as they might start to get annoyed.
Take advantage of the internet. Do some shopping online instead of spending time and money getting to and from store locations. Many retailers even offer free shipping on orders over a set price, which can save you even more money.
Operate your car occasionally (perhaps once every week or two) if you’re keeping one during your transitional period. Leaving a car inactive for too long can damage the battery, tires, and so on. If you’ll store a car over the longer term, do so correctly. An alternative is to use a service such as Relay Rides to rent out your car to others while you’re not using it.
Buy a shopping cart or folding, wheeled tote so you can haul heavy loads home from the store without breaking a sweat.
Buses and trains do sometimes have trouble staying on schedule. If you have to be somewhere important at a certain time, give yourself plenty of time in case something goes wrong. You would do the same even if you had a car.
Be aware that if you give up your current car, you may also be giving up your insurance history. If you ever decide to drive a car again, and you haven’t been continuously insured, you’ll be treated like a new 16-year old driver, with rates to match.
If you’ll be driving at all (e.g. in a borrowed or rented car), look into “non-owner” car insurance. It’s inexpensive, but be aware the “non-owner” car insurance only covers liability. You still have to buy comprehensive and collision coverage for the rental or borrowed car. Many believe “non-owner” insurance covers the rental or borrowed car, but in reality, it only covers the other person if you’re at fault while driving a rental or borrowed car.
To learn more – Tammy Strobel at rowdykittens.com has just released a new e-book titled “Simply Car-free. How to Pedal Toward Financial Freedom and a Healthier Life.”