In my last post I wrote that cars cost twice as much as most people think they do, and encouraged people to think twice before buying one.
The most interesting response came from a reader named Robert West, who wrote: “Some people are way too active to adopt a no-vehicle lifestyle, no matter the cost.” He pointed out that people use cars to go camping, boating, skiing, snowmobiling, and to visit Maine’s many attractions, including state parks and museums.
It’s a valid point. But it isn’t necessarily true. You can live an active lifestyle without owning a car. In fact, sometimes owning a car can get in the way of living the active life you want.
Let’s take those two points one at a time.
As regular readers of this blog know, I own a sailboat, a Cape Dory 25 that comfortably sleeps two adults and can carry as many as four passengers plus the captain. I keep it in Hampden during the winter and Rockland during the summer. I live in Bangor, and in the summer months I frequently take the inexpensive and convenient Concord Coach bus down to Rockland to go sailing. On this boat, I’ve visited Acadia National Park on Isle Au Haut, Grand Manan Island in Canada, and numerous getaways on Maine’s fabulous coast. I’ve anchored in secluded coves and visited popular tourist towns.
Sometimes I’ll invite people to go sailing. The price is a ride to Rockland and a six-pack of beer for the skipper, which most of my friends consider eminently worth it for a day on the water. We don’t all need cars to get there.
In the winter, I like to cross-country ski. I can take my skis on the Community Connector bus and explore the trails near the University of Maine and in the Bangor City Forest.
But Mr. West is correct when he states that many Maine adventures require a vehicle. As I’ve said before. I’m not a purist. I drive. I live with a woman who owns a car. We sometimes use it to go to the beach, or to go hiking, or to visit places too far away to bicycle to and not served by public transportation.
The thesis of this blog is not that we should all give up our vehicles, but that we should reduce our mass dependence on them. What has to change is the perception of the car’s role in our lives. The household with four vehicles for four licensed drivers is wasteful and anachronistic. We don’t all need our own vehicles. When I lived alone, I found that I could rent a car to do almost anything I wanted, and that it was much, much cheaper over the course of a year than owning one.
Which brings me to my second point. “There was a time in my life,” Lisa said to me in a recent conversation, “when I couldn’t afford a bicycle, or a canoe or a kayak, because I was spending all my spare money on my car.” I could not afford my boat if I owned a car. This summer I am looking at a $3,000 repair job that has kept me off the water. The last two times we tried to go to the beach, car problems prevented us from getting there. If a boat is a hole in the water into which one pours money, a car is an even larger hole in the ground.
If anything, not owning a car has made me more active. I bicycle places where I used to drive. I have money to spend on adventures that used to go to my vehicle. I walk more. I live in a one-car household with two drivers, and share the cost of gas and the driving when we use the car to go someplace fun. And because I don’t have to work 40 hours a week in the summer to support a vehicle, there is more time to play.
The car industry has done a masterful job of selling the car-for-every-driver lifestyle to us. Commercials showcase the active life, and not the downsides of mass car ownership such as traffic, pollution, accidents, and incivility.
But boats and camps are often sold as time-shares, collectively enjoyed by several owners. Why not cars? We do not each need our own personal chariot to take us anywhere we want, any time we want. Owning a car is not the necessity its advertisers would have us believe.