Car Free Day 2022: my journey to becoming car free
National Car Free Day started 25 years ago in 1997. In 2022, it falls on the 22nd September. It is a day where motorists are encouraged to give up their vehicles for the day, when roads are taken over by pedestrians and people are encouraged to use public transport, walk or cycle. Its aim is to encourage motorists to be less dependent on their cars and to reduce the air pollution in built up areas.
This year will be my first year celebrating Car Free Day. In fact, every day is Car Free Day for me now, given that I sold my car last year (spoiler!). Read on to hear about my journey to becoming car free, and what I have learned in the process.
Living the Car Life
For almost 13 years I have been a car owner, something that I think is quite familiar to a lot of people reading this post. I was raised in a semi rural area where you are lucky if the bus comes once an hour, or sometimes even once a day. So it was completely normal to be dependent on a car and I had never thought twice about it!
My previous career required me to have a car in order to travel around the local areas. Even when I moved to London, I still needed a car for work, and by this stage in my life, it wasn’t even on my radar that I could live without one. I was comfortable with the convenience that my car gave me.
I love driving - there is no denying it! I feel safe when I am in my car, I feel in control and it offers me escapism. Now this may sound dramatic, but I wept in bed one night over the thought of losing my safety net. I had spent nights sleeping in my car when I was struggling to find a place to live; it gave me independence and freedom! I love being the person that runs errands, picks people up when they have luggage, does deliveries for the local food bank and generally tries to be helpful.
But did you know that the average car or van in England is driven 4% of the time? Vehicles are the single largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the UK - "Cars account for nearly 30% of total CO2 emissions in Europe, and around 20% of all emissions created throughout the whole world." The numbers are staggering! Although I was aware of the damaging effects of vehicles in the environment, I didn’t think it applied to me as I "needed" mine. I worked late hours in London and my safety took precedence. This was amplified during Covid, as my car gave me a safe means of transport during a very uncertain time, as I was required to work in my public facing role throughout the pandemic.
The Turning Point
As I joined the On Purpose Associate Programme, I vividly remember how during induction, Associates explained how they had given up travel on planes and had traveled across the world via train, or had not purchased any new clothes in over a year. I felt slightly like a fraud, given that my car had been sitting in our car park for months and had barely been driven since leaving my past job.
My partner and I debated the use of our car over the Christmas of 2021, assessed how frequently it was being used, the cost of owning it plus running it (especially doing so on a low salary!) and came to the conclusion that in January, we would sell it - very conveniently when prices for used cars were high, when the new car supply chain was slow, and just before the increase in fuel prices started!
We spent a considerable amount of time debating purchasing an electric car (EC), but ended up in a deep dark pit of the environmental costs. Firstly, the emissions of manufacturing an electric vehicle are higher than that of a fuel-based car. Researching the source of energy to power a car, I learnt that "if the source of energy to power these cars doesn’t come from solar panels, wind turbines or even nuclear or hydroelectric, their CO2 emissions will be much higher… If the electricity used to charge cars comes from the burning of fossil fuels, it doesn’t matter if the EC are not polluting while being driven, as this pollution was already released in some distant power plant." We looked heavily into how car batteries were made and found that for a greater range, you need a larger battery, increasing the environmental costs: "This happens because these batteries are made of rare earth elements (REE) like lithium, nickel, cobalt or graphite that only exist beneath the surface of the Earth and therefore depend on mining activities with very polluting processes."
Due to these factors, we decided against buying an electric car, and simply went car free. Now my rational mind had to kick in - I live in one of the world's best connected cities, I do not need a car for child care responsibilities or any medical reason. So we did it, we sold the car!
My Car Free life
For 9 months, I have now been living car free. I feel financially freer, I have hired cars from time to time to help people move house or for a mini break, and on the whole, it hasn’t been too bad. However, it has highlighted the flaws in our transport systems and the cost of public transport.
Train strikes! Tube strikes! Rail fares! How do we expect people to give up their cars when there is no dependable alternative out there? I am in my last year of having a 26-30 railcard, which has significantly helped with the cost of rail fares. How do we expect people to pay often extortionate prices and then have unreliable travel? We need some kind of incentivisation to encourage people to commit to leaving their car behind and using public transport.
Being car free isn’t for everyone, and I am not saying that it is. Overall, I am really pleased that we gave ours up. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I knew it was sensible and logical. I know that I am not ready to give up travelling by plane, or hiring cars, but I am more aware of the environmental costs of doing so, and would be happy to make more sacrifices when the world starts to incentivise and not penalise with costs of using trains etc.
I will still take some convincing to hop on a bike on London roads though!
What are you planning to do on this Car Free Day? Is a car sitting outside unused? Could you rent a car or use a service like ZipCar instead? Could you car share with a neighbour or family member to utilise your car more efficiently? Do you have multiple cars sitting outside, but with limited sacrifice and compromise, could get down to just one?
Maybe take Car Free Day to really think about your car usage and in general, make more of an effort to use public transport. Making more informed decisions and knowing the greater costs of how we travel is the first step.