We’re Going Car-free, And It’s Gonna Be OK.
“What the hell were you thinking?!? You've got kids in the car!”
Almost a week on, the angry words of the woman from the car in front are still ringing in my ears.
Well obviously I must have been thinking: "I know- now that we've had a really fun play date and I've got my two precious babies in the back seat of the car, I'll approach a big multilane roundabout in slow moving traffic, turn my head right to look for a gap in the oncoming cars and then deliberately roll into the back bumper of the car in front (who I won't notice has stopped moving until it is too late). That'll be fun! And then, once we've exchanged insurance details, I'll cry at the roadside, and continue blubbering while I drive off to find a safe place to pull over (in an area of London I don't know at all) and call my husband at work- he will love getting that call from his wife saying she's just been in a car accident with his kids in the back seat!"
To her credit, the lady did call me back the next day to check the children and I were ok, and to apologise for shouting at me in front of them. But in my mind this incident and the flat tyre the week before were both signs that we had made the right decision a few days earlier to sell our car and become more acquainted with public transport.
I had already played with the idea of going carless a few months ago but chickened out, convincing myself that we needed a car to survive. I had bought into a deeply entrenched but misguided notion in our society that car ownership is a requirement of successful adulthood. I had to remind myself that we live in London- one of the most physically and virtually connected cities in the world. I live walking distance from several bus routes, two different National Rail stations (one of which will also run Crossrail trains from 2018), Docklands Light Railway and a parking rank for zipcar. When I’m feeling flush (which is never, by the way) I am also a 25 minute walk from the river taxi; not forgetting Uber and other minicab services that are instantly available with the right combination of taps and swipes on a pocket-sized piece of glass. I'm toying with the idea of getting a bike with a trailer, to cart the kids around on local trips while simultaneously developing glutes of steel (goodbye mum bum, hello tight tushy!), but the idea of us being so exposed to traffic on the open road still scares me.
Despite its name, home education often involves a lot of time not spent at home but at meet up groups, picnics, sports and other activities. Until now I have taken for granted the luxury of being able to travel to and from these venues by car, our own little portable piece of home with the musical accompaniment of our choice, temperature control and protection from the elements. This protection is especially welcome when my autistic (and awesome) 3 and a half year old son has the occasional epic meltdown when leaving an activity that he has really enjoyed. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have relied on the gentle motion of the the moving car together with Classic FM to put his bloodshot tear-filled eyes to sleep, so that he wakes up refreshed and able to reconnect by the time we get home. Honestly, I’m not really looking forward to seeing how these meltdowns pan out on public transport when I’m also minding a one year old; I’m hoping his love of buses and trains will triumph and help turn the potentially difficult journeys into just another part of the day’s edventures.
The main reason we are getting rid of the car is to save money: it should save us £350-400 per month (£4200- £4800 per year!) when you consider the car finance payment, insurance, road tax and petrol- not to mention the unexpected costs that come with a flat tyre, smashed windscreen, accident, or a fault uncovered during a routine service. We are among the thousands of young families trapped in London’s overinflated private renting sector, so after the rent and all the bills are paid, there really isn’t anything left over for unexpected costs. Hubby and I are also eternal optimists though, and despite the obvious initial inconvenience of not having a car, we came up with a long list of the personal, social and environmental upsides to not having a car. For example, we’re hoping a weekly internet shop will replace frequent last-minute car trips to the supermarket for things we don't really need, which inevitably comes with extra unplanned purchases. Increased journey times on foot or public transport should help extinguish my bad habit of overfilling the day with activities away from home, which always looks like a feasible and efficient idea in my phone calendar, but usually ends in tears (from the kids and from me!). From a health perspective, being car-free will increase the amount of walking we do, which may lead to discovering new and interesting places in our local area. Environmentally, selling the car reduces my personal carbon footprint from 92% of the UK government’s 2020 emissions target to 78%. Every little helps, after all.
So as the countdown to becoming car-free continues, the transition has already begun. I’m finding myself looking at bus stop signs as I drive past them, to see which buses stop where. When people invite me out, I’m automatically planning how I’ll get there on public transport with the children. It’s going to be a major change to what we are used to, but I am a great believer in regularly stepping out of my comfort zone in order to grow and evolve. Watch this space for progress reports over the next few months…