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The ultimate guide to living car-free

Don't think you can live without a car? Here are the top reasons to ditch the car and how to get by without it.

Shannon Barker

How to live car-free - save money and the planet

The prevailing attitude in Australia today is that to get around you need to have a car. That’s why there are over 18 million registered vehicles in Australia - that’s a ratio of more than 1 car to everyone of driving age in the country. What’s even crazier is that most of those cars sit idle in driveways and streets for about 96% of the time.

If we only use our cars about 4% of the time, do we really need them? Is it actually impossible to get around without having a car sitting in the driveway and ready to go at all times?

You can live without a car

Not only is it possible to live without a car, ditching the car is good for your finances, good for your health, and good for the planet.

If you live in an area with good access to public transport and can get to work, your local pub, the shops, your mate’s house, and all your regular commitments by foot, bike, bus, train or tram, there’s no reason you need to own a car.

Finding your way around without a car is easy with the help of some handy apps, and with a little preparation and the right equipment you can even live car-free with kids.

Top tips for living car-free

  1. Have the right equipment - a good bike with the facility to transport smaller items, comfortable walking shoes, and a public transport card for your local city
  2. Download some apps to help you find your way around by foot, bike or public transport
  3. Plan ahead for each trip to find the best mode of transport and route each time
  4. Join a car-sharing service so you can access a car when you need one
  5. Keep track of how much you spend on public transport and car-sharing and compare it to the average cost of owning a car (around $4,200 a year for a second hand small car) - chances are you’re saving a lot!
  6. Remember that every time you hop on your bike or the bus rather than in a car you’re saving money, saving your health and saving the planet

3 reasons to ditch the car and live car-free

Owning a car is expensive business - Fuel, insurance, registration, servicing and depreciation add up to a hefty sum each year. The RACV estimate that the costs of owning a new small car add up to around $6,900 a year. Why shell out thousands of dollars a year if you can get around without a car for much less?

Too many cars are making us sick - Research shows that the more cars your household owns, the less likely you are to walk anywhere, and physical inactivity is a big risk factor for things like heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. And that’s not to mention the local congestion, noise and smog created by everyone driving in their own car. Active transport is a far healthier option for so many reasons.

Fewer cars means a healthier planet - This one should go without saying, but our dependence on cars is bad news for the environment. The emissions associated with manufacturing and shipping a car to Australia often match or even exceed the tailpipe emissions over that car’s lifetime. Ditching the car and choosing other modes of transport is a planet-friendly move.

How to get around without a car

Public transport - The speed and reliability of public transport will vary depending on where you live. In major cities, you’ll have the choice of a range of public transport options – trains, trams, buses and ferries – but depending on how far out of the city you live the frequency and travel times will vary. If you live in an inner suburb, public transport should generally be an easy and reliable way of getting around.

Walking - Walking is one of the most underrated and underused forms of transport. When considering how to get somewhere, most people rarely think to walk, but depending on your fitness and the weather, it can be a pleasant way to get anywhere up to 3 or 4 kilometres away (or even further if you're feeling active!). Plus it’s good exercise and completely free!

Bike - Hoping on your bike extends how far you can travel by active transport, and is a great way to beat the traffic or take a quicker and more direct route than the bus or tram. If you’re new to cycling, look for bike paths, back streets or streets with good bike lanes to begin with, and if you’re looking to use your bike for grocery shopping invest in some panniers or a trailer (or even just a good backpack) to transport your haul.

Check out our list of the Best Transport Apps for more ideas.

But what about those times I do need a car?

Most places you can get to without a car, but sometimes you need to do a big supermarket shop, pick up your latest Gumtree bargain or get across town to visit your folks. There’s a limit to how many tins of chickpeas you can carry on your bike, and you can’t exactly transport a new (to you) queen bed on the bus.

Enter car-sharing

Car-sharing services allow you borrow cars by or the hour or day when you do need them, so you can live car-free when you don’t. It works on a model of access over ownership: if you can easily access a car on the odd occasion you need one, you can ditch car ownership altogether.

Once you join a car-sharing service, you search for cars near you using a website or app, and book one for the time you need it. Most services have a range of cars (and even utes and vans) available so you can find the perfect car for your trip. You access the car either through a swipe card system or by getting the keys from a lockbox, and get on your way - no paperwork or lines, and you can pick up and return the car near you at any time.

There are a number of car-sharing services operating in Australia and they fall into two main categories: traditional car sharing (like GoGet and Flexicar) and peer-to-peer car-sharing (like Uber Carshare).

Traditional car-share fleets are owned by companies, whereas peer-to-peer share cars belong to real people in your community - think of it like Airbnb for cars. Each car-sharing scheme has different membership options and different hourly, daily and distance rates. Uber Carshare is generally the cheapest option, because we don’t need to own and maintain a fleet of brand new cars.

Jennifer and her family have been car-sharing through Uber Carshare since 2014 and have saved thousands of dollars a year over owning their own car. “[The best thing about not owning a car is] not having to think about it, repair it, renew the registration, wonder if someone might steal it…I also love not being stuck with a certain car size: with Uber Carshare we can get a Mazda2 for a lunch trip, a Mazda6 for the weekly market run, and a station wagon when we go camping!”