A Mom Can’t Mom Without a Car

A mom can’t go grocery shopping, pick up kids from soccer practice & take family dog to the vet on a bicycle. Not anti-bike; just saying…😉

— Jodie Emery (@JodieEmery) August 5, 2017


Seven years ago we mulled over getting rid of our car and at the time it was an audacious and unconventional move. At the time we just had the one kid and we lived in a highly walkable area of Vancouver. People told us we’d regret it, we’d  have emergencies and be stuck, but that never happened. Instead, we paid off a bunch of debt, felt free-er (as free-er as you can feel with a toddler) and saved more money to pay off our consumer debts and student loans. We had a lot of life changes for the next few years, moving overseas, growing our family and moving house a few times and finally moving back to Canada.

With each transition we evaluated if we really needed a car. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t. Our last transition was almost a year ago when we no longer needed a vehicle to get our son to school. Our car was used once in a month and then we paid over $400 for it to be serviced. That’s one expensive trip. It was time to reevaluate if we needed a car and our conclusion was we didn’t. So we’ve spent the last year getting our three young kids around mostly by walking, sometimes by using transit, by cargo bike and infrequently by car with a car-share or a car rental.

Vancouver is a fantastic city for transportation options. In July I spent two weeks on a course that was on the west side of Vancouver. The location was an 1 hour walk/12 minute drive/35 minute bike/35 minute bus ride away. And I used all of those transport options over the week. Some days I walked there, enjoying the beautiful weather and the spectacular views of the North Shore mountains as I walked over the Burrard Street bridge. It was really the best way to start my day. The downside to it was that I had to leave before my kids woke up so I missed seeing them (yeah I will try to avoid ever getting a job I need to leave the house at 6:50am for). Many days I took a Mobi bikeshare bike to the course. The bike lanes and routes lined up well for the trip and it was safe and convenient. It was a refreshing start to the day and I loved that I had the option to not bike home (also didn’t have to worry about a bike being stolen – bike theft is very high in Vancouver). The bus was also pretty convenient: there’s a stop kitty corner to my apartment building and if I wanted to get out early to stretch my legs and walk some of the way there it was easy to do. A few days when I needed to get home quickly or there was an emergency (kids were sick) I used Car2Go. It was faster and cheaper than a taxi. The con to it was driving in stop and go traffic – my tolerance for sitting in a car in traffic is low. Much rather sit in a bus if the streets are busy or get out and walk or bike.

Now, I know you’re thinking, that’s all well and good but she didn’t have any kids along. True. But it’s still pretty easy to get around with my crew of three along without a car. They really enjoy skytrain (our subway system) and the bus. We’ve been visiting a relative that’s ill and taking a long skytrain ride out multiple times a week to visit her. The kids are not bothered by the long train ride at all. In comparison, five minutes into a drive they are asking if we are there yet. And there are so many other ways to get around with kids. Follow that tweet link above for a swift and expansive rebuttal from many parents that don’t own a car and get out there with their kids and do stuff. Like us, many of them use cargo bikes. And they make choices like living in a higher density area or building their family schedule with extra time to bike or walk. They order groceries for delivery, they take kids on transit to soccer and they do everything else many families do just without using a car.

walking home from Costco - yes you can go to Costco without a car!
walking home from Costco – yes you can go to Costco without a car!

The other exciting change to our transportation option is that my oldest son is now riding his bike longer distances.I should clarify: he has learned to ride a bike. For many reasons we waited to teach him how to ride a bike  until he was 7.5 years old and you guys, it has been a parenting highlight for me. From his first time on the bike it took him about six weeks to build up his skills and enough endurance to do a long-ish ride from our home to Granville Island and back. His pride at this accomplishment, his joy at riding his bike – it has literally brought tears to my eyes (he’s not a kid that things come easy to). And our four year old has really upped his endurance with walking so even more of the city is opening up to us. I can see the future and the future is bigger kids that walk and bike where they need to go. Love our stroller but I can’t wait to be free of it after eight years of using them.

You don’t have to be car-free to use and enjoy alternative modes of transportation. Even when we have owned cars we’ve always tried to use them as a last option. Walking is always our first choice, then bikes and public transit depending on the weather. I wish this message was out there more: keep your car but try to use it less. There are lots of families with cars that still bike places, commute by bus or train to avoid expensive parking and having to sit in traffic or make more time in their day so they can walk places. 

Ways to reduce your car dependancy as a family:

  • Try a new way to get there. Maybe it’s just once a week that you leave the car at home, walk with the kids to school and catch the bus from there. I know if it adds even 20 minutes to your day it feels hard but you might be surprised how much you look forward to that once a week break from the car.
  • Choose activities that you don’t need a car to get to or participate in. Set a limit on how much and how far you are willing to drive regularly for an activity.
  • Have a car free day regularly. Make a game of it, plan for it and have everyone pick activities that you can do at home or without driving. It’s like having a no spend day: it makes you much more aware of how you much you drive.
  • Look for opportunities with change and growth. Hunting for a new job? Cost out how much you could save if you found a job that didn’t require a car. Kids getting older? Maybe it’s time they biked or walked to school instead of getting a ride from mom or dad. Moving? Set a wish list for what you would like to be within easy distance of your new home to reduce your car dependency.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Like this post? Share it:
  • Love this post. I dream of being car free but with living in a rural area that is 12 miles from a decent sized town and having a pretty cold winter a car is a necessity for many things. We do build biking into our life style though. I have taught my boys how to bike along a highway in order to get to the park to swim at the lake and to get to our small town for mail and to visit friends. We also bike to town for appointments and work when we can build the extra time into the day. We have even invested in fat tire bikes in order to bike in the winter. Keep up the good work with alternative transportation, one day if enough of us use it, it won’t be considered alternative but normal.

    • We are moving to a small town this fall and will have a car again. But like you we are hoping to bike more – it might be easier than in the city as we will have a garage to just roll the bikes out from (here they are in a bike room behind two heavy metal doors). Really interested in fat tire bikes for the winter. Thank you for sharing – I hope my kids because competent and confident cyclists like yours!

  • We live in town and we don’t have a car. We use buses, walk, and Gett Taxi (because you can pay by credit card so you don’t have to make sure you have cash at all times). I worked out that if I were to take a taxi every day, it would still be cheaper than running a car and I didn’t factor in parking costs. Once I got over the hurdle of allowing myself to take a taxi whenever I felt like it, the choice was easy. And of course, I try not to take taxis as much as possible. We wouldn’t be able to do this if we lived in out of town though.

  • so… are there any bakfietsen around yet? for instance the urbanarrow? Or less expensive: for 1500 euro’s you can get a second hand fietsfabriek bakfiets or a babboe cargobike. Here in the Netherlands they are all around, especially around middle-
    and upperclass areas.

    • In Canada the bakfiets would be called a cargo bike. They are still very uncommon. The Dutch DEFINITELY have the best biking systems!! When I lived there I borrowed an old omafiets from a cousin and along with the train, I was set!

  • The ” you will need it for emergencies” thing reminds me of why people want to get their kids cell phones earlier and earlier. But most often, similar to a car, we can all do without. It requires different kinds of planning and a willingness to be inconvenienced sometimes. But the financial and health benefits seem pretty incredible!

    That being said, we own two cars and use them very often. My husband sometimes walks to work but more often just uses the convenience of driving. I think we are both fairly wimpy about the sweat factor. Even when things are walkable I picture myself showing up extra sweaty in summer and just opt for the car instead. I am also to easily daunted by one or all four of the kids fussing about walking or riding their bikes.

    I like your suggestions for car free days though. Our library has a screen free week a few times over the summer and I like having little incentives to do something atypical that is totally attainable if I just make it a priority.

    • Yesssss “do something atypical that is attainable if made a priority” is so true. Again, doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We’ve done screen free weeks and going ‘off grid’ and while we aren’t going to do it all the time, they are refreshing and help us reprioritize our usage.

  • My family owns two cars and we do use them! But I take bus and transit to work, and in doing that, I see lots of families, mostly lower income (most likely) functioning by public transit even in my car-intensive area. I’m sure it’s not always easy, or ever easy, but people do what they have to do. Saying that you need a car to “Mom” is obviously a pretty privileged middle-class kind of statement. That said, there’s no shame in being a middle class mom and picking up kids from soccer practice in the burbs or whatever. But in addition to the classist aspect of the statement, it also doesn’t reflect reality everywhere. My friends in Brooklyn have two kids and they’ve NEVER had a car since they moved to NYC, and this is the norm amongst their friends. Sometimes a car isn’t worth it. So I get where that original poster is coming from, but the world is a big place and people manage in many different ways. :)

    • Inder – thanks for weighing in on your suburban multi-modal transport plan. That’s what I’m talking about! Obviously there are some areas that having one or no car does not work for families. But even driving a bit less, taking transit occasionally or making the time to walk once a week, is helpful to everyone.

  • This is so interesting to read…while we live in “the country” and couldn’t go without a car, I often ask my husband do we really need THREE vehicles? We have a van, and his truck and a car for better mileage…whoever doesn’t have the kids takes the car and the truck sits 98% of the time, but when we do need it for country living things, it is of course nice to have (but we could borrow one!).

    • Insurance is so high here I can’t imagine having a vehicle a second or third vehicle that only gets used occasionally. For reference my husband’s 20 year clean driving record that gives him the highest discount possible still had us at $1800/year in insurance on a 4+ year old minivan. It’s so expensive to drive here!!

  • For me what it really comes down to is:

    Would I rather pay for the car, insruance, gas, parking etc and have an extra 45 minutes each way (1.5 hour a day) with my family.
    OR:
    Have a bit more money in my pocket, but less time for life.

    I choose the family for sure. I could never get up before my kids and then get home and eat and then go to bed. Also many studies show that spending your money on things that help you have more time to enjoy life, result in higher happiness levels than spending money on things (obviously right?)

    However we are a family of 5 and we survive in rural Canada, 15 minute drive (45 minute bike) to town AND we only have 1 car which is pretty rare. Avoiding the second car and all those costs, and carpooling, biking etc. Definitely makes more sense than the rare occasion that a second car would help.

Comments are closed.