For nearly seven years now, I’ve been car-free. I had a small economy car for two years while I was doing my master’s degree in the big city and commuting a long distance, at night, with very poor public transit options. But technically, the car belonged to my parents. When I started my PhD in a new city two hours away, they asked for it back. I was happy to oblige. While it was fairly low-cost as cars go in terms of gas, maintenance, and insurance (and possibly even pollution, although I’m not completely sure on that), it was still an expense that I didn’t really need or want, and I liked the idea of being without a vehicle.
During the six years of my PhD, I had a bus pass. It was included with my tuition fees, and was about $50 a semester. For shorter trips, I walked and biked whenever I could, but by total fluke, I lived right on four bus routes that went to all of the main places that I was usually headed, and so I took the bus quite a lot. Local public transit isn’t all that convenient due to wonky schedules and no late-night service at all, but it worked well enough for most of what I needed and wanted to do. As a result, I got used to the bus pretty quickly, and never really looked back.
Then, with the completion of my degree, the bus passes stopped. I still have to be on campus fairly regularly, and I do a number of other things, and so I once again needed to figure out how to get myself around the city. I looked more closely at the bus, and found that bus passes are between $60 and $80 a month. That amount certainly wouldn’t break the bank, but it’s still fairly high considering my income, and I wasn’t that thrilled with the idea of paying for transit regularly.
So I decided I’d try getting to as many places as I needed to go under my own power. I dusted off my running shoes, tuned up my bike, and started fueling myself for extra exercise – I like to joke now that I’m veggie powered, although I suspect that joke will be getting old very, very soon.
Honestly, it’s been great, and I keep asking myself why I didn’t do this sooner (short answer: the bus was rather convenient for many of the things I did regularly, and I was a bit lazy). I get a lot more exercise and fresh air. Walking to campus, for instance, is 45 minutes and biking is 20 to 25. I listen to music or audio books as I go, which is pleasant. I see and notice more of my neighbourhood than I ever have before. I also get a lot more time to think, and have worked through some research and writing challenges while out and about.
It’s not a perfect solution. Some days are too hot to bike, especially when I have meetings, and sometimes the weather is just too much, like with all the thunderstorms we’ve been having around here recently. Sometimes I wind up on campus a sweaty gross mess when I underestimate the head and humidity. Occasionally, people in vehicles simply don’t share the road all that well, or pay enough attention to what’s going on around them. But by and large, it’s been a great thing to do, and I’d heartily encourage anyone who’s been thinking about making the shift to give it a try. A bit more exercise, a bit more downtime, a bit more money in the wallet, and a bit less pollution – what’s not to love?