Friday, January 9, 2009

Intro and Forgetfulness

We recently embarked on a experiment in living without a car in our little Midwestern U.S. college town with three kids and a business. This blog will help us keep a record or our travel patterns and the amount of money we spend or, hopefully, save on transportation. By keeping a record, I also hope to learn from my mistakes and become more efficient in navigating about town.

We have wanted to go "car free" for quite a while now. We lived in the DC area with one car for several years and enjoyed the Metro rail and bus, walking, etc. back when we both worked and didn't have children. During our lives together, my husband and I have made transportation a key part of the picture when deciding where to live. Our reasons for wanting to get rid of our car have been primarily environmental. We have always been aware of the effects of our transportation choices and tried bike, walk, take public transportation, combine trips, carpool, etc. when convenient. The health aspects of driving less were also important to us. Lately, the financial benefit of living without a car has also been enticing. Why go without the car completely? Why not just have it for emergencies or really bad weather? The big savings from being car free is upkeep and insurance. In our case, we had a bit of a push into car free living by someone running a red light and rendering our car undriveable. Thus, we are saving by not buying a used or new vehicle as well.

I'm guessing most of our adventures will not be interesting to anyone outside our area and even then, possibly not of interest, but I don't mind talking to myself. We are realize we are not the only ones in our town without a car. Countless students (although, clearly not enough since parking is a problem on campus) live here (at least during the school year) car free, my sister's boyfriend who is in his 50's has NEVER driven a car...NEVER, our neighbor/friend is a single mom with two children older than ours and she has been without a car for a couple months now, another friend with young children went several months last year without a car in our twin city, and so many, many others we don't know in our community who just simply can not afford a car, have lost their license, can not drive for health reasons, etc. Obviously, we know it CAN be done. We aren't doing anything groundbreaking here. I am interested in how much we save, how we can improve on navigating our town within our very active social lives, and what we learn along the way.

Travel Expenses: $235 1 annual adult MTD bus pass (for me)
$145 1 annual "student" MTD bus pass (for my almost nine year old)
Now I have to say I could have bought a "Spring" pass for $115 since I will probably be riding my bike more than bussing once the weather is nice, but I like the option and not having to worry about tokens, etc. Also, I could have probably gotten by with one more year without my eldest child using a pass. Technically, kids under certain height right for free when with a fare-paying adult, but although he is over this height I have never been asked to pay for him. He was very excited about having his own pass and I feel like I'm being fair to the system I am benefiting from...I enjoy having a mass transit system and don't mind paying for it. This also allows for my son to ride by himself if the need arises without a worry about tokens, etc. I have issues with our bus system in our town. It seems set up primarily to take people to campus and home or students from one end of campus to the other. The MTD has lots of positives as well and I will save my critiques for now.

Today's Goal: Help a customer learn to use her new baby carrier. She has a newborn and doesn't want to take the baby out so I'll be taking the three kids and going to her house. This is a standard service I offer all my child carrier customers since I want to ensure they know how to use the carrier safely and have the correct carrier for their specific needs. We are out of dish washing detergent and other staples so I need to shop at Common Ground Co-op and/or Strawberry Fields. The boys have been asking to go to the library so we will visit the Urbana Free Library while we are out.

Weather: Since we live in the Midwest and I have a eight year old, four year old, and sixteen month old traveling with me, the weather is quite important to me. If it is very cold or raining, that might change my plans. Today is sunny (thank you!) with a high of 39 degrees F (although we will be traveling well before the high is reached). It is a little windy, but not terrible.

Travel Plans: I enter the customer's address into the handy dandy MTD route finder. I have a couple options. The first one entails a 30 minutes bus ride (from a bus stop .19 miles from my house) and then a .50 mile walk to the customer's house. The second option has us walking .35 miles to another bus stop, riding a bus for 5 minutes, transferring to another bus, riding for 20 minutes and then walking .25 miles to the customer's house. The third option has us riding the bus (from a bus stop .19 miles from our house) 10 minutes, waiting for 20 minutes (in a bus terminal...that makes a difference, but still that is 20 minutes just waiting), riding for 20 minutes and then walking .20 miles to the customer's house.

I decide to go with option 1 for multiple reasons. One being, I am familiar with the bus route and since the high is relatively balmy for this time of year, I don't mind doing the .50 mile walk all at one time.

This only takes into account getting to the customer's house...not getting from her house to the store or the library. Walking from the customers house to the co-op is roughly 1.6 miles. From the co-op to the library is a scant .2 miles and then another .2 miles to Strawberry Fields and .4 miles to the bus stop. This homeward bound bus drops us off right in front of our house.

Savings from this Trip: Well, that is hard to calculate. We did "save" $4 in bus fare (I will keep a running total to see if we can possibly use the bus enough to pay for our passes). We didn't use gas or wear and tear on our own vehicle. Right now we still have car insurance because we are paid up until the end of the month and will be renting a car for a trip so we don't mind being covered. Our car insurance is roughly $600 a year so when calculating annual savings this will come into play, but this early into the experiment we have not actually saved a dime on insurance.

Time: While I probably won't be able to keep track of actual accurate travel times, I do like to know how much time it took for us to achieve our goals. This time will include time we would have spent at the library or shopping even if we had used a car, but it is useful for me to see how I could improve efficiency. Roughly 5.5 hours. I am guessing at least 2 hours or 2.5 hours of this is travel time (including time spent waiting for the bus).

Tonight's Goal: Have dinner with friends.

Weather: Since it is after dark, it has cooled off quite a bit...below freezing. The forecast is calling for freezing rain, but we are hoping it will hold off until we are back home.

Travel Plans: Dinner is at a restaurant 1.6 miles from our house at around 7:30pm so the kids will be tired on the way home. We decide to walk and push the kids in the Chariot bike trailer. All three kids can not fit in the trailer when it is attached to the bike, but while using at as a stroller they can cuddle in (not so much fun for our eight year old), stay warm, and fall asleep. We add a blanket to keep them snug and bring a child carrier in case they are too cramped.

Savings from this Trip: We ate at a place with free parking so the only savings would be gas.

Time: Roughly 2 hours with around 1 hour of this being travel time.

Other Travel: My husband rode his bike to and from work as usual for a total of approximately 40 minutes round trip and 7 miles.

*A couple disclaimers - the distances are estimates from using different online map services. Most of the time, I am traveling at 4 year old walking speed and carrying a 25 lb. 16 month old in a carrier with a diaper bag weighing roughly 3 - 5 lbs. prior to any purchases made on the trip.

Notes: The forgetfulness comes in because after all of this, I forgot to buy dish washing detergent. I was not shopping for the entire week, but picking up a bag of groceries which I could easily carry with the toddler. I bought several loaves of bread (we freeze them) and some other staples, but no detergent. Not an issue when we had a car, but pretty disappointing as we rode the last bus which goes past our house home. I even made a list, but by the time we were shopping I was in a hurry and didn't dig it out of my bag. Not the end of the world, but I must be better planning and sticking to my list in the future. The kids stayed warm, but my four year old complained of foot pain. He is wearing his brother's hand-me-down shoes and I should probably look into shoes with a better fit since he will be walking more than usual. He did well walking over 3 miles today.


  1. i think it’s fantastic that you are living your values!

    so sorry to hear about your car accident. i know how scary it is. i was hit twice in the last several years. the first time when i was pregnant and she hit the car right behind my 2yo's carseat. the second time i had both boys and three of their friends in the car, and the woman turned out to have no insurance.

    i think i was in on one of your 2008 near-misses. ;^) i’m glad you all made it through okay, and i hope 2009 is a great year for you!

  2. Lori, Yes, you were were in one of our near-misses. :-) I am sorry about your accidents. I was bumped in the car while I was in labor with P and I was upset so I can imagine how scary it would have been while you were pregnant with a 2yrold. I'm glad you are all okay. We miss art lessons with you!