Have you ever contemplated bidding farewell to your trusty vehicle and going car-free?

Just six months ago, my partner and I made the life-changing decision to go car-free. It had been a long time coming. Our old car had reached its 20th year, and the cost of repairs outweighed its value. We pondered whether to go electric or simply give up the car altogether.

And what we found: Going car-free was much easier than I had anticipated.

We did some thorough research to explore our options, and it took some time to realise it was feasible. 

We were already frequent public transport users, and our car remained parked in the garage most of the time. Moreover, we don’t have any dependent children or elderly parents, and we were fortunate to reside in a suburb with excellent connectivity to public transport. We have a high-frequency bus route across the road and a city cat service nearby. Our decision was easier for us than it might be for others.

Of course, there were still many aspects to consider. How would we manage if we wanted to venture beyond the inner suburbs or explore regional areas of Queensland? And what about when we had visitors, such as my mother, with her mobility limitations?

We started relying even more on public transport, walking, and cycling to overcome some of these challenges.

Since we sold our car for scrap, we have extended our public transport use well beyond our usual haunts. We’ve also dusted off our bikes and embraced train rides combined with cycling. Surprisingly, we discovered that certain destinations were easily accessible, while others posed more difficulties due to the city’s uneven distribution of public transport services.

I opted for an electric bike. It still requires some pedalling effort, but it makes getting around much more convenient, especially in Brisbane’s hilly suburbs. And I’ve realised I can reach many places while barely needing to ride on the road.

Nowadays, my partner and I enjoy planning our rides, and there certainly is a fitness benefit to going car-free.

Living in a walkable suburb, strolling to the city along the river has become a breeze. However, walking in other parts of the city can be more challenging, especially when the temperatures rise and you seek shade.

But what happens when we genuinely need a car? Say, for a trip to the countryside? We looked into car hire options and found a service without subscription fees. So far, we’ve been pleased with the choice, although we have only had a few occasions to hire a car in the past six months.

Living close to shops and dining establishments also works in our favour. If we need to transport heavy items, delivery services rescue us. Hardware shops can conveniently deliver to our home, and groceries and meals can be easily obtained.

Let’s talk about the benefits of going car-free.

The most obvious advantage is financial savings. No more insurance and registration fees, no more spending on fuel and maintenance costs, and no more depreciation of a car idly sitting in the garage. Plus, we’ve gained extra space in our lives.

But the liberation that comes with going car-free extends beyond finances. I can now read during my bus rides instead of stressing out on congested roads. I used to dread reversing my car from the driveway onto our street, so being free of that anxiety is a huge relief. Not to mention how much simpler it is to find a parking spot for my bike than a car.

Those who walk a lot would agree that another advantage is how it brings us closer to our community. 

I’ve always enjoyed strolling around my neighbourhood, but now, the experience has added depth. When you’re on foot, you notice things differently, the tiny details you might miss, even while cycling. It’s been hugely enjoyable to pause, observe, and take it all in.

Remember the environmental aspect.

One of the significant benefits of going car-free is the reduced impact on the environment. We realised that even opting for an electric vehicle was less environmentally friendly than we initially believed. Electric cars still require the production of steel, plastics, and rare minerals for their batteries. Batteries have a finite lifespan, and the infrastructure for electric vehicles still relies on roads. So, we concluded that going entirely car-free had a more positive environmental impact.

What about the drawbacks?

The most significant downside is the inconvenience when it comes to long-distance travel. It requires forward-thinking and planning. We used to enjoy driving long distances, exploring interstate destinations. However, the money saved from not having a car can easily be redirected towards hiring a vehicle when necessary. Interestingly, we’ve found that we need it less often than we initially anticipated. If we ever need to venture further afield, plenty of car hire options are available.

I speak from the perspective of someone who is reasonably fit. The challenges individuals with mobility issues face are undoubtedly different and require thoughtful considerations tailored to their specific needs. 

It’s worth mentioning that giving up driving isn’t always a matter of choice. Sometimes, circumstances, age, injury or illnesses can force some to relinquish their driver’s license earlier than they may have wished. This restriction might limit where and how far one can drive, adding an additional layer of complexity.

There is help for people who don’t have the freedom to choose when they give up driving. CarFreeMe at the University of Queensland offers a client-centred service to people who have to give up driving for health reasons to continue doing what they love but without a car.

It’s all about finding what’s best for you and your unique circumstances.

Cover image, iStock – LightFieldStudios