More Possibilities with Fewer Cars

Ten years ago, we reduced our number of owned cars to one, from three. To be honest, one barely worked. Suffice it to say we currently own one car.

It has been pretty easy to make a single car work for us. Our current car is a plug-in electric hybrid, so we have the added benefit of all of our local miles being electricly powered. We almost added an Smart Electric Drive car a few years ago, but we couldn’t justify even the tiny lease rate at the time: we just didn’t need more than one car.

Here are some things that make our one-car life possible, and additional approaches that made the choice a total a no-brainer. Without these conscious decisions, and without the walkable community in which we currently live, we probably could not make a one-car life work.

  1. Living local – We moved into an urban environment with public transit options. We did this specifically because we knew we were driving too much, and we wanted to have access to stores, restaurants, the library, and more.
  2. Working local – We live close to where we work, in fact, my husband works at home. This was a HUGE overall shift, reducing our travel from 140 miles per day (70 miles per day each in two separate cars) to about 6 miles a day in total. When we had to get our son to school across the river (12 miles from home) we carpooled with a neighbor in the morning, by walking him to their house, and we picked him up at the end of the school day only (24 miles a day total).
  3. Access to travel options– We all like a variety of ways of getting around: My son (age 17) and I both are comfortable with and use public transit often, my husband and I bicycle, and all three of us are comfortable walking two miles or more to get to stores or to visit friends.
  4. Being open to renting – We decided, together, that we would be open to renting a second car if needed (spoiler: we haven’t had to do this, ever, and it’s been over ten years).
  5. Accepting being car-less on occasion – We acknowledged that one or two of us, at some time, would be in a location without a car. When I drive Maarten to Petersburgh to write for a weekend, and leave him there, he sets himself up to have what he needs for 2-3 days, and he is willing to walk a good 30 minutes if he finds he needs anything from the store or library.

There are two things that we have had to change in order to make this work well.

First, we need to be able to plan a bit for how we will get around and who could have the use of the car and when. This may seem like a small thing, but it did require a transition in how we address the week ahead, and how we set up social moments with friends as well. It may become more complex if our son ever gets his licence and decides he would like to use the car, and we are prepared to handle that challenge. We keep our plans on a calendar as much as possible (though we often forget, even still) and talk about work trips and car needs at least a few days ahead.

We go old school with our collaborative planning

“Can I have the car on Tuesday?” is an often heard question in our household. Usually the answer is “Sure, no problem, I just need it on Friday, I think”. Sometimes the answer is “Damn, I need it to get to writers’ group and it’s about 1/2 hour away,” or “Well, I have an appointment for Fizzie (our dog), can you shift your thing or do I need to shift the vet visit?” Sometimes, we reveal an opportunity when we start talking about what we need and when. “I forgot about a party we’ve been invited to in Petersburgh. How about we ditch our chores on Saturday and go out to the party, then I leave you there to write all day on Sunday? I can come out to get you after dinner and, on the way home, you can drop me so I can pick up the fleet vehicle I need from work.”

Voila – a win/win/win/win – the party, time together, one car, and easy access to getting the fleet vehicle for the planned work trip!

Second, we had to be comfortable with occasionally saying “Yes, I’ love to join you for that lecture tomorrow night. Is it possible to get a ride home after?”...or a ride there, or to instead meet up near my home so I can walk. It is amazing how simple it is to ask these things in a way that is open enough so people will honestly say “yes, I can do that” or “no, sorry” and it’s amazing the community feeling and friendships that are truly strengthened by sharing rides, and swapping favors of this sort. I am very comfortable with this now, as is my son as we both have fairly active social/work/school calendars requiring some travel.

Our family also has grown to feel comfortable reaching out to neighbors when we may be without a car for a couple of days. I went to Boston for two nights last week, for example. It’s great to have a safety net if something unexpected happens. We, of course, have offered to be there for them when they need a neighborly hand as well.

Without these two simple yet significant changes to our process, we never could have transitioned well to one car. We never would have gotten to know our neighborhood so well. We never would have saved money. We never would have been able to simplify, we never would have started planning our weeks as a family, and we never would have grown to know a variety of people and experience so many opportunities for ride sharing.

With two or three cars, I see a lot of separate people doing separate actions. With one car, I see collaboration, a network of support, and many possibilities.

Create the possibilities, and be greener,


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