Moving from a house in the suburbs to an apartment in the center has a big impact on car ownership. The most obvious change is regarding parking options. In the suburbs we had a private garage next to the house, a private place for one car on the driveway and shared parking places reserved for the tenants and their guests. All of this for free (or to be more specific, included in the monthly upkeep fee, regardless of whether we were using it or not). It was five steps from the house, it was convenient, it was always available, there was even a switch to start the engine heater without having to leave the house (which is very handy in the notorious Swedish winter). In the center, the options are regular parking on the street and a semi-public garage. Both cost extra (a bit over 100€ per month) and neither is as convenient as the private garage five steps from the house. On the other hand, in the city center the need for having a car is much lower which got us thinking about life without owning one. Whenever I mention this to somebody, I get a look which is a mixture of “I am sorry that your pet dog died” and “you are insane”. I would therefore like to discuss the motivation and hopefully get you to question the “life is impossible without a car” way of thinking that many of us have (including myself until recently).
What makes it possible for us to try a car-free life? We have two metro lines close to the apartment – one less than 5 minutes away, the other 10 minutes away. My office is served by both lines, Aneta’s by one of them. When the weather permits, I bike to work, it takes 15 minutes and I have a garage at work where I can park the bicycle safely and for free. We have a big supermarket (ICA Maxi for those of you from Sweden) less than 5 minutes away. Emili’s kindergarten is 2 minutes away. This covers all of the typical transport needs we have during a normal week (work, grocery shopping, kindergarten), and it alone is enough to get rid of the car. But let’s take a look at additional use cases.
Other than shopping for groceries, there is shopping for more specialized goods like tools, clothes, electronics, furniture and so on, which is done more seldom than grocery shopping. For tools I have a big hardware store within a 5 minute walk from the apartment. Multiple clothes and electronics stores are located all around the city center. They might be a bit more expensive than the ones on the outskirts of the city, but this is offset by the money saved by not owning a car. For furniture there is a free bus from the city center to IKEA. Goods that are not convenient to take on this bus, I could not fit in the car anyway. And of course there is online shopping. Probably more than 80% of specialized shopping we have anyway done online over the recent years.
Regarding travelling, there are buses, trains and/or trams to all three airports in Stockholm within one to three metro stations from our apartment. The central bus/train station is three metro stations away. Taxi is also an option since a taxi return trip to Arlanda airport and Bromma airport is often cheaper than parking the car there for a week.
Now I think I covered 95% of the possible car use cases. For the rest (going for a day ski trip, just driving around etc.), there are two solutions – renting a car and car pooling. I have several rental car offices within a 10 minute walk. Regarding car pooling, currently in Stockholm there are two players, Sunfleet and DriveNow, with different operating models. For Sunfleet you get the car at one of the many designated parking areas, use it and return it to the same place. For DriveNow, you take the car from anywhere in the operating zone, use it, and park it anywhere in the operating zone. The operating zone is the city center, the inner suburbs and some areas of interest further from the city center (like IKEA and the airports). The closest Sunfleet parking is 2 minutes for our apartment. Almost always there is a DriveNow car available within 5 minutes of walking from the apartment.
What are potential problems of not having a car? One might be that the daily commute to work is more convenient by car. Well, not really. Due to the ever-present traffic jams it does not save any time compared to the metro. Then there is the need to find parking, which both takes time and costs money (some 50€ per month for Aneta and more than 100€ per month for me). Finally, our offices are in different directions, so only one of us could take the car. And we anyway did not use the car for our work commutes since we moved to Stockholm more than two years ago.
A problem with both renting and pooling are child seats. Rental car companies take more than 5€ per day for a child seat which almost always is of very bad quality. DriveNow offers car booster seats which Emili is to young for now. Sunfleet has child seats for Emili’s age group only in some cars, but not in the ones at the parking lot closest to our apartment. Good child seats for Emili’s age are very clumsy to mount and are therefore meant to be permanently mounted in one car, which for us obviously is not an option. But we brought Emili’s car seat from Croatia which can be mounted in one minute so we will use that one. The drawback is that it is forward facing which offers less protection than a backwards facing one. For this I have not found a solution yet.
We typically buy two to three big bags worth of groceries for our weekly shopping, which can weigh more than 20 kg in total, making it clumsy to carry even for the short distance to our apartment. We will probably solve this problem by getting a big back-pack and/or one of those “old-lady” shopping trolleys.
I feel that the biggest “problem” actually is in my head – there is this annoying feeling of not having our own car. Despite all the rationalization, it is still present. But hopefully, after a few months of not owning a car it will go away.
How much money should we save by not having a car? There is a wonderful app called My Cars where I track all my car related expenses. According to the app, our Renault Megane costs 475€ per month. This includes monthly payments (the car is leased), insurance, taxes, service, fuel and road tolls. But it does not include the aforementioned monthly fee for parking. So, however much taxi we use, how ever much we rent and pool, I doubt we will come anywhere near 575€ per month. This also means that our total cost for the apartment and transport will be cheaper in the center than it was in the suburbs!
Have I managed to convince you? Of course, I do not claim that we should all revoke cars completely, nor that this is a suitable way of life for everybody. I don’t even know if we will be successful in practice. But I hope it is clear why I believe that this is a good choice for us. And I hope that I managed to give you an alternative perspective to car ownership. I would love to hear your opinion on the subject down in the comments.
P.S. Read about how our first car-free year went here.