I bought my first car, a 1982 Volkswagen Rabbit, when I was 16 — it allowed me to get where I wanted to go, whenever I wanted to go there. I didn’t realize the full costs of that independence though.
According to the Canadian Automobile Association, the average annual cost of operating a personal vehicle is $11,480; the manufacture and use of automobiles is responsible for 25 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions causing climate change and motor vehicle accidents are the No. 1 cause of accidental death in North America. I didn’t know these things when I got hooked at age 16.
It seems many Albertans are hooked on cars. We have the highest car ownership rate in Canada. Leor Rotchild is bucking the trend, having been car-free for almost 10 years now. He’s designed his lifestyle to make his choice realistic and he’s been reaping the financial rewards from it, travelling frequently and currently saving to go to Boston for his Masters degree.
The 30-something professional made the decision after spending a year in London, England where getting around is simple without a car. When he moved to Calgary, he wanted to see if he could continue his car-free lifestyle, but he knew his decision was unconventional.
“I think it’s partly a cultural thing, our city and cities in North America are built around the vehicle — it would be non-mainstream to do anything but.”
Further, not owning a car is often viewed as a marker of poverty, lack of independence and for men, it can preemptively spell a dating dry-spell.
Aside from a little extra planning required, Rotchild sees mostly benefits from his car-free status. He’s chosen to live and play downtown, and is able to walk or ride his bike most places.
When needed, he takes a cab. Rotchild describes himself as a “neighbourhood kind of guy” and says he runs into people he knows all the time and makes new friends because in his words, he “doesn’t have a big piece of metal keeping (him) from others.”
The high costs of car ownership are starting to outweigh the benefits. Perhaps ditching the car is the more enlightened approach to a world a little freer of pollution, financial strain and social isolation.