Thursday, July 1, 2010

Carfree for the month of July

I've decided to ditch my car for the month of July. Starting today.

When I got my car, because my ex partner and I were moving out of Toronto to the country, some 9 years ago, I had no idea how dependent on the darn thing I would become. I didn't think of it as some Permanent Move that I would never undo. I was 24 when I got my license and lived from 16-24 in Toronto without missing a vehicle, using public transit and bicycling to get around. Obviously a car was a necessity in a rural situation, but I didn't realize at the time that I would become so used to it, that I would construct my life around having it, and that it would be so damn scary to try to break the addiction to it.

I live in a mid-size southern Ontario city now. I am a single mama with two kids, ages 6 and 2. My 6 year old just finished grade 1, and will enter grade 2 in September. She is at a special program which permits increased parental involvement, but it is not walking distance (4 km's from my house), and there is no school bus - parents (that would be me) are responsible to transport the children to and from the school. Her Dad picks her up on Thursdays and Fridays, but that means 8 times/week it's me.

My 2 year old goes to daycare. I pull her out for the summers and whether we will get our spot back is always tenuous. Thankfully I already know she has a spot in September at the daycare she was in last year, which is right on my university campus, which streamlines the running around I have to do daily during the school year.

I attend university, and take 3 courses/year instead of the usual 5. I go to campus 4 days/week.

Last year I drove constantly, so much that I began to hate my car. Partly I feel like a hypocrit needing it so much since the degree I am doing is in social justice and global economics. Partly I dislike the isolation factor of driving, the laziness factor, and the ominous responsibility and money pit that the vehicle represents. I want to break loose, man. I also know it gets me around in a very streamlined, time efficient fashion, and that it keeps us warm and dry in crappy weather, and cooled down with air conditioning in the heat. I couldn't get away from it last year because of where I lived in the city (pretty far and not on good bus lines relative to my daughter's school or her dad's house), and when my classes were (3 days/week my morning class started 30 mins after my daughter's school bell rang).

But this year I'm thinking ahead. I've moved so I'm within blocks of my daughter's dad and much closer to her school. Two busses stop outside my door and at least one more a block down. Yet another line or two come down a major road maybe a 10 minute walk from here. This is as good as it is going to get for me in terms of location and access to transit in the city. I've scheduled my classes so I physically can use the busses to get there, although it will take me four busses to drop my daughter to school and get myself to my university. I have a bicycle and I'm getting stronger at riding.

And hey! Right now it's summer. I have no commitments. Nobody to get to school, no school of my own to get to. If ever I can manage carfree, this would be the time. I am going to try it. If I cannot do it, I will hang my head in shame. If I can, I am going to consider continuing carfree for the rest of the summer and into the school year, see if I can hack it when life gets rolling again.

I may drive up to one or two weekends this month. What I am trying to do is approximate what my life will be like if I am carfree. My daughter's dad has no car and he often rents cars on weekends. He pays $35/weekend inclusive, and his Visa card covers insurance. $70/month and two weekends with a car would allow me to still do things like go to the beach, go berry picking, maybe camping or to the fun water park in a nearby town where no transit runs. And it sure beats the heck out of the upwards of $400/month I spend during the school year to run my car (gas, insurance, repairs, parking at school). And it would mean I only use a vehicle for things I actually cannot do without it, not for runs to the grocery store, for example, which is a ten minute bus ride from here and the bus stops outside my door.

I'm stoked! And kinda stupidly freaked out. I hope I can do this!

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