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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Turning Over an Old Leaf Ends 3-Year Run Without a Car

Its over. Its been more than three years that Gail and I have lived without owning a car. When we sold the car, I wrote about our plans in what became one of my most popular and memorable Forbes articles. When I meet people for the first time, it is the most commonly mentioned article. Last week, we bought a car.

While I still dont have a commute, my mother recently moved across town and visiting her in her new home requires a $25 Uber rideeach wayor a 90-minute public transit trip followed by a mile walk. Not wishing to disappoint her, we determined that this was a bridge too far for our auto-less lifestyle, so we bought one. More about that here in a bit.

green leaf on a white

With the benefit of three more years of experience, let me update you on what worksand what doesntin the world without a car. Ill work from my original list of twelve things that allowed me to live without a car.

  1. com. There is no question that we have become more delightedly dependent on Amazon.com over the past three yearswho hasnt. It made not owning a car easier.
  2. Living downtown, we really have walked routinely to do errands others drive to do, especially shopping. We live a short walk from a shopping mall and just another block from the nearest grocery store. Comfortable walks all-in-all.
  3. Light rail. Weve logged a lot of miles on light rail here in Salt Lake. It generally runs on time, its affordable and not much slower than drivingso long as your destination is a light rail station.
  4. Commuter rail. We have regularly usedand will continue to usethe rail line that runs about 100 miles from Ogden to Provo along the Wasatch Front. Roomy, comfortable, quick and far cheaper than driving an internal combustion engine car, it is hard to beat.
  5. Bike share. I used the bike share for two years but then canceled my membership. I found that walking is better exercise and I seldom used the bikes. Im hoping that the cheaper, rack-free rental bikes will come to Salt Lake City.
  6. Over the past three years, Ive taken a lot of buses. In many ways, I love them. Real people ride the bus. The reality, however, is that buses move through town at a rate just faster than I can run. With their frequent stops, they run at less than half the speed of an automobile. For long trips, that gets frustrating.
  7. I used Lyft often enough to figure out that the app has an algorithm for estimating the arrival time of a ride that seems to average about one-half of the actual time required for a ride to come. Otherwise, the experience is virtually identical to Uber.
  8. Uber (and Lyft) are really what make not owning a car possible. There are so many times and places that public transit wont go where you want when you want that without Uber I would have needed a car.
  9. Apart from out-of-town travel, I havent used a taxi since just before writing the Forbes article more than three years ago.
  10. Car sharing. Enterprise operated a car-share program in Salt Lake City. I subscribed and used the service about once-per month at first. Over time, my experience was disappointing. If the car wasnt where it was supposed to besay because the last user couldnt return it to its proper place because some jerk had parked there illegallyId end up late for a meeting. Ill spare you the story of Christmas 2015, but I only used the service once after that. Enterprise recently closed the program and, to my knowledge, no one else is operating one in Salt Lake.
  11. I have become more dependent on my local Avis. Located right on my block, Ive been renting a car there an average of more than two days per month. I maintain liability insurance and always use a credit card that provides coverage for the rented car. Even before selling my car, Id often rent a car from Avis for road trips. Better to put 1,200 miles on an Avis car than my own! Im sure I will do so in the future, too.
  12. During our three years without a car, we were frequent beneficiaries of kindnesses of all sorts. To all our friends, we love and appreciate your help and support.

So, we broke down and bought a 2012 Nissan Leaf. This is an all-electric car unlike a Toyota Prius that has both an electric motor and a traditional internal combustion engine to share the work.

The car has rather limited utility. The original range of the car was about 80 miles. That has declined to about 50 miles over the years. Ive described it as having a car with a one-gallon gas tank, that needs a rare form of gasoline that takes a long time to fill the little tank.

You see, with a range of 50 miles and a need for cushion, given that you dont always know how quickly you can find a place to plug in, you can only go about 40 miles. Thats 20 miles out and 20 miles back. Thats my new life.

The best news: it takes barely more than $1 of electricity to fill the little tank.

That limited range means public transit, Uber/Lyft and Avis will still be a part of my life. So, too, will explaining to friends why I need to plug my car in at their houses if they ever want me to leave!

Of course, I didnt buy this car because it was so utilitarian. I bought it because it is environmentally friendly. Let me answer a key question that may have already come to your mind.

NARA, JAPAN – NOVEMBER 23, 2016: Nissan Leaf electric car charging at a station in Nara, Japan.

“Arent you just moving from oil to coal to power your car?” The simple answer is no. Let me explain.

  1. Even though Rocky Mountain Power still produces most of its power from coal, that mix is changing to include more wind and solar all the time. I participate in Rocky Mountain Powers Blue Sky program, where I pay extra each month to help fund the transition to renewable energy. I also buy carbon credits monthly from CoolEffect.com. (You should, too.)
  2. Electric motors are so much more efficient than internal combustion engines (ICEs) that my car is about three times as efficient as a typical ICE car. Even if much of the power for the car comes from coal, it is about two-thirds less damaging to the environment.
  3. To the extent that coal is powering my car, that coal plant isnt contributing to air pollution in the city where I live. Additionally, the plant can be equipped with more filters and cleaners than a vehicle tailpipe to remove toxic emissions.
  4. By switching from Uber/Lyft to Leaf, given that Ive never had a ride in an all-electric vehicle, I am dramatically decreasing my contribution to pollution and global warming.

So, Im turning over an old Leaf, ending my three-year experiment on life without a car and looking forward to one day owning a Tesla.

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