At the end of September I handed back the company car. This was when I resigned to follow a calling within the Church of England. So now I have no car to get me around, and as a full time student at Durham University I'm not wealthy enough to buy or run one. I knew this moment was coming so I was actually looking forward to it, and as a regular cyclist I was keen to learn how to manage without a car. Living in Durham was also going to make this an easier transition because there is a really good bus service, there is a mainline railway station and there are lots of local shops for groceries. I felt that as a family we were in a good place (mentally and physically) to embrace a car-free culture.
It is now approaching one month car-free and I thought it was worth making a note of how I feel about it, how we've managed and what the reactions have been from others.
I'm still pleased with the situation. We have had to get used to walking to the shops for milk. The local mini-supermarket is about 20 minutes round trip walking, as a result spontaneous purchases have taken a nose-dive. No more nipping out for a bar of chocolate or a couple of bottles of beer. Our discretionary spending has dropped a lot and money isn't leaking out of my bank account as rapidly as it did before. I have also seen a benefit in eating less snack foods, and when I do buy something I am also getting some exercise in the process.
less spontaneous spending at the shops
less junk food
Although we don't have the running costs for a car, we do have the costs of train and bus. As a mature student I've qualified for a 16-25 railcard which gets me 30% of rail fares; so a return ticket to Newcastle from Durham is less than £5; pretty much the cost of parking in Newcastle. A return to York is about £10.
To get into St John's College each morning I walk. It takes about 25 minutes and I get a lovely peaceful time along the side of the Wear; plenty of time for personal prayer. I've chosen to walk instead of cycle because I think this gives me better exercise; cycling is just too easy for this commute. I do have to travel further for a placement church during term time; and I alternate between the free bus when the weather is bad, and the bicycle when the weather is nice.
Overall I have found myself feeling fitter, healthier, having more time for prayer, more time to think, more time outdoors, I'm eating less rubbish food and I'm saving money. So far so good.
So how are my family coping with the situation? My wife is very pleased we no longer have a car; over a period of time we grew less and less comfortable with the environmental impact of driving a diesel car; the pollution, the heavy traffic, the rush and hurry that comes from needing to be places instantaneously; and the loss of travel as an activity, travel had become nothing other than the dead period between doing things.
Our two children haven't mentioned it at all; as older teenagers it does mean that "Taxi of Mum & Dad" doesn't exist; but on the other-hand Durham is such a compact city that getting around by foot and bus is easy, gives them freedom from their parents and helps them to learn their environment a lot better. They have both taken to the change without complaint.
What have been the reactions of others. Nothing really. No one has noticed that we don't drive, no one gives it a second thought and it doesn't seem to be creating any difficulties. Having said that, there are some downsides which are being swept under the carpet:
- My parents have to visit us, we can't easily pop over to visit them.
- I can't get down to see my sisters without an expensive long distance train journey, something that needs planning.
- I'm not cycling as much; I don't know whether there is less time in my day due to the workload at college, but I'm using the bicycle as a tool; I'm cycling as a valid form of transport so I'm spending less time cycling for fun. I think this might be an element of the busy college life and it might settle down as term progresses. I did ride Gerry's Autumn Brevet from York a week ago and thoroughly enjoyed Audaxing with friends, this was the first social ride in ages.
- Getting to early morning audaxes on the other side of the country is going to be challenging; I might have to ride to the start,
I'm going to see how these perceived problems manifest themselves over the coming months and for the two years I'm at Cranmer Hall in Durham.
In the further future, I was thinking it would be nice to be a car-free servant of the Church of England. So far though I have found people generally believe I won't be able to do it; the demands of being a vicar will swamp me and I will have to drive. I hope to challenge this perception because I would like to think that God's work doesn't require me to damage the planet. I would like to think that the space between meetings could be as valuable as the time spent in meetings. I would hope not to be rushing from one meeting to the next, using the car to carry troubles around with me and preventing me from putting down my concerns. I have a hope, but we will have to see what happens in the future. All does rather depend on me remaining healthy enough to cycle everywhere. Bishop Edward gave it a go and his experience is reported here.
So here's to a successful month of being car free and looking forward to a future of remaining car free. I hope that my freedom does not become a burden on others. I thank God that I am strong enough to have this freedom.