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Life without a car  


Ruth Whiter shares misconceptions about the car free life 

Life without a car

I consider myself fortunate. I don’t like driving. I married someone who likes it less. As newlyweds we were given an old yellow mini; it sat on the drive and after the battery had gone flat twice we had it taken away for scrap. From the beginning, we planned our accommodation, our jobs, our church, and our shopping around bicycles and public transport. We settled in a city, within walking distance of a mainline station. When we had small children, we joined a car club, thinking it might be useful when they needed ferrying to evening activities later. We were right, but we never needed to use it more than two or three times a month. We have now brought up two young adults without owning a car.  

Our reasons for doing this were never entirely about creation care. But I’m sure we are all aware of the harm private vehicles do to the environment. They burn fossil fuels and contribute to climate change – even the electric ones, unless we move to entirely renewable electricity. Pollution contributes to around 40,000 deaths a year in the UK*, and in those areas where air pollution exceeds legal limits, 80 per cent of nitrogen oxide comes from road traffic.** Congestion in our towns and cities contributes to stress, anger, reduced productivity, wasted time and noise pollution. 

I am very aware that your circumstances may be different from mine. You have a job that specified ‘must have own car’. Walking to the station would take too long and parking there is expensive, before you even contemplate buying tickets. You give lifts and are available to those in need. Driving is part of the way you serve God. And, let’s face it, I’ll probably gladly accept your lift next time you offer. 

Nevertheless, I’d like to share with you a few misconceptions about the car free life which I hear again and again. These are simply my observations. They will be biased, because we all like to defend our chosen lifestyle.

But if you get defensive too, as you read them, you could use this opportunity to let God search your heart, and your attachment to that metal box in the drive. 


You’d need a car to get there… 

Occasionally, this is true. But I have lost count of the times when it wasn’t. It crops up especially when people recommend days out for the family. Occasionally, you can get there more quickly and easily by train, bike, or even by bus, especially in city centres. Most often, you can get there but it will take longer.

The train, bus, or bike ride will be part of the fun of your day out, rather than what you do before it begins. Google maps will give you a quick comparison of driving, walking, cycling, and public transport to any destination. 

You’d need a car to carry that… 

You know, I’m not particularly strong. I can’t do one proper press-up. But I carry most of the food shopping for a teenage family in roll-top panniers on the back of my bike. I can’t get up the hill without getting off, but pushing a bike laden with panniers is easier than carrying the smallest carrier bag at the end of your arm, because the wheels take the weight.

Life without a car2

When I put the same Saturday shop in a VW Polo, the boot looks fairly full. What I’m saying is, having a car can give you a false sense of what it’s possible to carry. 

The trains are always late 

I do know how frustrating train travel can be. But the government’s figures on trains which arrive on time (between 81 per cent and 96 per cent, depending on the company) matches my experience. If I were to make an estimate of the number of people who have arrived on time by car to the meetings I have been in over the last five years, I doubt it would hit that lower figure.

Is it possible that our perception of 45 minutes late on a train is very different from our perception of 45 minutes late in a car? In a traffic jam, I feel claustrophobic and frustrated, while someone else might welcome the chance to catch up on last week’s sermon. Other people feel claustrophobic and frustrated in a stopped train carriage, while I welcome the chance to…catch up on last week’s sermon. Late is late, that’s all I’m saying. 


Well, I’ve had my rant. Maybe you’re irritated, or maybe you are thinking about leaving the car at home for one or two journeys this week. I’ve been reading Isaiah, and he seems to follow God’s ‘rants’ with beautiful pictures of what life on God’s terms could be like. Can you imagine a United Kingdom where car journeys are only made where no practical alternative can be chosen, designed, or developed? 

Rich and poor alike need public transport, so improvements and subsidies are a vote winner, bringing greater equality of opportunity for jobs and education. 

Those who have no alternative – the elderly and people with disabilities, and those visiting towns and cities from rural areas, alongside care workers and emergency plumbers, can drive freely into our cities and park outside the building they’re visiting. 

Childhood asthma and obesity begin to sound like diseases of the past as the air becomes cleaner and walking and cycling become safer and more normal. 

Children begin to take ownership of our residential streets again. Yes, the occasional vehicle will be turning into the street, but let’s hope it will have sensors that know the children are playing there. With less incentive to zip across town to entertain the children, neighbours find themselves more often in shared space, with all the missional opportunity that brings. 


*Royal College of Physicians 2016 

**The role of walking and cycling in solving the UK’s air quality crisis, © Sustrans December 2017 

Author and illustrator Ruth Whiter is communications co-ordinator for the West of England Baptist Association. Both the words and the illustrations are hers.


TogetherSum18This article appears in the Summer 2018 edition of Baptists Together magazine

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Baptist Times, 02/07/2018
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