Thursday, April 10, 2008

The car addiction

What is it about cars? Growing up, my eco-groovy family owned three cars. Despite our limited income and ardent environmentalism. In the collective house I live in now, despite the fact that none of us are above the poverty line, every single driving adult owns a car.

Why are they so necessary? In 2008, car ownership has reached almost one car per two people in the U.S. In some parts of the country, it’s as high as .975 cars per person. It sounds ridiculous when you put it that way, but at the same time, it’s hard to remember how else we used to get around!

In my household, three of us got our cars for free. My aunt and uncle gave me their retired station wagon. Likewise, Matt inherited an elderly family car; Catherine adopted her boyfriend’s truck. Nonetheless, we’re spending more on these vehicles than we think. This calculator shows that, even without purchase costs, and even though I bike most places, I’m still shelling out about $100 a month to own my car. Even more disturbingly, the retirement calculator at the bottom of the page tells me that if I invested that money instead, I’d have more than $165,000 by the time I retire. Or $34,000 if I put it in a college fund. Or $18,000 towards a home loan. Wow. Is owning a car really worth all those things?

Especially considering how often I use the car. Since I’ve started biking to work, I’ve gone from driving about 500 miles a month to just over 100. When I bought a tank of gas last week, it was only my second tank since the new year. (Thank goodness!)

My housemates are in similar positions. Brian telecommutes to a non-profit in Washington. Occasionally he bikes to the library or a coffee shop for a change of scenery, but he mostly works from his bedroom. (Commute time = 3 seconds!) Catherine and Matt work at our neighborhood elementary school – a fifteen minute walk, or a two minute bus ride if it’s raining. For the English classes they teach across town on Tuesday nights, they carpool with another teacher who lives down the street.

Still, there are those rainy nights when a bike just won’t cut it. And there are those loads of manure for the garden that require a truck. But really, four cars? I wonder if sharing might be the way to go. If we can get past the habit of having our own personal chariot available at any given moment, I wonder if we could get used to sharing one car between the four of us. I wonder how many other households could do the same. At $3.50 a gallon, I bet we’re not the only ones considering it.
by Sadie Kneidel

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