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August 10, 2011

No more car, no more worries

by Geoff Grant

When you get something slipped under your door in our building, it’s usually a menu from a Chinese restaurant. But what I got in the envelope that was slipped under my door last night was something far better. It was a check for $150. And it reminded me how much I enjoy not having a car.

Because that $150 was for the parking spot I rented when we got rid of our car. The spot is deeded to our condo, and we even pay taxes on it. But now, like clockwork, that check shows up under our door month after month. It’s not only a welcome revenue stream we once would not have imagined, it’s positive reinforcement on the decision we made to go carless.

That decision was actually an easy one. We don’t live in the most of America that is designed to tether people to their cars. We live in Hoboken, a dense city that houses 40,000 people in one square mile. It’s jammed with most everything we could ever want or need, all within walking or biking distance. For instance, we buy our blueberries at one corner grocer, get the world’s best fruit at another — Sobsey’s Produce — and buy our vegetables in yet a third market. And that doesn’t even account for all the things we buy at Organic Basic Food, which one reviewer likened to an amalgamation of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

We also love walking. It helps keep us healthy, puts us in better touch with our environment, gets us outside more. No, walking in a blizzard isn’t fun, but neither is driving in one, so I consider that a wash.

We also never drove into New York, for work or pleasure. The PATH train or New Jersey Transit express buses whisk us into the city in minutes, where the city’s subway takes over. All of which means we were holding onto our car for the few odd trips in the area, or for our occasional escapes to Boston, Philadelphia and D.C. But renting a car when we need one is easy (and much cheaper than maintaining our own) and for times when we just have to drive to Trader Joe’s or other such short errands, we have the car-sharing genius of Zipcar and Connect by Hertz both available in Hoboken. Two of those cars are parked a half-block from our building.

The environmental impact of our decision was infinitely appealing. We’ve long made efforts to lessen our carbon footprint and do what we can to have an impact, however small. And not having an atmosphere-clogging, carbon-monoxide producer feels like a big deal. And economically, well, that was even a bigger no-brainer.

We’ve saved money by not paying for car insurance, the skyrocketing cost of gas, parking fees, car washes, registration and the growing burden of repairs and maintenance of a 13-year-old car. In addition, we’ve been able to pocket the aforementioned $150 monthly parking fee from a fellow condo owner in our building. We also were able to sell our car. In fact, I sold the car and rented the parking space all in the span of two hours, cash in hand for both.

And yet, the best thing about not having a car is the feeling of not having a car. It’s liberating. Truly. The night we sold the car, my wife and I opened a bottle of wine to toast the event and laughed aloud. It wasn’t because of the money. It was because of the freedom. We felt “lighter.” That was the word we used.

That may sound weird. Most people associate cars with freedom. But they are a far bigger burden — on us and on the planet — than people realize. The only way to feel this freedom is to try it. You’ll feel the same way. Guaranteed.

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