Kick Your Driving Habit

Photo: Flickr.com/Caitlinator
A carfree lifestyle isn’t for everyone but there are ways ease the addiction.

You’ve heard it before: One of the biggest things you can do to cut your carbon footprint is wave goodbye to your car. But for most of us, that’s not a realistic option. Canadian cities, after all, are not exactly gleaming examples of sustainable transportation at its best.


Still, there are numerous and easy ways to cut down on the amount you drive, and a car-free life is looking more and more attainable as our cities promote alternative ways of getting around. Think car-sharing and car-pooling, for those times you must use a car. Add to that various self-propelled (e.g., cycling and walking) and mass transit options.


In recognition of World Carfree Day on September 22, which aims “to be a showcase for just how our cities might look like, feel like, and sound like without cars…365 days a year,” here’s a look at the pros and cons of three alternatives to the daily drive.

1. Carpooling

We’re notorious for operating SOVs (single occupancy vehicles) when we could be sharing a ride. Not to mention that there’s money to be saved in ridesharing. The Canadian Automobile Association estimates that the average commuter spends approximately $7,500 per year or $15 per day to operate their car. (SUV and mini-van drivers can expect to spend more than $9,000 annually.)


Pros:

•    Cut your carbon footprint from transportation by a factor of two or more.

•    Save money on gas and maintenance. Try Trans Canada Carpool’s online calculator  to see how much you could save by carpooling.

•    Decompress a little. Driving in the city is stressful, so why not someone else do it for you, at least part-time?

•    Enjoy the company. Many carpoolers are surprised by how much they begin to enjoy their daily commute once they’re part of a team.


Cons:

•    Sometimes people are late. So establish a realistic pick-up time and wait period. If your passenger doesn’t show by the end of the period, then hit the road.

•    Running errands is best left for evenings and weekends. Carpooling is not to be confused with a taxi service.


Have you been persuaded to share a ride? Read “Four Simple Steps to Carpooling.” Plus, there are several useful carpooling websites where you can connect with like-minded neighbours through a carpool-matching database: Carpool.ca, e-Rideshare and Divide the Ride, a site aimed at families, are just three of them.

2. Carsharing

In the past 10 years, carsharing has become a real urban movement. Carshare organizations such as Vancouver’s Zipcar, Toronto’s AutoShare and Montreal’s Communauto operate fleets with hundreds of vehicles, including specialty cars such as hybrids and cargo vans.


Pros:

•    If you drive less than 12,000 km per year, AutoShare says that car-sharing will save you money. How much? A comparison between AutoShare and owning estimates a savings of nearly $5000 per year, based on driving 250 km per month.

•    Reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. A recent study showed that in comparison to car ownership, car sharing a person’s CO2 output by more than 1 tonne; and, each shared car was found to replace at least 8 individual cars on the road.


Cons:

•    Most cars are clustered in the downtown core.

•    Longer trips make for a costly adventure when you are on the clock and paying per km. Instead, car sharing is ideal for people running errands around the city, but not for weekending at the cottage.

3. Cycling


Pros:

•    Workout without working out. Numerous studies have shown the health benefits of cycling, which include improved strength, stamina and cardio-vascular fitness, improved balance and coordination, weight loss and increased metabolic rate. And what better way to work out then on your way to work or while running tedious errands?

•    De-stress. Cycling, as with other forms of exercise, reduces stress, and improves psychological well-being and mental capacity.

•    Equality. Unlike cars, bikes are available to people of all ages and incomes.

•    It will save you money, too. According to a report (pdf)  issued by the city of London, Ontario, good bicycle with accessories typically costs $500-1,000, or $50 to $100 annually over a 10-year lifespan, plus $50 to $200 annually for maintenance.

•    It’s easy on the environment. Each Canadian makes an average of 2,000 car trips of less than 3 km each year, trips that could be replaced by a 15-minute cycle. This would reduce carbon emissions and air pollution substantially.


Cons:

•    Safety can be an issue. For an overview of the safety issues around biking, see this review, compiled by a physician-cyclist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto who was struck by a car. There are ways to increase your chances of getting to work safely. See our tips on commuting by bike.

•    It sucks to bike in the rain and snow, but is can be done by investing in the proper gear.

•    You can’t get to the cottage or move house on a bicycle, but the opportunities to get away by bike are increasing. For example, Toronto’s GO Transit, as well as VIA Rail, now offer bike storage for trips to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and many municipal bus systems now offer bike racks on bus routes.

Celebrate World Carfree Day in your community

Need help kicking your addiction to the automobile? Check out Autoholics Anonymous’ 12-step programme and wean yourself off your ride. Or take inspiration from the Carfree Day events in your community. Visit the World Carfree Day wiki to find out what’s happening.

Here’s just a sampling of Canadian events:


Montreal: Discover the streets of Montreal using an audio walking tour created by Audiotopie that starts by helping listeners to image the sound of the city without cars.

Other events: amt.qc.ca/comm/enville/index.asp


Vancouver: The city is holding its car-free day a week early (September 14), but there are some great events planned. Join the Knittervention, a public gathering of knitters bent on taking over Commercial Drive. Not a knitter? Head for the Old School Roller Disco instead, also on Commercial Drive.

Other events: carfreevancouver.org


Hamilton: Revisit the drive-in—on your bike! Hamilton is hosting a bicycle drive-in movie night at dusk on September 24 (weather permitting) at the Gage Park Bandshell. Popcorn included! 

Other events: myhamilton.ca/myhamilton/CityandGovernment/HotTopics/Car+Free+Day+2009+09+10.htm


Winnipeg: The ’Peg may not have an NHL team anymore but the city still loves its hockey. On car-free day, join in a big street hockey game on Albert Street.

Other events: resourceconservation.mb.ca/carfree/index.html