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Attempting the Car-free/Car-lite life

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Since moving into the central city of Christchurch and having no dedicated park for a vehicle, I have made a conscious effort to reduce my car usage and adopting a near car-free (car-lite) lifestyle. This has involved walking, riding my bike or taking public transport to work.

A car may represent freedom until you account for the associated costs.

At an individual level, car freedom on the other hand means less money spent on petrol, maintenance and the possibility that something might go wrong. Not to mention, as opposed to the alternative of cycling and walking, driving a car everywhere can have negative effects on health.

On a scale beyond the individual, using the alternatives of transport have positive impacts on the environment as well as keeping the roads less busy.

Trying to become car free has been an attempt of mine for a while now. I’ll be honest that I haven’t been able to eliminate car freedom completely. But I have significantly reduced my car usage, and I want to share my thoughts with you.

As a disclaimer, this is my opinion only. Please take care no matter how you commute around. This is important when cycling. Remember to have full attention, even when you are listening to podcasts or reading your emails on your smartphone. I would recommend not listening to podcasts when cycling, where attention is very important.

How much my Car is costing me

Before we head into the benefits of the alternatives to travel, let’s see how much it is costing. I want to go over how much my car is costing me, and I would encourage you to do the same.

The monetary ongoing costs of owning a car include:

  • Petrol
  • Insurance premium
  • Servicing
  • Registration
  • Warrant of fitness
car-free car-light
Table of costs of car ownership

The costs are summarised in a table above to show what I spend on my vehicle. A total of $1890!

Not to mention I am in a seated position and I hardly move when I am driving. The stress of being in traffic and worrying about other drivers.

Cycling Around

Cycling has many benefits which include:

  • Better health with less stress and exercise1
  • Improved mood2
  • Reduced cost on petrol, maintenance, insurance, and servicing

Cycling is one of the most efficient forms of land transport3. Since transitioning from university to work, my bicycle has not seen much use. I would take the easy option everyday and drive to work. Only when moving into the city and starting a new job, I found I took up cycling to work.

I am happy I did. Cycling has numerous health benefits. There are a number of physical benefits. As cycling is a form of exercise, it will get your blood pumping, which has potential to improve your fitness – a marker for good health.

In addition to physical benefits, there are many mental benefits from cycling2. Cycling has been found to improve mood, sleep, productivity and reduce stress. You also avoid being stuck in traffic and put on edge by other drivers on your commute.

Cyclings to Work Potential Pitfalls

The apparent disadvantages of cycling involve:

  • Takes longer
  • Lots of things to carry
  • Clothes and smelling bad after riding…
  • Bad weather

For me, my cycle commute is usually about 30 minutes. It does take longer and requires a little more preparation than driving to work. However, the cycling commute is not only a method of getting to work but it also is a way of exercise. I am able to multitask – exercise and commuting to work without having to spend time exercising after or before going to work. In a way, this can save me more time overall.

Preparation is not too difficult as long as I have everything laid out the night before. I used to bike with a backpack until I got pannier bags. These have helped significantly make my experience biking a lot better. I generally carry my work shoes, a lunch box and my work satchel in my pannier bag while keeping my back and body free of any restrictions. I only have to start my day usually fifteen minutes earlier to ensure I will be at work on time. This is a small time to pay, think of how much time you spend browsing the net.

Don’t worry about smelling when at work. I generally bike in my work clothes, even in summer. All you need to do is take it easy, remember this is just getting to work not the Tour de France. As long as you leave at an appropriate time, the wind while you ride will cool you down.

When the weather does become a bit questionable, a raincoat will suffice. In the winter, I will opt for a rain coat and a woolen jersey or even a ski jacket and gloves to keep the body warm. In Christchurch, our coldest temperature can get down to the low single digits and as high as 30 degree Celsius.

If the weather is really bad, then I have the alternative and that is taking public transport like the bus.

Benefits of the Bus

The advantages of the bus include:

  • Good alternative to biking when feeling tired
  • Good for when the weather is bad
  • Promoting public transport is good for health on a population level
  • Multitask (e.g. answer emails, listen to a podcast) while commuting

When I’m feeling tired and not up for a bike all the way to work or I need my body to rest and recover, the bus is an excellent alternative.

Despite all the measures taking place to reduce the effects of the weather, if it is looking particularly meek out there, then catching the bus might be a bit more favourable to riding the cycle to work. All I need is an umbrella so I do not get drenched, or a nice coat so I do not freeze on the way to the bus stop.

Even if we are not cycling or walking, on a population scale, public transport is better for our health4. Instead of taking a few steps to your car, driving, then a few steps to work, if you are taking public transport, the act of walking to the bus stop can promote activity.

Additionally, by using public transport, our overall emission and impact to the environment is reduced5. This results in cleaner air, which has health benefits – I guess even more if people were cycling or walking. Similarly, public transport is considered a lot safer than private car transport as well.

Another benefit of using the bus is that I can multitask safely. I can use the time on the bus to catch up on some emails or even listen to informative podcasts. Emails are definite no when driving, and ideas from podcasts drown out when I am focusing on driving.

Disadvantages of the Bus

Some downsides of taking the bus include:

  • Time – it takes longer on the bus
  • It costs more money
  • A full bus will pass

Depending on where you live, the bus can take longer than driving. I know in Christchurch, my commute isn’t too badly affected by traffic. In other places, like Auckland, the traffic can be particularly bad in rush hour.

In the case of Christchurch, taking the bus may lengthen your commute time as opposed to driving. However, just like with cycling where exercise and commute can be done at the same time, the same applies to catching the bus. On the bus, I am able to multitask by using the commute time to catch up on emails or listen to podcasts, saving more time overall.

On the other hand in Auckland, you win even more. You can save time on your commute and avoid being grid locked as buses have the ability to use priority lanes.

Taking the bus involves paying a fare. Now, I have calculated how much it costs me in terms of petrol and it does cost more for me to take the bus than drive my vehicles. But I didn’t take into account the other costs involved with holding a vehicle such as insurance premium, maintenance and so on.

At the time posting, the fare of travelling on the bus is $2.65. 

If I were to bus everyday for work for an entire year then this would account to $1272, which is still less than utilising my car (which was $1890)

Here is how I worked it out:

  • x 2, for travelling to and from work,
  • x 5, for every work day in the week,
  • x 48 weeks of the year less annual leave accumulated

And remember, my intention is to use the bike most days but this would give a worse case scenario. I understand that the car can give you freedom during the weekends for shopping and driving about (I want to explore using ride-sharing, and delivery services as alternatives but this will be for another post).

Another factor to consider is the bus may not pick you up if it is too full. It is a rare event but a major disruption and this has happened to me. Fortunately, since I normally get ready earlier to catch the bus, I had enough time to go home and drive to work.

Unfortunately, the only way around this is to either wait for the next bus, or make sure you are earlier so you can afford to have bus-drive-bys so you are not late to work. This requires planning, utilising multitasking which we talked about before to make your time worthwhile, and an understanding manager or boss.


A car may represent freedom but at what cost? A near car-free (car-lite) lifestyle may be better for your wallet and health among other benefits.

Cycling may take longer and may be problematic if the weather is bad, but there are great benefits to your health and cost you almost nothing to get to and from work.

In cases the weather is really bad, the bus can act as a good alternative. The bus compared to a private car is safer and much better for the environment.

The car can be eliminated for the work commute. The next challenge is eliminating the car for the weekend activities. This may involve utilising ride-sharing, food delivery and even renting a car, but exploring this is for another post.

How do you commute to work? Do you want to be car-free or car-lite? What is stopping you? Are you already living a car-free or car-lite lifestyle? What is your experience? 

Please comment below. 
If you like any of my content, please share this with any friends or family. Also. feel free to subscribe to my free newsletter to keep up-to-date.

  1. Cycling – Ministry of Health NZ[]
  2. 5 Mental Health Benefits Of Cycling[][]
  3. Science of Cycling: Human Power[]
  4. Physical Activity Associated with Public Transport Use—A Review and Modelling of Potential Benefits[]
  5. Evaluating Public Transportation Health Benefits[]

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2 thoughts on “Attempting the Car-free/Car-lite life”

  1. Hi Shivan!
    Nice piece. Since moving to London I take the tube and since lockdown I cycle everywhere. I have to say I love both and it has made me think on more than one occasion that if I was to ever move I would love to try and stick to a car free life. However, the buses in Christchurch are not great. They really need to work on a way to improve this system. If I was to move to NZ where the public transport is crap, I would try to live with in walking distance of work.

    1. Hi Corinne, thank you!

      That is really great that you enjoy cycling and public transport. I think you are right. The public transport in NZ can’t compare to other places, especially London’s underground. I would argue it’s in our nature to have our own cars and we do not have the population to support a good public transport network.

      That’s definitely a goal: to be able to walk to work or even work from home if possible.

      Hope you are doing well and that you are safe!

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