Carless in Seattle, Part Two: Experiment Ended

Back in March I shared the story of how my family car was totaled by a moving truck, leading to an experiment to see if we could permanently downsize to one vehicle. My goal was to go carless for one full year, document the experience, then decide if I really needed my own car again.

The experiment lasted just less than six months before I concluded that yes, I need my own car.

Well, need may not be entirely accurate, since my car sits idle 95 percent of the time. But after experiencing the late appointments, technology glitches, anxiety, and profanity-inducing frustration caused by not having a car, I’m glad to be back in the driver’s seat.

So what went wrong—and right—with the experiment?

On the positive side, I saved a boatload of money. It is shocking how expensive owning a car in the city can be, even if you rarely use it. I kept detailed records of my transportation expenses during my carless days. From February through July, I spent $354 on ridesharing services Uber and Lyft, $255 on car sharing services ReachNow and car2go, and $205 on hourly rentals of Zipcars. (I also took the bus, but I’m not counting that because I already had a bus pass.) The total comes to $814, or an average of $135 a month over the six-month period.

That’s a bargain compared to owning a car in Seattle. I just bought a new car for $23,000. If you depreciate the cost over 10 years using values from Edmonds.com, it comes to $2,040 per year. Add in insurance, maintenance, gas, and a couple of days of downtown parking, and it adds up to $4,892 annually, or $407 a month. That means I’m paying a whopping $272 per month just to own my own car.

But for me, it’s worth it. The negative side of going carless includes mostly minor frustrations, but they accumulate like water torture.

Many of the problems stemmed from the car sharing services, which had some technology glitches. Though I eventually resolved them, “eventually” doesn’t cut it when you need to get to an appointment, but end up spending 45 minutes on the phone with customer service instead. Also, there are very few ReachNow or car2go cars left in downtown Seattle after 3 p.m.—just when I needed them most.

Still, I have to say that car sharing, ridesharing, and public transportation do work as long as you have patience (I’m wholly lacking in that department) and a flexible schedule (nope).

I’m not necessarily giving up on a carless life. Someday I may try it again—maybe in a couple of decades, after my partner and I have retired. By that time, I’m sure Waymo, GM, or Ford will have perfected shared autonomous vehicles. In that case, I’ll be more than happy to leave the driving to our AI overlords.