Reflecting on Five Years of the Car-Free Lifestyle

May 28, 2013

Originally published May 28, 2013 on Mobility Lab blog. Reprinted with permission.

Photo: Group at the Jefferson Memorial
Mobility Lab Contributor Jessica Tunon (right) with Make Roads Safe Campaign Director T Bella Dinh-Zarr and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC

  • Who: Jessica Tunon, appreciator of much-improved lifestyle
  • What: Two-door Honda Accord LE, lease ended on May 12, 2008
  • Where: Florida to Arlington, Virginia
  • Why: Have more “fun money”
  • When: May 12, 2008 (see above)
  • How: CarFreeDiet.com and, with my financial background, a personal cost-benefit analysis

As the stats above show, I recently passed my five-year anniversary of beginning my new life as a passenger, walker, cyclist, and user of public transportation.

Using “active transportation” while growing up in South Florida was not easy, convenient, fun, or logical. And, in fact, I love cars – antiques especially – and went to the annual car show that was held at the Miami Convention Center and drove at least 24,000 miles per year. AND, in South Florida, your car says much about you. My Honda Accord LE personified me at the time: sporty, luxury comfort, fun, and reliable. I used to love driving. I even drove to clear my head on beautiful, scenic A1A, which runs along the coast south of Jacksonville.

Back in 2007, I couldn’t have imagined being car-free. But then, after moving to the Arlington, Virginia neighborhood of Ballston in May 2008, having a car became costly and inconvenient. It was $650 per month to park at work, play, and home; maintain and insure the car; and pay for gas and the Virginia property tax. In my case, the pros of getting rid of my car outweighed the cons.

  • Pros – using the $650 that I would have spent on a car to instead have fun and save money
  • Cons – learning about how to be car-free and actually doing it

It’s one thing to write a pros and cons list and quite another thing to actually live it. But I kept it in the back of my head that it would all be worth it, knowing I had $650 in the bank allocated to fun activities such as vacations I could take as a result of going car-free.

I also decided that if, at any point during my new lifestyle, I wasn’t enjoying the car-free life, I would get a car. Fortunately, the process of adopting the car-free life wasn’t daunting since I:

  1. Had purchased three cars and could easily purchase another if necessary
  2. Had previously used public transportation (in New York City, Washington D.C., and South Florida)
  3. Read the Car Free Diet
  4. Was dating someone with a car
  5. Lived with my sister, who owned a car
  6. Was acquainted with taking taxi cabs, and
  7. Had received special concessions from my employer in advance.

As of May 13, 2008, I started my new lifestyle and began carpooling and taking the bus to and from work. At the time, my job required me to visit client and potential client sites. Carpooling was the only realistic mobility option for me since I worked in heavily-congested Tysons Corner, where Metrobuses and circulators aren’t exactly timely and I was intimated by bicycling to meetings. (I occasionally cycled throughout my life, but not as a mode of commuter transportation.)

As time progressed, I got more used to my travel patterns. I used commuting time to catch up on business tasks, reading, and planning my work day. It was by no means easy or fun 100 percent of the time.

But on June 14, I was ready to begin spending the $575 I calculated that I had saved in my first car-free month (insert smile and big bright eyes). Once again I created a list of pros and cons. However, this list was more of a pros list. I could take a monthly weekend vacation and budget the $575 for it, or not spend the funds but instead have a longer vacation at a later time.

I loved the possibilities of being able to afford to see friends and family in New York City (via D.C.’s regular bus service up the East Coast) and South Florida (through Spirit Airlines’ $9 fare club). Also, the money could be spent on events, concerts, festivals, theater, and sporting events. The $575 entertainment budget was awesomeness, and I kept that up for one full year. As I was getting ready to live alone for the first time in my life and would have new expenses – such as buying items to fill my apartment – the saved funds would be of great help.

It is now five years since I started my car-free lifestyle. I reflect fondly on that first year, when I was still a newbie at this mindset. But it is more than clear that my quality of life and freedom have improved by leaps and bounds since making my decision.

[Editor's note: For more about Jessica's car-free adventures, go here, here, and here.]

Jessica Tunon examines walkability, car free and economic issues. She lives in Washington, DC and has also lived in Austin and South Florida.


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You could save $816 a month, or $9,797 a year, if you switch from driving to riding public transportation for your commute.

American Public Transportation Association

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