Saving polar bears in the suburbs

Tomorrow is Day One of what we hope will be a whole week without the car.

Shocking, I know! This subversive suburbanite mum intends to get through a week of school, kids’ activities, play dates, shopping, medical appointments and weekend entertainment without once getting into her oversized Volkswagon!

Easter Bunny 2

The Easter bunny is carbon neutral

This extreme action was prompted by a number of things, but a moment last week brought them all to a head. I was driving from east to west in the  Volkswagon along the North Circular on a clear sunny morning when I came to a rise in the road, and suddenly most of London was spread out ahead of me. It was covered in brown haze. It wasn’t pretty. And fresh in my mind, or perhaps fresh isn’t the right word, were a) the smog that covered half of England a few weeks ago b) the recent report that claimed 3,000 Londoners are dying a year due to air pollution and c) the fact that while better cycle infrastructure seems an obvious way to reduce pollution from cars, my local high street is currently fighting against plans to install cycle paths.

I’ve idly toyed with the idea before of experimenting with life without petrol, but when I showed the girls a recent post on Upworthy, they were the ones who wanted to throw the car away. The Cutester (7) is actually very attached to the car, because she is not good with the physical effort of propelling herself up hills under her own steam, but even she could see sense.

‘I love cars,’ she said sadly. ‘But they kill polar bears.’

And so it was decided.

How will we manage? Is it really possible to get around Greater London (on time) without one’s own vehicle, even resorting to public transport, two wheels, or actual feet?? (Not judging by my daily choices so far it isn’t: for instance we just went on a jaunt to the only swimming pool in the borough open for public swimming on a Sunday afternoon, and I doubt we’d have reached it on time by bus.)

So it’s going to be interesting.

I’l keep you posted.



5 thoughts on “Saving polar bears in the suburbs

  1. Many of those cold turkey ‘week without a car’ documentaries are a totally false picture of how households live without OWNING a car. For a start once you dump the £100-£150/week cost of running that car, which on average sit idle outside on the street, or in a paid for parking space (including that ‘free’ one that adds £20,000 to £40,000 to the value of your home – and cost of your mortgage).

    Where I live I can buy a Zonecard for all bus and train services, as I need them – it would cost me £12.50 per week, but I tend to cycle or walk most places, and it takes me less than 10 minutes to walk to the local private sports club (perhaps the oldest in the UK – founded in 1870 with its original Turkish baths suite), almost everything I need to buy for my weekly needs is within a 5 minute walk or bike ride, and for most other purchases my business will go to the retailer who offers free delivery on my terms.

    Obviously some trips will require a car or van. Not a big issue, as I belong to the local car sharing club, with a couple of cars within 2-3 minutes of the front door that can be booked by the hour 24/7. There are fewer vans, but I just jump on the bike and pick one up whenever I need to move a van-load of things which won’t fit in a car. I spend on average £10/month on car club use.

    There is of course always a taxi – typically getting to or from the main station costs around £6, but of course that is for up to 6 people – if you know to specify a 6-seater. I’ve shipped a dishwasher, 60 sqm of laminate flooring and 50 litres of emulsion paint in taxis, to name just a few items. Go to one of the ‘schemes’ where car ownership is VERY low and the smart families go to the supermarket (or Lidl/Aldi) and pile everything into a cab for their weekly shop. A pity then that the designers of supermarkets and shopping centres have such car focussed thinking and fail to put bus stops and taxi ranks right at the door, which results in a sea of shopping trollies dumped by the taxi rank or at the bus station (as noted for The Gyle and E Kilbride – Inverness took a pragmatic approach and put a trolley park at the bus station).

    There are of course times when you absolutely need to have a car. Well unlike the gullible ‘occasional user’ you soon find the best local deals (often under £20/day for an economical near-new car), and regular hirers can often find the offer of a free upgrade as an added bonus. Car hire also means that you can hire convertible for that special day-out, or a 7-seater to take grandma and the dog on holiday.

    Overall you’ll be £2,000 to £3,000 per year better off without having to ask for a pay rise or be hit with a higher tax code. The key ruling advice though, is not to try and do exactly the same things in the same ways as you would have done using a car. Moves like this need to be planned, and I’m keen to offer the transport equivalent of a home makeover – should any TV production company be looking for an idea.

    Other benefits – well if you don’t need the hard-standing for parking cars, your house can get its garden back, with all the opportunities that brings.

    • Dave – thanks, and I wish I could be the first recipient of your transport makeover! Let me know if the BBC get in touch :-). You paint a very attractive picture. What I’m hoping to find out this week is how life would work without a car taking into account the children’s needs to be carted about as well as my own. I’m also mindful that, as you say, you have to plan life differently without a car, and planning is not my strong point. Having a car means you can get away with being last minute and disorganised… Can you tell me more about the car sharing club? Is there a website?

      • For car club info, see

        There may be others. I live in London and haven’t had a car for over 10 years now. I’m lucky enough to have about 3 zip cars within 10 mins walk and use them on average once every two months.

        While they are convenient, they aren’t that convenient and still require and element of planning ahead and reservation so I think that aspect, plus knowing a monetary figure of what a car trip will cost reduces the level of usage dramatically compared to having your own car parked out front. However I think that results in decisions of, I’ll drive because I have a car.

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