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Giving up the car

Roughly half of London households live without a car. Will the other half be following soon?

There are 2.66 million cars registered in London. The cost to Londoners of owning a car is estimated to be somewhere between £3,500 to over £7,000 a year1. Most personal cars in the UK are parked for 95% of the time2. Is it time to rethink car ownership?

Currently around half of London households don’t own a car.

Young people, the elderly and people on low incomes are much less likely to own a car. Even in Outer London where it is theoretically harder to live without a car because public transport is not quite as good as in Inner London, roughly a third of households don’t have a car. In Inner London, around two thirds of Londoners are now living without a car.

For car owners, it’s hard to imagine life without a car. But could it be that it’s easier than you think?

The decision to give up the car usually starts with concerns about the cost and sometimes also the environment. Many people may find they’re using their car very little and they may be paying for public transport on top of the car costs. They start questioning whether it makes sense financially to keep the car. Often the decision to go car-free is precipitated by persistent breakdown or maintenance issues.

Once someone has given up their car, they will probably report doing more exercise and being financially better off. Curiously, they might also find they have more time on their hands because they change the way they make decisions, particularly about travel. For example, they might opt for a supermarket delivery instead of driving to the supermarket. Or they might take advantage of digital convenience and work from home one day a week.

If you’re thinking about going car free, there are some very good reasons. And it probably won’t be as hard as you think. Read on.

Car sharing clubs are an alternative to car ownership. Image: Zipcar
Private cars are inefficient in many ways

Space: Cars take up lots of space, whether they’ve moving on the road or parked in the street, and particularly when compared to public transport. If fewer cars were on the road, our buses would move faster. If fewer cars were parked on our streets, we could use the space for more useful purposes. In London parking takes up 1,400 hectares of space, equivalent to ten Hyde Parks3.

Cost: Car ownership is expensive, costing the owner between £300 and £600 a month according to various estimates and often this is on top of paying for public transport.

Carbon: Cars are the least efficient form of transport in carbon terms and of course they also emit other air pollutants.
Cars are also noisy and cause road danger, both of which have other impacts, like discouraging people from walking and cycling and stopping children playing out.

On a personal level, cars can sometimes cause stress and hassle, having to deal with MOTs, breakdowns, insurance, paying the tax, penalty charge notices and having to fill the car up.

Electric cars might remove some pollutants but they are still carbon-inefficient and still take up space on the roads including while they’re parked.

But lots of people need cars, or at least they need to take some car trips, so what’s the answer? What are the alternatives for journeys that really do need to be made by car? And are the alternatives realistic?

For short local trips there are services like Zipcar Flex where you book a car parked nearby and pick it up immediately. You are just charged by the minute. The website comouk provides a full list of shared car companies, peer-to-peer car sharing options and car clubs. Or you can just take a good old-fashioned taxi, or a less-old-fashioned Uber or cycle taxi, such as Pedal Me. You can use supermarket deliveries or, for the cyclists, a cargo bike, for your weekly shop.

For weekend or holiday trips, hire a car owned by someone who lives nearby by joining a car hire scheme like Getaround (formerly Drivy), or use a car hire firm. If you’re going a long way, take the train and hire a car at the other end. They will often bring the car to the station.

For longer journeys or commutes hitchhiking is back – well sort of. With 21st Century car share schemes, for a relatively small charge, you can get a safe, scheduled lift through sites such as LiftShare or BlaBlaCar.

Doing the maths, and depending on the various estimates of what it costs to own and run a car, you would need to be spending over £300 a month – possibly over £600 a month, on these alternatives, to be worse off financially.

Pedal Me cycle passenger taxi. Image: Pedal Me
So, is it time to move away from car-ownership?

There are lots of options to make your life as convenient as it was when you owned a car. Whether old-school or 21st Century, there are alternatives to suit different types of trips.

You will save yourself money and possibly also some of the stress and hassle which can come with car ownership.

And you can have the warm glow of knowing you’ve helped reduce pollution, road danger and traffic noise and helped public transport run more smoothly too.

For those who rely on a private car for work or other reasons – you can help make life easier for other Londoners by sharing trips or hiring your car out.

If you need to own a car, you could always join a scheme like Getaround where you hire your car out when you’re not using it. And you can join car share schemes like BlaBlaCar or Liftshare and give people a paid-for lift. Both will ease the finances of owning a car and help make London a better place for everyone.

Further reading

Why public transport operators should embrace car-sharing
By Katy Medlock, Intelligent Transport

4 key reasons why car ownership is declining in the UK
Scrap Car Network

Britain may have hit ‘peak car’ as young driver numbers fall sharply By Graeme Paton, The Times

Millennials are killing the car, and other lessons from the DVLA database of driving licences
By Robin Wilde, City Metric

Going Car-Free
By Stephen, member testimonial for BlaBlaCar

10 charts that tell the story of Britain’s roads
By Joey D’Urso & Rachel Schraer, BBC News

How many cars are there in London and who owns them? Transport for London

In 2018 London had 3,513,589 households and there were 2,661,194 cars registered. In 2019 there were 3,544,727 households and 2,661,026 cars registered. The number of cars registered stayed more or less the same between 2018 and 2019 but the number of households increased so the average number of cars per household decreased slightly.
More information on Car Ownership Rates from the Scorecard Results

Main image: Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels
  1. £3,500 per year: £3,500 a year bill to run a car makes UK dearest in world
    By John Ingham, Express
    £4,656 per year: Average car costs UK drivers £388 a month
    By Gavin Braithwaite-Smith, Motoring Research
    £7,140 per year: The true cost of owning a car revealed, as Brits spend up to a QUARTER of salaries on their motor
    By Elisha Thakorlal, The Sun []
  2. The High Cost of Free Parking
    By Donald Shoup, Journal of Planning Education and Research []
  3. Reclaim the kerb: The future of parking and kerbside management in London
    By Silviya Barrett, Joe Wills, Mario Washington-Ihieme. Centre for London []

1 thought on “Giving up the car”

  1. I gave up my car years ago when company cars started to be heavily taxed and frankly I never think about it now, life is fine and I’m adept at all the different ways of getting from A2B and back again.

    It’s like giving up meat, you think it’s a big and impossible deal until you do it and then wonder what all the fuss was about – simples!

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