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19 Ways To Live Without a Car in America

Ways to get around without a car, including a bicycle, a bus, and... a hot air balloon

We live in a car-centric society. According to the Ascent, a finance and investing blog by Motley Fool, over 22% of American households have three or more cars. Many of us need a reliable vehicle to get us where we need to be — but our cars are not cutting it. 

A typical passenger vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the EPA, and while purchasing an electric or hybrid vehicle is becoming more accessible, most of us can’t just surrender our 2003 Toyota to buy a new car in the name of climate activism.

Additionally, many city infrastructures in the U.S. are not built with public transit in mind. (Check out our rankings of the cities that are.) It’s frustrating, and it keeps us in a cycle of paying outrageous gas prices, harming the environment, and still sitting in traffic. 

Whether your motivation is to save money (and according to The Discourse, going car-free saves us all money — see below), to take better care of the planet, or to simply get moving, it’s actually easier than you might think to get around without a vehicle. 

How much does your commute cost (or save) society? Every time you travel you put money into the system, but you also cost the system. Your contribution to and burden on the system differs depending on how you travel. For example, when you ride the bus you pay a fare - money into the system. Your burden on the system includes the cost of operating the bus, and also less obvious impacts like emissions and noise pollution. By looking at the ratio of what we put in versus what we cost the system, we see that different ways of travelling are more subsidized than others.
Graphic courtesy of Discourse Media / Creative Commons

If you’re ready to take a few small steps towards reducing your transportation footprint — or you’re ready to ditch your car entirely — here are some options to get you moving in the right direction.

The Best Ways To Get Around Without Owning a Car —

Carpool

Bring your bestie to work! (Or to the bar, or to the park, or anywhere).

No, really, if you live or work close to a friend, consider carpooling around town. You can take turns, contribute to gas or car payments, and have a sing-along on your way to work. Plus, it saves you time, money — and emissions.

Take public transit

Bus

While many cities have outdated or inadequate public transportation options, some really are quite robust. Just because you’ve never taken the city bus before doesn’t mean it isn’t a solid option. 

Look into getting a bus pass, riding a streetcar, planning your subway or train commute, or even using a city bike. Many cities also offer discounted or free transportation fares for students, veterans, seniors, and children. 

Cycle

Bicycle

We know this one’s tough if the weather is unpredictable in your area, or if there aren’t safe bike lanes or sidewalks in your neighborhood.

However, on days you can bike to your destination, by all means, go for it. Even if you don’t have a bike or don’t know how to ride one, you can check out a local bike shop or community cycling program to learn more and get comfortable behind the handlebars.

Walk

Honestly, is there anything better than a brisk walk? Even if you live in an area with unpredictable weather, consider bundling up, getting a durable umbrella, or lacing up your hiking boots to walk to your next destination. 

Jog

This one might be more of an acquired taste, but if you like to run recreationally (or heck, competitively!), you might consider throwing your sneakers on as a mode of transportation, too. Just don’t blame us if you show up to work a little sweaty in July.

Ride-share

Sport Car

Lyft, Uber, and other ride-sharing apps are a great way to get where you’re going when you don’t have a car. While fees and tips do add up, there are a number of incentives for discounts and perks (like travel miles with airlines!). If you want to plan ahead, you can also take a peek at fare estimates specific to your location. 

Bonus points if you can carpool with a ride-share journey and split the cost among friends or strangers!

Taxi

Taxi

Take a taxi: the OG Uber. Whether you’re a city slicker who is a pro at hailing a cab, or you’re more of a suburban dweller who is more prepared to call a car, either option is another way to get around without your own immediate transportation.

Scooter

Electric scooter brands like Lime, Spin, and Bird have appeared from coast to coast. Take advantage of these for-rent scooters and ride them from place to place.

Be sure to download the app of choice, have your payment method ready, stick to the assigned route of the scooter, and practice safety! 

Get an electric bike

If you’re ready to bike across town but don’t want to break a sweat, you might opt for an electric bike. While this is more of an investment, it’s an eco-friendly switch that could save you a lot of cha-ching in the long run.

In fact, Austin, Texas is now doubling rebates for electric bike owners. (Friendly reminder to see if your local government has incentives for green transportation, too!)

Plus: Studies show that electric bikes are 21% more fun than pedal bikes.

Bike-share

If you’re not ready to take the leap of buying your own e-bike, you can likely find some for rent in your city. Bike-sharing options like Lime and Divvy are available in most major cities, and some places have local options, too. A quick Google search should get you where you’re going in no time!

In fact, you might even be able to check out a bike-sharing pass as a unique offering from your local library.

Rent a car for the day

Rental Car

If you have a longer journey on your agenda or need to get somewhere quickly, you can definitely rent a car. A myriad of options are available for car rental companies, and you won’t have to worry about the regular maintenance and upkeep of a vehicle of your own.

Rent a car for the hour

You can also rent a car just for an hour or two! Check out car-sharing services like Zipcar, Free2move, or Getaround. Perfect for running an errand here or there!

Car-share

Car-sharing is a lot like renting a car, but can be a more consistent method of transportation with less of the hassle. Using services like Zipcar, you can simply upload your driver’s license, get approved, and drive on demand. In most cases, you can pick up a car in one location and drop it off easily in another, all using a monthly membership and hourly rate. 

Turo is another great car-sharing option, similar to Airbnb. Find a car, select a protection plan, book your trip, and borrow a car from a host near you.

Rollerblade

Strap on your blades, velcro your elbow pads, secure your helmet, and hit the road! Rollerblading or rollerskating is another fun (albeit high-energy) mode of transportation.

Skateboard

Skateboard

Avril Lavigne said it best: “See ya later, boy.” Even if you wouldn’t categorize yourself as a Sk8r Boi, if you have a skateboard, longboard, or penny board, you can move through your area quickly and enjoy your surroundings while you’re at it.

Move to a bigger city

If you’re set on changing your transportation lifestyle and have the means, consider moving to a bigger city. Of course, this option isn’t for everyone, but places like New York City, Chicago, or Portland have robust public transit options. 

By moving to a place that prioritizes and funds these services — or has a great culture of cycling and strong urban infrastructure — you’ll be much more likely to embrace a car-free life.

Move to a small town

Conversely, small towns can also be a more viable option for navigating life without a car. For folks who grew up in a small town, it’s common to see folks walking just about anywhere — commuting to work, or even carrying groceries down the block.

Utilize delivery services

If you’re not someone who can easily carry your groceries up the neighborhood hills or from bus stop to bus stop, you can utilize delivery services for almost anything these days. 

From food to dry cleaning (or even asking a friend to pick up something on their way home), delivery services are definitely an option for those little errands many of us rely on our cars to complete.

Although there are usually fees associated with these services (and you should definitely tip well!), they pale in comparison to the fees of owning and maintaining a car.

Make your voice heard

Are many of these options still not accessible for you? We understand. Anything from poor accommodations for people with disabilities, to a lack of investment in city buses or bike lanes can prevent folks from being able to move about town. 

As nonprofit Mode Shift Omaha says: “Everyone should have a choice in how they get around, no matter who they are.” 

Start by speaking with your city council or mayor, getting involved with a transportation equity initiative in your community, or even by using bike lanes, paths, or public transit more frequently to show your elected officials that alternative modes of transportation are indeed needed and utilized. 

A version of this article was originally published in The 2023 Environment Edition of the Goodnewspaper.

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Article Details

February 6, 2023 8:20 PM
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