Image by Luca Rossato licensed under Creative Commons.

From the time we got married, my wife and I were a two-car family. She used hers for work and to cart our kids around town. And while I started biking to my job in Arlington from our home in Glover Park three years ago, I needed mine for weekend Army Reserve work located in Adelphi, which is nowhere near a Metro or early morning weekend bus service.

I thought I needed it, anyway.

But after my 1998 Volkswagen broke down for good and finances forced us to hold off on buying a replacement right away, we slowly realized that a second car wasn’t our only option.

The single car life

In reality, the operating costs of having a second car weren’t so high: Residential parking, registration and inspection fees combined to cost less than a dollar a day in the District, and insurance and gas for a car that I drove 4,000 miles per year at most seemed virtually insignificant. Buying another car, however, was a far different undertaking than maintaining one we already owned. We decided to delay purchasing a second car and explore some alternatives.

I started by researching ZipCar but found that it wasn’t cost-effective for my frequent short drives that required me to park for upwards of ten hours before returning. car2go also didn’t work since I was making long trips outside the District.

A real solution reared its head when I started to look at traditional rental cars. I figured they’d be too pricey, but compared to what a second car would cost, they were actually inexpensive in the fall and winter months: I could bike to the airport for a car rental priced at $15-$20 per day, and for another $10-$20 per day, I could rent from Union Station or Woodley Park.

The summer, however, was a different matter, as rental cars can cost $100 or more per day during the peak season. I lucked out one month when my Reserve work wasn’t at its normal location, and another month, I hosted a colleague at my house for the weekend and swapped meals for a ride. The good fortune got me through the summer until rental prices dipped back to a more manageable $30-$35 per day in the fall, and before I knew it, I had met a year’s worth of Army Reserve obligations without needing another car.

Beyond work, I needed to cover family excursions for which I had previously used our second car. For solo shopping and personal trips in the District, I started to rely more heavily on my bike and the Metrobus system. When our kids needed to be in multiple places, I’d rent a car2go, and when that didn’t work, we used Uber. We’ve even had some recent outings that have relied on entertaining combinations of all these options.

A new reality

Operating without a second car meant learning about DC’s menu of transportation options. A few years ago, a lack of information might have steered my family away from most choices other than driving. But mobile phone apps for Uber and car2go, along with Google Maps, have helped us put traditional rental cars, car2go, buses, bicycle rides and walking to use. It turns we needed a second car a lot less than we thought.

My wife and I realized we had a new “normal” when, after his sister pointed out that we only had one car to drive on a day with a packed schedule, my son quickly responded, “No, we have hundreds of cars. There are car2go cars all over the place.”

If an 11-year-old can buy into the District’s range of transportation options, so can I.

This post first ran in 2014, but since the information is still relevant, we wanted to share it again.


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Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 30 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve.