The Facebook message from a neighbor interrupted an otherwise fun Friday night at Nationals Park.
“Matt, this is your car, right?” Accompanying the message was a photo of the shattered rear passenger window. I was annoyed but figured there wasn’t much to take from my aging Saturn, except maybe the CD player, so I stayed at the game with my friends. I went home a few hours later and realized the damage was far worse than I expected. Someone had torn apart the ignition, rendering my 19-year-old car undrivable.
I reported the break-in to the police, then pondered what to do next. I ultimately settled on donating the car to Goodwill, as they would tow it away for free.
I already knew I wouldn’t replace the car. I moved to DC for the second time in 2007 and vowed to only keep the car as long as it wasn’t a headache. I drove it about 2,000 miles a year and used it mostly to buy groceries and visit my parents in suburban Philadelphia. I liked having the car, but it was far from a necessity.
Here’s how I’ve gotten around without the car in the year since I watched it get taken away by a tow truck.
My commute to work hasn’t changed. I’ve continued to take the G2 bus from my home in Shaw to my office downtown. I sometimes take the bus home from work, but more often I use Capital Bikeshare.
Buying groceries has been the one area where I have experimented the most. I live within reasonable walking distance of the Giant at O Street Market. I’m also a quick 90/92 bus ride from Trader Joe’s at Union Market. Soon after I said goodbye to my car I bought a wheeled cart which is useful for trips when I don’t need to buy a lot.
For larger grocery purchases, I’ve tried two delivery services. I ordered from Peapod several times but later switched to Amazon Fresh. The latter has a $14.99 monthly fee, but, delivery is free, as long as I spend $35. I find Amazon Fresh’s delivery windows to be a little more flexible and you can place an order closer to the day you want. I love scheduling deliveries for weekend mornings and having groceries appear on my front porch.
Visiting my parents
I was in college and grad school the first time I lived in DC. I didn’t own a car then and took Amtrak to Philadelphia 5 or 6 times a year. My father would drive the nearly 40-mile round trip to pick me up. My parents are older now and I don’t want to burden them with making that drive. Instead, I rent a car for the trip at Union Station. It’s an easy 96 bus or bikeshare ride from my place.
Getting around the region
My trips around the region haven’t changed much in the last year. I use Metrobus a lot, as I did even when I owned the car. I take Metrorail occasionally. I use Capital Bikeshare regularly, which I have been doing since I first joined in 2013. I use Uber or Lyft from time to time.
I did join Car2Go immediately after dumping the car. A few months later I also joined Free2Move. I’ve found that I use car sharing far less than I thought I would, maybe once every month or two.
Reflections on a car-free year
I had long contemplated life without a car. I figured that one day the cost of a repair would be more than I was willing to pay to keep a nearly two-decade-old car running. And I knew that as little as I used my car, there would be no point in spending the money to buy a new one.
What I didn’t realize was how much I would enjoy not having a car. I no longer have to worry about moving it twice a week to make way for street cleaning. I have no repair bills or registration and insurance costs.
I’m also lucky to live in a city with a vast number of transportation options. I do recognize that I have advantages that may not be available to everyone, including the ability to live in a neighborhood close to downtown. It’s far easier to live car-free in DC than in many places in the US. Some trips require more planning, but my overall experience has been positive