Car Free!

I’ve decided to get rid of my car at the end of the summer. Years ago I was car free as well, but I took a job at the south end of Richmond where there were no reasonable transit options and I broke down and picked up a ’97 Honda Civic to get me to work. I discovered that I hated commuting. Being stuck in traffic for 45 minutes makes one’s blood boil over and you get home all wound up from the drive. Even now I find driving in the middle of the city gets my stress levels up. Sharon has been enjoying the creative expressions I yell when I’m stuck behind some monkey on the road. “You goddamn **** donkeys!” I’ll hollar at someone who doesn’t notice the green light.

Stress levels are managable now that I don’t commute anymore (30 minute walk to work!). The big reason is cost. I’ve been opening a number of savings accounts at ING Direct so that I can have automated savings plans for my yearly expenses. For example, if I have $130 automatically put away every month for car insurance, then I can pay cash when it comes due in November. I have a number of these accounts and it allows me to break my yearly expenses down into monthly payments and never have to swallow a large expense all at once.

Once I saw how much I had to save for the car insurance, maintenance, and replacement cost, it became clear that I was going to be diverting a huge sum of money towards keeping a car. Here are the numbers:

Gas (monthly) $40
Insurance $130
Replacement $250
Maintenance $100

Replacement assumes I’ll need to replace the car in 4 years at an approximate cost of $10,000 – $12,000 dollars. Saving $3,000 a year ($250 per month) for 4 years will ensure I have the cash on hand when the old Civic finally dies. It’s a ’97 with 230,000 km on it and it’s reasonable to expect it will get near 300,000 before things start to really go wrong.

Maintenance has cost me, on average, between $800 – $1000 per year. It’s an older car and I make sure everything’s kept up on it which means it’s never broken down on me. There is a cost to preventative maintenance on an older vehicle though. I budget $100 a month ($1,200 per year) for this.

Total cost each month is $520 which is $6,240 every year! Given I have back contribution room in my RRSP then I should be putting the money there instead of a car that I rarely use.

How am I going to get around without a car? I live in Vancouver so that’s not much of a problem. I’m a 15-minute walk away from the Waterfront Station skytrain which is our main transit hub. From there I can go directly to the airport, or to the suburbs, or take the Seabus to the North Shore. There’s also the Westcoast Express should I need to make a trip to Mission.

Mostly I plan to start biking more. A couple of years back I bought a nice commuter bike that’s light and has 18 gears on it. It’s a great bike to ride and with the Vancouver weather I see no reason why I can’t ride year round. I’ll have to pick up some rain gear as well as some proper bike shorts but given I’ll be saving over $6,000 a year, I’m not worried about those costs.

I’ve already started moving away from using my car to make sure it’s going to work. This weekend I loaned it to a friend of ours whose wife was heading into Seattle with their car. I knew I had some things I needed to run around and pick up so this would be a good time to find out if the bike was going to work or not. Turns out it’s no problem. Most of my shopping happens downtown anyway and I have discovered that I can carry groceries AND beer on the rear bike rack.

One can also transport a Dairy Queen log cake if need be:

The DQ cake was a bit ridiculous but I wanted to prove the point to myself. Worst case if I need to pick something up that’s difficult to transport I can hail a cab. $500 a month pays for many, many cab rides.

Really the only thing I like having the car for is to go hiking and camping. What I did when I was previously car-free was to rent a car for doing those things. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass and you have to plan things in advance more, but it’s easily manageable.

I’d also like to get into bike touring. My bike will be adequate for the next couple of years while I get started but I suspect I’ll want to buy a proper touring bike in the future. Again, $6,000 a year would let me buy 2 touring bikes every year so I don’t expect cost to be an issue. I’ll be saving on ferry fees to get to the Gulf Islands too. $14.25 for a walk-on vs. $61.50 if you take a car! Sharon, who’s an avid biker, and I will probably do a bunch of trips from Horseshoe Bay since it’s close. From there we can go to Bowen Island or over to Nanaimo. Tsawwassen is painful to get to by bike since you aren’t allowed to ride through the George Massey Tunnel. They have a shuttle that runs every hour or so during peak hours and I think you can put your bike on the 620 bus to get to Tsawwassen, but it’s still not easy. I’ll have to experiment over the next few months and see what works best.

Cuba!

I spent a week in Cuba and it was quite a crazy adventure! It started off pretty chill with 7 of us piling off the plane, onto a bus, and over to the Breezes Jibacoa resort between Havana and Varadaro. I spent 3 days eating, drinking beers, and doing loads of snorkeling. The resort’s on a huge reef so there’s lots to see under the water. Josh captured a good slice of underwater video with his GoPro camera.

On Tuesday morning I went outside the resort for a short run in the morning heat. I had realized that we were isolated from Cuban culture but it really hit me when I went out and said hi to the locals that I passed on the road. Nobody spoke English, which was a sharp contrast to the resort and I could see that people living in the area were eking out a living in rural Cuba. You don’t get a good feeling about stuffing yourself at a buffet only minutes away from people living in poverty.

So I began to crave some authentic Cuban culture. On Thursday, day 4 of the trip, we were taking a bus tour of Havana and the night before, Reilly, Josh and I had a few beers and talked well into the night. There I hatched a plan to take the bus trip into Havana and stay there until I had to be back at the resort on Sunday night to catch our early flight on Monday.

Thursday we piled onto the bus with the other tourists and were guided around the tourist sights in Havana. When that all wrapped up, around 4pm, I said goodbye to everyone and wandered into Havana with a Lonely Planet guide, a Spanish phrasebook, and a couple changes of clothes.

Within half an hour I had met a local resident, Ivan, who was intent on practicing his English. We ended up talking for quite a while and when I said I was looking for a place to stay he accompanied me to the hostel I had picked out from the Lonely Planet guide. Good thing too, since during my whole stay in Havana he was the only person who really spoke any English.  I found a place run by 2 women, I think it was a mother and her daughter (again, they spoke no English so I didn’t get to find out too much about them) and settled in.

For the next 3 days I got the non-tourist tour of Havana and the surrounding area compliments of Ivan. He’s a really cool guy and I had a great time checking everything out. We hit some nightclubs where live bands provided a soundtrack for people to salsa dance. I saw Ivan’s hometown of Guanabacoa and the Statue of Christ across the water from Havana. On Sunday his friend Suri cooked us an amazing dinner and I headed back to the resort in a taxi during which I managed to have a long conversation with the cab driver in a mix of English (of which he knew a few words) and Spanish (of which I now knew a few words).

My friends were happy to see me return safely since they had no way of contacting me in Havana. I was full of energy after being in such a vibrant city and being back at the resort felt like I’d stepped into an old-age home!

I have a lot more to write about Cuba but I’ll save that for another post. I just wanted to get the basic story down for anyone who’s interested.