Giving up our unloved yet beloved car

I’ll admit to a love-hate relationship with my car. The hate part is easier for me to rationalise: the evidence is clear that cars are destroying our environment; taking control of public space; and killing and injuring far too many people.

The love part, however, is a guilty secret. Despite the fact that we rarely use it[1], the car has become part of our family world – my husband and children have devised a song about it; we have become fond of its technical idiosyncrasies; we moan about its smells and crumbs but they are ours; and once the doors are shut, this is our universe, with our stuff, our music and our conversations.

But I’m convinced that I’ve been duped into this way of thinking. Billions have been invested over the last century selling the car as a symbol of status, desire, freedom and necessity. As soon as we earn enough money, or as soon as we have children, there’s an assumption that we should get a car. And once we have it, it becomes very difficult to give it up.

Surely it is time for city dwellers to think differently. Surely we can discover greater freedom and happiness when walking or cycling the city, or switching off on public transport. Surely we can gain economic freedom by selling our cars altogether and greater enjoyment of our public spaces if we free them of parked cars.

Yet I have the feeling London isn’t ready for this shift. I’m mindful that there aren’t enough incentives for families to sell their cars; that public transport over longer distances is too expensive; that the car will always beat other options if it’s parked outside the house on a rainy day; that hiring or sharing cars is still too troublesome; and finding a hire car equipped with three children’s car seats (that we as a family need) is not always straightforward.

But maybe I’m wrong. To see if we can cope without this safety net, my family is going to give up its car for the rest of 2017. If we survive, we’ll sell up in the new year. We’ll test out public transport over longer distances, car sharing, and new types of car hiring. We’ll analyse the costs, the effort and the pinch points where the car is hard to beat.

The first test comes this weekend for a trip to the countryside for a wedding and a stay with (grand)parents in Gloucestershire. Before children, I always made this journey on public transport, but this will be the first time we tackle it as a family. Our assumption has always been the train would be too expensive and too troublesome with three children in tow. But let’s see.

[1] It’s brought out for visits to family in the countryside; trips to the zoo or the seaside; the odd trip to the dump; the occasional trip to Westfield; and a couple of camping excursions every year.