Twenty-One Car-Free Years

Over the weekend, thanks to traveling up to Albany to meet an old friend, I was unable to make note of an especially important anniversary: March 30th marked twenty-one years of blessed freedom from car ownership.

On March 30th, 1993, I sold my Toyota pickup truck, purchased a mere eighteen months previously, at a drastically marked-down price. My reasons were simple and numerous: I was headed out of the US for an indefinite period; if I returned, it would be to New York City, where I did not expect to own a car; and lastly, most significantly, my insurance premium–in New Jersey–had climbed to an astronomical four thousand dollars a year.

Cars had always been an expensive headache for me. My first car, a Toyota Corolla with over hundred thousand miles on it, had flamed out spectacularly on a New Jersey highway; it had minimal resale value and I was only too happy to dispose of it in a junkyard. My second, a Volkswagen Jetta, had niggling problems with its fuel pump, and spent too much time in the repair shop. And while I owned it, my insurance climbed into the stratosphere.

My troubles began a few minutes after I had picked up the Jetta from the used-car dealer. As I drove down the Garden State Parkway, already late for work, I failed to notice I was speeding. A state trooper pulled me over, informed me I was driving at 78mph in a 55mph zone and gave me a ticket. That meant four points on my license and a thousand dollar increase in my annual  premium. A few months later, after I had skidded on a wet road and hit the kerbside, I filed a damage claim, which the insurance company honored. But in exchange for this thousand-dollar payment, they raised my premium by a thousand dollars a year. And then, finally, thanks to another wet road, I rear-ended a truck, filed a damage claim again and was treated to the same sequence of claim-payment-followed-by-premium-increase.

By late 1992, I could not afford to drive a car any more. But I still had to commute to work. So I persisted for a few months, all the while actively plotting my escape from New Jersey to New York City. When my move looked imminently possible, I put up my truck–purchased after my Jetta’s fuel-pump troubles had become intolerable–for sale.

Twenty-one years on, I remain relieved to be free of the hassles of parking, gas prices, speeding tickets, towing, worries about blood alcohol content, traffic, and all of the rest.  Public transportation, with all its frustrations, works well enough for me. New York City’s magnificently flawed subway system takes me where I need to go; on rare occasions, I rent or borrow a car. That limited and circumscribed ownership is all I can handle.

I do not know if I will ever move out of New York City. If I do, I know one of my most profound regrets will be the leaving behind of this blessedly car-free life.

6 comments on “Twenty-One Car-Free Years

  1. Here in New Zealand the option of. car free is prettty much a dream. We have about one car per head of the population. There is no really good public transport system outside the capital and the LA style. sprawl of most urban areas makes car owning essential. Still, I went car free for a few months last year when my Toyota blew a con rod and I got picky about a replacement. Possible because my wife has a car.Historically this national situation is a product of car enthusiasm here since the 1920s which had a profound effect on the

  2. way our cities and services developed.

  3. Samir Chopra says:

    Matthew, thanks for that comment. Interesting. I lived car-free in Sydney for two years, mainly by dint of living close to the city center and commuting by bus and train. But it did limit me in some ways and I was lucky to get lifts from many of my friends when I needed them.

  4. The last time I had a car was in high school and I hope it stays that way! There is no way I could afford to pay the PARKING fees to drive my car to work, let alone the insurance, cost of gasoline, or even the price of the car itself.

  5. […] careers, fell in and out of love, got married, bought a ‘house’ (and thankfully, sold my truck, and moved across the Hudson). Life really is just one damn thing after another; a series of […]

  6. […] before I quit my job and went back to graduate school, I sold my truck. Thanks to insurance hassles, I was sick of driving that damn thing. And I was going to go live in […]

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