Living car-free in New Westminster

Since moving to New Westminster from the USA in January 2010, we have not owned a car. “We” is me, my wife, and our now-six year old daughter, who was ten months old when we moved back. We’ve grown up as a family without owning a personal vehicle, and it hasn’t hindered our lives.

How? My wife and I are members of modo, Vancouver’s best (in my opinion) car-sharing option. When we signed up, modo (then The Car Co-op) had two or three cars in New West. Now they have eleven, and we’ve driven all of them.

We use modo for not-quite-daily trips, such as grocery shopping, visiting friends in other cities that are tough to reach by transit, or vacationing. I’ve even used it twice to get home when the SkyTrain had major delays in the evening! modo doesn’t restrict what we do with the vehicle (well, no loose pets, no off-roading) or how far we go, so we’ve used them to go on trips to Clearwater and Tofino, and many places in between. modo even has cargo vans, so when we needed to pick up a new table in Langley, not owning a car was no deterrent.

When our daughter was younger it was a little tougher, as she required a full car seat. We would either go as a family on the bus, with the car seat, to the car, or one of us would go pick up the car first, then bring it home and put the car seat in. Now that our daughter is in a booster seat it’s easier.

With modo we’re freed up from time obligations such as maintenance — they handle that. With modo we’re freed up from monetary obligations such as gas and tolls — every car has a gas card, and every car is equipped with a Treo chip for the Port Mann Bridge. If we clean the car, we get reimbursed. There are a lot of other perks for modo members too.

So what about daily trips? That’s easy: feet and transit. We walk quite a bit.

That’s a map of everywhere I walked in New West in 2014 (sorry Queensborough). Luckily New Westminster is very walkable. To walk to school takes 15 minutes. The nearest grocery store (shockingly not a Save-On Foods) is 10 minutes. The nearest park is 5 minutes, as is the nearest curling club.

And for further-flung trips, we take transit. My wife and I both work in Vancouver, so the vast majority of the time we take the bus and SkyTrain in. New West is fairly well-served with buses, and we have four routes within a ten-minute walking radius, two on streets that border our property. Getting to a SkyTrain station is no problem either, with five to choose from.

So what about the cost of all this? It’s widely said that the cost of owning a car in Metro Vancouver will cost you about $9,000 a year (this varies depending on what type of vehicle you drive, obviously). Our bus passes cost $124 a month (and we get a tax credit for them), and we spend about $50 a year on FareSaver tickets for our daughter, an annual cost of about $3000. With modo you only pay when you use a car, so driving less means paying less (or driving not at all means paying nothing!). Our usage goes from very little to very much. Last month was probably the most we’ve ever spent on modo, with our total bill coming in at about $900. Our average bill is about $300 though, which adds another $3600 to our transportation costs.

That comes to annual transportation costs for our family of about $6600 — let’s be generous and round that up to $7000. That’s a savings of $2000.

And keep in mind that the $9000/year is for one car. In 2009 the average number of light vehicles per household in BC was 1.43, so the average household is actually paying about $13000 for vehicle-based transportation.

Is giving up owning a car for everybody? No. You need to have the right attitude, first and foremost. You need access to decent public transit, and I’m of the firm opinion that you still need access to a vehicle of some sort. New Westminster has decent public transit, and with modo there’s easy access to a wide range of vehicles.

Is giving up owning a second car for everybody? Yes, I think so. I believe that the overwhelming majority of two-car households can easily do away with their second car and replace it with a carsharing option. Is it worth paying insurance on that second car that rarely gets used? And how about the time you spend having it maintained? Wouldn’t it be great to just do away with those costs?

So give it a try. New Westminster is a great city for walking, a great city for transit, and a great city to try out carsharing.

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