We Loved the Effort

Or, how we once lived perambulatory for a year and learned to love the bus (and online grocery delivery).

So…  we’ve bought a car.

There. I said it.

I know this post is a while in coming – we bought the car a few weeks ago – but it’s been hard to figure out the right way to put it out there.  I hinted earlier that our wee experiment was coming to an end.  In our minds, somewhat prematurely, thanks to the small matter of a few major earthquakes – in all honesty I’ve been actively looking for another car since a few weeks after the major earthquake on February 22.  As it turned out, we managed to last until our 12 months was up but more through chance than design.  We had the ever-generous Uncle Puff living with us after leaving his place in hard-hit Redcliffs, and he placed his car at our disposal until we were able to get our own one again.

Even that was a good opportunity to reflect on the nature of car ownership.  Three adults and one Bobbin of 35 months and counting (not only that but talking back, negotiating and planning holidays away from us too) living together – we do not all need our own cars.  Even though the three of us live and work quite different schedules, only having one vehicle was more than enough to make our lives a little easier.  The loss of car-free credibility offset by the penitence of being seen in the street-cred-diminishing, lemon yellow, ‘flying custard square.’*

But nothing’s ever perfect or rather, things are perfectly imperfect and we should be proud of what we’ve achieved.  I know that I’m so proud of Lizzie and Seraphine for loving the effort, through gritted teeth sometimes.  (You really should come and do the incredibly steep walk that Lizzie would do morning and night, in all weather, with a 10kg bobbin in a backpack complete with lunch, spare clothes, nappies etc., her own lunch and laptop – all in her work (read: not great for walking in) gear.  Not only was she single-handedly defying convenience she was sending it to it’s room for Time Out and no supper.  I love you, Peedie Mitten.

Our year of living (solely) perambulatory has come to an end but I do love the bus.  And using Shanks Pony, and I’m not so scared of walking up hills.  Here we are, no longer car-free with child, but also no longer unthinkingly beholden to Convenience either.  At least we’d like to think so.  But reflecting on my first month with a new car – it’s been something of an orgy of convenience, albeit a mindful one – damn I’m loving having a car again!

And with that exclamation point, *poof* goes whatever remaining car-free credibility we had.

So is this the end of Tyranny of Convenience?  No way.  You’ll never guess what we’ve just gone and done.  Buying a car was only the tip of the iceberg.

Oh dearie me, we’ve gone and bought a house.

* Actually, in all honesty, we love the flying custard square.


How to Be a Car-Free Family

How to Be a Car-Free Family by Angela and Dorea Vierling-Claassen.

Our Massachusetts heroes Angela and Dorea Vierling-Claassen had this article appear in that most excellent of publications, Yes! Magazine.

It’s a good introduction to their blog which we also talked about right back at the beginning… Just the little bit of inspiration one needs on a rainy, southerly day.

I Feel Your Pain

Now here’s a thing.

Last week there was a press release and subsequent coverage in NZ newspapers (maybe on tele too but I don’t know cos I don’t have one) about a study and its results.  Named the ‘Commuter Pain Study’ – that in itself should give you an idea of the contents and import of this piece of research – surveying 8,192 motorists in 20 cities on six continents.  Apart from telling us what we probably already knew it has gone a step further and ranked international cities according to an ‘index’.  In NZ the survey covered 937 respondents aged 18-64 years distributed between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  The main points for Aotearoa that the study concluded with were:

– Almost three-quarters of NZ commuters use a car alone to get to work

I don't think this is the way to the beach, man.

– Resulting traffic congestion causing significant stress impacting health and productivity

– Increasing public transportation key to reducing stress caused by commuting

When it came to other solutions the study also had some facts:

Those commuters surveyed recognise that there is significant potential to reduce travel stress by improving public transportation (45 per cent), providing accurate and timely road conditions information (28 per cent) and introducing greater flexibility to work from home (29 per cent).

Now, the study which was commissioned by IBM and is more properly known as the IBM Global Commuter Pain Study also went as far as to say in the media release:

across all New Zealand cities drivers felt that much of this stress could be reduced by the greater use of technology in the management of traffic flows, sophisticated analytics of transport systems…

They don’t offer any actual data on how many or how they reached this conclusion and it didn’t seem to be in the survey index but I wonder if IBM have one or two ideas that might help?  But that’s another story…

Do NOT miss your exit...

Vested interests aside, it seems that the survey revealed some telling information about NZers dependence on private cars for commuting.  According to the study, 80 percent of drivers find aspects of their commute frustrating.  At least a quarter of respondents believe that traffic has negatively affected their health although this number varied regionally.

In the article based on this media release published by The Press (Christchurch) they immediately went out to get some vox pops on the findings.  Even though Christchurch has a public transport system that I would rate as very good several ‘people on the street’ described the buses as ‘just gross’ or unsatisfactory in a number of ways, therefore they continued to use their car to commute.  Apparently sitting in traffic literally idling money away, pumping poisonous gases into the air, and ‘negatively affecting their health’ by being a solo occupant of a motor car is preferable.

I feel like pointing out to those ‘buses are gross’ people that by commuting on the bus I not only save money, but I don’t have to find parking, I get to read or talk to friends, or do this, or experience this.

The study pointed out that only 10 per cent of NZers car-pool regularly.  Bizarre – if we doubled that we’d significantly reduce the cars on the road during the commute rush hours as well as halve (or better) our individual fuel and parking costs.  Auckland’s traffic problems would be majorly improved overnight.  And almost everyone’s wellbeing could be improved.


Among those who believe that traffic has negatively affected their health, increased stress (77 per cent) and anger (41 per cent) are the primary symptoms.  As many as 28 per cent of drivers believe that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work, university or school.

Many commuters feel that if their daily commute was reduced there are many other things they would do with their time including exercise (51 per cent), spend time with family (48 per cent) or sleep (30 per cent).

All that stress and anger and lost productivity – when you’d rather be exercising (playing), spending time with family & whanau (playing) or ‘sleeping’ (playing).  And it’s self-inflicted.

You poor things.

Spare the effort and spoil the child

Does anyone else remember in the eighties (or was it the seventies?) when we used the phrase ‘spare the effort’ to chastise someone for wasting our time?  Like ‘say it to the hand’, or whatever.
No?  Just me then…

I’m finding the different responses from people about our decision to go car-free really interesting.  As mentioned previously, many people’s first response is about how difficult it must/will be with a small child.  (I reckon it would probably be harder with a hormone-addled teenager whose biological clock is suddenly insisting they borrow Dad’s car and circulate aimlessly around the inner city like those early season young houseflies you suddenly find in your house revolving endlessly in the middle of the room in some sort of mysterious insect holding pattern – ‘fly’-boy racers?)  Other people have already commented here that many people cope with raising children without owning a car or living nearby many facilities.  Since that post we’ve had multiple friends come forward offering their services as emergency transport, including our neighbours (remember those things?) We’re feeling really loved!

Mostly everyone has been quietly respectful of our decision even if they think we’re ‘buutsies’ (our favourite Seraphine-ism – rhymes with footsies) I’m still waiting eagerly for the ‘don’t you think it’s a little irresponsible?’ response, which may quite possibly never come.  But one lives in hope.

The other response I’ve been getting is “why did you decide to do it in winter, of all times?”  Usually accompanied by the sort of expression one reserves for people talking loudly to themselves on buses.  On the surface it seems a fair enough question but if you really think about it, what they’re actually saying is “winter’s a rather inconvenient time to be without a car.”

Yes, what with this strange, possibly climate change-related weather probably partly caused by our use of fossil fuels, this is an extremely inconvenient time to get rid of our car.

On the other hand, we’ve had some excellent responses from people too.  Here’s one following an email discussion I was having.  This great comment is from Sophia who I quote, with her permission, verbatim.

People just impose their own ideas of what your life should be like.  People are always remarking that my “poor wee kids” have to walk miles in the rain and cold (which they do, and they do whinge and bitch about it).  However, they are warmly dressed, it’s good for them, and the rest of the world and they appreciated it when they realised how easy they found climbing Rangitoto/doing school cross country etc.  The whole time we had my Mum’s car (last week) they complained like anything about sitting in the car.

So there is an upside to marching Seraphine up and down the hills of Lyttelton at the tender age of 21 months.  Hot-housing for cross country running.  (Is there any money in that?)