Between May and August 2008 I went on a driving strike – for 3 months I didn’t drive a car. It all started late one May evening. I was driving along the freeway on the way back to Adelaide. This was at the recent peak in fuel prices so I was actually driving at far less than the freeway limit (only 95 km/hr) to experiment with saving fuel. Probably daydreaming about VOIP or echo cancellers or Electric Cars knowing me. Anyway I missed the end of the freeway 60 km/hr sign and the friendly South Australian Police were hidden just a few 100m after the sign around the next corner, booking me and a bunch of other people.
Another bloody fine. Between my wife and I we have blown $800 in fines this year! In South Australia revenue from tickets is a budgeted income item for the government. It’s a big business here, just like taxes on gambling. Just like some people can’t help gambling, it’s human nature for people to accidentally exceed the speed limit. So the SA government does it’s best to extract revenue from pensioners playing poker machines, and people driving cars. They regularly put the fines up ($300 for 15 km/hr over the limit at present), and use all sorts of tricks like speed cameras hidden in rubbish bins. Of course all the real criminals are locked up so it’s just us speeding motorists left now.
It’s got to the point where my wife and I actually budget for speeding fines each year, they are just such a part of life for everyone in this State. Unfortunately we got our 1st fine on New Years day (56 km/hr in a 50 zone) so there goes the 2008 budget! A lady from my wife’s church copped THREE fines in one day – they changed the local limit to 40 km/hr near her house and she missed the sign.
Not that I’m bitter. Fair enough – if I can’t concentrate enough to stay beneath the limit then its probably best that the Police and I go our separate ways. So I said “enough” and hung up the car keys in disgust. The driving strike was on!
Why Dump the Car
I had a few other reasons:
- I have a general problem with internal combustion technology, it’s about 0.5% efficient, unsustainable, and is about to cause untold misery through the effects of Peak Oil.
- Save money.
- I figure oil prices will force me to stop sooner or later, might as well beat the rush and learn to live life without a car.
- Cars (especially internal combustion cars) are impossible for 90% of the world due to resource constraints. This can’t go on, and is unfair to most of the world.
Of course we still had my wife Rosemary driving so the family was not exactly going cold turkey. She sided with the Police and agreed that maybe I am the sort of absent-minded person who shouldn’t be driving. My kids were extremely distressed – they could see this might mean……..exercise!
The Challenge (or lack thereof)
Unlike most people I am fairly time rich. I keep my life simple so that I don’t have many commitments scheduled and don’t have to race about town over the course of the day. My wife and I manage our expenses and debt so that we don’t need two full time jobs to sustain us. I guess you could say we have down shifted – compared to many of our peers we earn and spend less but live better. So I appreciate that not everyone could consider dumping their car.
I work from home, live 7km from the the center of the city and have good public transport (both train and bus services) nearby. However the city I live in is designed for cars. We have large suburban blocks (low density living), and a large city area (perhaps 80km long by 20km wide) for the population of just 1M people. Most residents have poor access to public transport compared to a European city.
I used my bike, the train and bus, and car pooling to get around. When I needed to buy something heavy or distant I would wait until it was convenient for my wife to take me as a passenger.
Imagine taking your kid to a doctor. This is what I had to do: walk to school, extract kid, walk to bus stop, wait for bus, catch bus, visit doctor, wait for bus, catch bus, walk from bus stop home. At least two hours elapsed time for a 15 minute visit.
Every 2 weeks I need to visit Mt. Barker, a country town about 40km away, and a 40 minute drive in the car. This was something of a challenge. I ended up getting there by catching a train and a bus, total elapsed (door-door) time 1 hour 50 minutes. To get home later in the evening I arranged to car pool with a guy who drives home near my place from the same meeting, and shared fuel costs with him.
I installed a child seat on my bike to transport my three year old to day-care. He loves it, and with the extra 20kg it’s great exercise. You really understand the miracle power of fossil fuels when you are peddling against the wind in the rain with 20kg of squirming toddler on the back and a car goes whooshing by….
- Generally I used a lot more time traveling. Like a lot of technology, cars allow us to use our time more efficiently, to pack more into the day. This, I think, is not always a good thing. For example I found myself actually talking to my kids while sitting on buses. Time efficiency is not always the best way to run your life.
- Some stuff (like a late night meetings) I just chose not to do. It wasn’t that hard.
- Diet ceased to be a problem – unlike most 40-somethings I could eat anything I wanted. All that bike riding burned a lot of calories. Even then I had to go out and buy new jeans one size down.
- I was generally more relaxed from lots of exercise, not being a driver, and not rushing about in a car. Public transport forces you to slow down a bit.
- I read a lot of good Science Fiction on buses and trains. I can recommend Against a Dark Background.
- To be fair – life probably got a little more tougher for my wife. She now had to ferry kids to sports, and drive me around occasionally. However I really enjoyed the time we spent driving around together. Good time to talk.
End of the Strike
I eventually broke the strike as I needed to test my Electric Car. Once I get the bugs out of that hopefully we will sell the carbon-burner. Many of the habits I developed are still with me – I am still doing my commute to Mt. Barker without a car and riding my bike for most trips. I only generate smog by burning irreplaceable 80 million year-old liquids once or twice a week!