Until three years ago, I believed that a man without a car was not a man. Then I moved back to London and, living in the centre of that great metropolis, thought I might try life without wheels. The decision was partly economic — owning a car is much like setting fire to large-denomination banknotes — and partly practical. Not having to worry about parking, accidents, insurance and so forth might, I thought, be liberating.
Boy, was it. No greater freedom is available to people than not owning a car. I understand that if you live in a field in the middle of nowhere, you’d be lost without a car. But with the majority of the world’s population living in cities, many do not need to own a car.
Whatever you can do with your car can be done with taxis and rental cars, and much less expensively. I’m not going to mention here how cars are destroying the planet, but I will say that not owning one permits a degree of smugness hitherto thought only achievable by George Clooney.
I understand that many Olderhoodians need their cars. All I’m saying is: think about it.
Having recently moved out of London, I borrowed a car a couple of weeks ago, to see if I now need one. Or want one. Yesterday, at the peak of the experiment, I drove 220 miles to Cardiff, the capital of Wales, and back on the same day, to attend a family function.
My stress levels went through the sunroof. I had forgotten what catastrophically bad drivers most people are. I had forgotten how fuel alone exceeds the cost of taking the train, not counting the additional running expenses of depreciation and all the other overheads. I won’t mention the brutal psychological stress of dealing with the many government agencies that oversee driving.
I might mention the appalling state of the roads in Britain, and the cynical lack of signposts. Try finding the A2270 on a cold November morning when not a single signpost exists bearing that number. (To be fair, the British system of having no useful signage is more honest than the American one. The US has sensationally good signposts all the way to the last signpost before you get where you’re going — but that last one never exists. As a result, you can find yourself irrevocably on the road to Alaska just as you approach New Orleans. How the signpost managers must laugh.
I don’t need a car, it transpires. I have legs, and can use my arms to hail a cab. Rental car agencies exist. Friends sometimes offer lifts. Thumbing is not out of the question.
More importantly, I don’t want a car. The good news, therefore, is that my little bit of the planet is safe, the air there is clean, and other people can use my parking spot, since they think of little else, I’m told.
Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your parking tickets.