Why we do not own a car

When I left School I went to University to read aeronautical engineering, and then started work as an aircraft designer. In those days aircraft factories were usually built on remote private airfields not well served by public transport so I needed a car to get to work.

At this time I was doing a lot of outside recording for choirs and other organisations I was associated with. I had a Revox reel to reel tape recorder (I still have it, and also another Revox), and I bought the smallest car that the Revox and everything else would go into.

Later I became a Scout Leader. We were a very active Troop, with lots of camps and other activities, so I changed my little car for something big enough to take a Patrol of Scouts and all their equipment for a weekend camp: we decided on a twelve seat minibus. (But we had actually also considered an eight seat 1937 Rolls Royce, which at the time cost the same as a minibus!)

After a few years I left the aircraft industry to become Data Processing Manager with Glaxo Group Limited. I was based in central London and no longer needed a car to get to work or for work, but I kept the minibus for the Scouts; when I later left Glaxo Group to become a Computer Operations Consultant I was often working away from home and I had to give up the Scouts. This meant we did not need the minibus any more.

The whole family sat down together to decide what to do, and we did some sums. After a lot of very careful thinking we decided it would be much better not to replace the minibus with a car but to go everywhere by train, taxi or hire car. It is important to understand that this was as much for life-style as for financial reasons.

For example, at this time we had three teenage children at home. We opened an account with several local taxi and hire car companies. The kids went everywhere by taxi and it went on my bill. It was wonderful! We would be sitting at home enjoying a drink while the parents of all our children's friends were chauffeuring their own children around the countryside, taking John to Cubs, collecting Sally from her violin lesson, etc.

Interestingly, although it had nothing to do with our decision, the Consultancy I was working for did not permit its staff to drive themselves to work or to meetings or assignments: they had to go by train (First Class) or taxi. The Managing Director took the attitude “My staff are my only product, and I want my product to arrive at its destination in tip-top condition.”

We have not owned a car since, even after I left the Consultancy to retrain as a teacher. For a few years after we took the decision not to own one, from time to time I hired a self-drive car, for example when my younger son was playing Rugby for his school I hired a car so I could support him at matches, as any other proud Dad would do. But when after three or four years the kids had left school and I found I was hiring a car only once every couple of months I gave this up: in today’s driving conditions people who do not drive regularly enough to keep their driving skills fully up to date are a menace to all other road users. I have however kept my driving licence up to date (and clean!): in this day and age a photocard driver's licence is the most readily accepted form of identification.

Today we still go almost everywhere by taxi. Some months our taxi bill is more than £150 - but try running a car on £1800 a year! (This of course includes all the costs that you would not have if you did not own a car, not just petrol, but tax and insurance, tyres, all servicing, MoT and repair charges, all garaging and parking etc, and of course either the repayments on any car loan or the amount you need to set aside each month to be able to pay cash for a brand new car every two years.) When we go out to dinner we can both have a drink; when we go shopping we do not have to find a parking space; when we get home we do not go into road-rage mode if our neighbour has parked outside our house.

It is important to understand that we enjoy the same (actually we think better) lifestyle that we would if we owned a car, except that we never have to buy petrol or wash it or take it into a garage or remember to renew the insurance... But you do need a mobile phone with the local taxi company numbers programmed into it.

We believe very strongly that many people, certainly most people over 60, would be better off in every way by doing what we have done. But it does involve a quite fundamental change in our attitude to the motor car, a change which most of us seem at present unwilling to make.

© Barry Gray September 2012